Denial and Anger in Italy

time cover

The cover story in this week’s European edition of Time Magazine is on immigration to Southern Europe. It opens with a piece I wrote about the gap between Italy’s new ethnic reality and the perception most Italians have about their country and its citizens.

When hundreds of African immigrants rioted in the southern Italian city of Rosarno last month, the world got a glimpse of a very different Italy from the one pictured in the tourist brochures. Overturned cars, shattered shop windows and street battles are a far cry from tranquil villages on a Tuscan hillside.

Another contradiction uncovered by the violence is much more fundamental, and it has less to do with how Italy is perceived by outsiders than with how Italians themselves view their nation. As a country, Italy is becoming increasingly multiethnic, as immigrants from Africa, China, Eastern Europe and the Middle East arrive to work jobs locals refuse to take. But as a society, Italians have been slow to acknowledge the change.

Demographically, Italy is transforming faster than almost anywhere else in Europe. Last year, according to the Catholic charity Caritas, the percentage of noncitizen residents in the country — 7.2% — was greater than Britain’s. And that’s not counting the country’s illegal population, estimated at well over half a million. In a country where the native-born population is aging rapidly, 1 in 6 babies delivered in 2008 was born to a foreign-passport holder. La dolce vita is also becoming more dependent on immigrants and their labor. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that foreign workers account for 9% of Italy’s annual GDP. They pick the fruit in the country’s orchards, staff its restaurants and workshops, and look after its young and elderly. “If all the migrants just stopped working now, the Italian economic system would collapse,” says IOM spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo.

Yet the country retains an intensely prescriptive streak. Rigid codes of behavior govern everything from how to dress to the proper time of day to drink a cappuccino. Far from being a melting pot, Italy remains a three-course meal, with the pasta carefully segregated from the appetizer and main course and no place for a bowl of hummus or plate of egg rolls. “People now accept that immigrants are here,” says Giuseppe Sciortino, a sociology professor at the University of Trento. “But they’re still in denial that they are a presence that will change Italy forever.”

Read the rest here.

Breeding Ancient Cattle Back from Extinction

This piece on bringing the Aurochs back from extinction was just published by Time.

The only place to see an aurochs in nature these days? A cave painting. The enormous wild cattle that once roamed the European plains have been extinct since 1627, when the last survivor died in a Polish nature reserve. But this could soon change thanks to the work of European preservationists who are hoping they can make the great beast walk again. If they succeed — through a combination of modern genetic expertise and old-fashioned breeding — it would be the first time an animal has been brought back from extinction and released into the wild.

The Glaciers Are Still Melting

When the IPCC retracted its prediction that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035, Foreign Policy asked me to re-examine my Kashmir reporting. Here’s what I wrote.

Last summer, I wrote an article for this magazine in which I argued that the glaciers of Kashmir presented a potential flashpoint for climate-related conflict. Pakistan depends on the disputed territory’s water for nearly all of its agricultural irrigation. As the ice melted from the Himalayas, the region’s rivers would alter their flow and India’s nuclear-armed neighbor would come under increasing pressure to press its claims.

The crisis, I wrote, was imminent. In a 2007 report assessing the scientific consensus on global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated that if temperatures continued to rise at their current rates, the glaciers would be all but gone by 2035. That date turns out to be wrong. The news of the glaciers’ demise has been greatly exaggerated.

Read the rest here.

Why Berlusconi Will Probably Avoid Jail Time

Time has just published my story on Berlusconi’s long battle with the courts.

The war between Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his country’s judiciary was raised a notch on Wednesday when prosecutors asked for the immediate start of a trial that would see the Premier accused of paying for sex with an underage prostitute and abusing his power to cover it up.

“These trials are a farce,” said Berlusconi at a press conference in Rome. “The accusations are unfounded.” He added that he would attempt to sue the state, and declared that the taxpayer would be the ultimate victim because “the prosecutors can’t be held accountable, and that’s something that needs to be changed and that [our government] will change.”

Read the rest.

Senegal’s Plan to Fight Climate Change: A “Great Green Wall”

Fast Company has published a short analysis of the struggle poor countries face in adapting to climate change.

With the failure of the world to agree on a holistic plan to halt climate change, talk is turning to how to buttress ourselves against its effects. The industrialized world’s early measures are relatively straight-forward, if piecemeal: tougher levees, genetically hardened crops, better emergency response. But in the poorer parts of the globe — the World Bank estimates that adapting to climate change will cost developing countries up to $100 billion a year — the plans, when they exist, are both more urgent and more elusive.

Read the rest here.