The year of 2011 will go down as a very tumultuous year in Italian history. A year full of promise, change, natural disasters, economic crisis, political upheaval, etc. It is a year quite like no other in Italian history.
The year of promise started earlier in the year the country celebrated its 150 year anniversary of unification. Previously, it was a country of many different feudal states. All throughout the year we saw great fanfare which included many cultural events, celebrations, parades, fireworks, concerts, etc. The actual anniversary took place on March 17th, but there were celebrations that lasted well into the summer.
Italian natural disasters
The floods in Italy that took place this past October and November have been devastating. November is the usually rainiest month in Italy, and that is the time when the famous acqua alta in Venice typically occurs, but it has been decades since we have seen anything like the destruction in Liguria and Tuscany. Monterosso and Vernazza (2 towns of the famous Italian riviera resort area Cinque Terre) were particularly hit hard, and will be a while before they can recover from the natural disaster. Monterosso may be ready for this summer’s tourist season, but the repairs will take longer in Vernazza. There were even heavy floods in the opposite end of the country in Messina, Sicily during the latter part of November.
We also saw riots in Rome as the “Occupy fill in the blank location” movement spread to Italy as well. The root of all these “occupy” movements, in a nutshell, really boils down to dissatisfaction pertaining to money and the economy.
Financial problems in Italy
The Italian debt is at a staggering 1.9 trillion Euros (2.4 trillion USD). It is running at 120 times Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The only European country that is higher is Greece at 140. The USA is running about 100 times GDP. No one wants to accept the fact that austerity measures are probably needed, but in the land of "la dolce vita", no one wants to hear it. This has caused a lot of political pressure. At the heart of the austerity measures are the generous pension plans that Italians have grown accustomed to over the years, many receiving full pensions at age 55.
We also saw the ouster of former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, (Berlusconi steps down) Italy’s richest man. He was the longest running prime minister in Italy since Musolini, but his time ran up as the financial pressures, and political pressures forced a change, and now Mario Monti is the new Prime Minister. Monti’s background and expertise in economics comes at a perfect time, as Italy will need many experts to get itself out of economic turmoil.
Despite all the problems, Italy is still the 5th most visited country in the world (2010 wiki stats) with approx 43 million visitors. They rank behind France, US, China and Spain. I’ll be curious to see what the 2011 figures turn out to be.
As we look towards 2012, I imagine that Italy can right itself financially with the proper austerity measures, and tax increases as Monti is trying to get passed.
I bet many Italians will be happy to say "Addio" which means goodbye to 2011 and they will welcome 2012 with a nice warm Italian smile, and a double kiss or "un gran abbraccio" (big hug).
I want to wish everyone un Buon capodanno or Happy New Year!
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