As usual Sunday’s Italian election had its share of controversies regarding the vote from Italian citizens overseas
By Gianni Pezzano
As usual Sunday’s Italian election had its share of controversies regarding the vote from Italian citizens overseas. The proposal was always controversial but the inevitable controversies that have now followed all three elections under the current law should make us take a step back and look at this concept not on the basis of the right to vote contained in the constitution, but on two questions that should be answered by both the Italian parliament and also the Italian communities overseas themselves.
The first question is one that has never truly been defined. Who are the Italian overseas and what is their relationship with Italy? The second is the one that goes to the heart of the controversy and it is simply, of what practical use is the vote overseas for both the communities and the Italian political system?
Italians, yes or no?
While much is said about the Italians overseas and which the vote was supposed to alleviate, the controversies raised must force us to wonder how we are seen in the country that for some of us is our country of birth, for some the country of our parents and for others the country of some of our grandparents and great grandparents.
According to official figures from the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs the Italians overseas are about five million Italian citizens and about eighty five million between those who took up other citizenships (renouncing Italian) and the descendants of Italian migrants over the last century or so. Of the latter figure nobody can tell with any degree of certainty how many could be Italian citizens and in the case of those of third and later generations the documentation to prove the legal link that gives citizenship is difficult if not impossible to prove. In any case, those beginning with the second generation have a decreasing capacity for effectively speaking and understanding modern Italian, without forgetting the low level of effective knowledge of Italian Culture, history, etc., often due to the school systems of their countries of residence/birth.
Yet all the information sent to Italians overseas is almost exclusively in Italian and therefore of little effective use for the vast majority of the Italian communities overseas. This applies not only to the official communications from the Italian government and bureaucracy, as in the case of elections, but also in information, news services and entertainment sent to the Italian communities overseas.
Are these programmes and services intended only for the first generation? If not, then they should be provided with the appropriate subtitles and/or bilingual in the languages of the various communities. It is counterproductive providing services to five million people around the world when the potential international market, even if only limited to Italians and their descendants which it surely would not be, is over ninety million people.
Much is said by politicians and cultural organizations in Italy and overseas, but little is done to approach those who have little or no knowledge of the language and Culture. This is the principal reason that these services should provide such a solution in other countries.
Promoting Culture and Language
We often forget that to truly understand a language we must know its history and culture for much of what we say in our daily lives changes over time and in response to many influences. We just have to think how much our daily language has changed due to computer technology, social media, etc.
If we do not start by making our relatives and friends overseas truly understand the linguistic and cultural heritage that is part of their family history we would fail to give them an incentive to learn our language.
Despite these considerations, as a country we insist on considering the Italians overseas simply according to their passport and this is even worse during election time when the political parties look for every seat possible to win a national election which in all honesty does little to change the quality of life of the majority of Italians overseas…
With this in mind we must now consider the effectiveness of the vote of Italians overseas and also of the effectiveness of their representation.
We do not intend judging the work of any or all the parliamentarians who represented the Italian overseas in recent years. They each had their reasons for election and each must be judged by what he or she achieved in office and this can be easily found by checking the official records and documentation.
The considerations are of other aspects that were underestimated when the method of voting and the distribution of eighteen men and women who are supposed to represent at least five million Italian citizens were decided in the original law promoted by Mirko Tremaglia.
In every country citizens complain of lack of access to their parliamentarians, therefore the very thought that one member of parliament and one senator can represent three continents, Africa, Asia and Oceania and the scientists in Antarctica is simply unrealistic. Despite the best intentions and will to work of the representatives, in a parliamentary system which gives very little administrative support staff compared to other modern democracies, the task is at best highly difficult and forces the representatives to levels of travel that limit their contributions in parliament, especially for those elected outside Europe.
Furthermore, in those countries with long standing communities such as the United States, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, etc, which are now in their fifth, sixth and even later generations, are the parliamentarians of first generation truly representative of the whole of the communities that they represent? Naturally this situation is made even worse when, as the new law now allows, these parliamentarians can be based in Italy and nominated there and not just in the areas they should represent.
The other aspect of the overseas vote, and particularly in the large older communities, is what does the representation in Italy’s parliament truly mean for the voters? With the exception of the newly arrived migrants who look for improved services at the consulates and those who receive Italian pensions, a small percentage of the bigger communities and sadly destined to decline over time, Italy’s parliament can do little or nothing to change the quality of their lives.
In some countries, such as those in South America, many look to the possibility of Italian citizenship in order to be able to work in Europe but for those who remain in the countries the parliamentarians cannot give their any effective benefits to their electorate
But the greatest reality is the one that deals with the harshness of politics, no matter in which country.
Any cuts to funds destined for overseas are painless for governments of any persuasion. Many in Italy see money sent overseas, especially for “esoteric” reasons such as promoting Italian Culture, language, tourism, etc, as a waste even though such investments have reaped big rewards for other countries such as France and Germany. This is a mentality that must be changed in any case, whether or not there are parliamentarians elected overseas as it is short-sighted and foolish.
So now we must consider the future.
In any case, with the electoral victory of Matteo Salvini’s Lega and Beppe Grillo’s Movimento 5 Stelle (5 Star Movement) , the possibility of overseas funding will decrease radically and this will surely include the presence of overseas elected parliamentarians that will occur with the inevitable changes to the electoral law that has been the subject of much complaint. This of course will depend on whether or not a functional majority will come out of President Mattarella’s consultations over the next few weeks..As we wait to see if the new Parliament will be able to proceed, we should also consider the effective role of the CGIE (General Council for Italians Overseas, on a worldwide level) and the local Comites (Committees for Italians Overseas, on a territorial level) which must also be reviewed with a view towards making them more representative of the demographics of each community and also with the possibility of playing active roles (with appropriately qualified members) in the promotion of Italian companies and products which must also include Italian language and Culture as an absolute priority.
All we can do now is to wait for the Italian Parliament to sit and see what changes the future will bring, but Sunday’s election will surely lead to a period of political uncertainty which will do little to resolve the issues Italy must face nationally and internationally.
What must be the true role of the Italians overseas?