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The moral revival of the South can start from its “best” In the latest essay by Lino Patruno, Il meglio Sud (The best South) (Rubbettino), an in-depth analysis of the ills of the South but also the glimmer of light from positive projects in a South that works, thinks and holds its own by Raffaele Nigro
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 Nobody talks about the South any more. Pino Aprile said this a few years ago in his successful Terroni. But years go by and the silence on the South continues. Nobody talks about it in Parliament, nor in the blustering electoral speeches of Matteo Renzi or of the many party secretaries. It is Renzi that runs away from an appointment like the one he had at the Fiera del Levante, for fear of having to talk about issues that he thinks have nothing to do with him. It is an issue that has all the characteristics of a desert, to escape from and leave behind because it’s hard to deal with. That’s why Lino Patruno in Il meglio Sud (Rubbettino, 2015, 305pages, 15 euros) launches yet another desperate cry, after those in Fuoco del Sud (2011) and Ricomincio da Sud (2012) and just when he’s decided to cross this blessed South, the way Moses did when he set out to take the Jews to the Promised Land. That desert strikes Patruno as a demographic tragedy, because the number of elderly people is equal to that of children under the age of one. It is a social tragedy, because there are and there will increasingly be fewer workers able to pay contributions to support the pension bill. It is a political tragedy, because if the population falls, the number of our representatives in Parliament also falls. It is consequently an economic tragedy, due to the current youth unemployment in the South, where one out of every two young people is jobless, where the presence of the state is minimal, with businesses disappearing before our very eyes, over 300 a day according to ISTAT figures. 

To tell the truth, people do talk about the South, or rather they badmouth it. The economist Emanuele Felice, for instance, argues that the ills of the South depend on its executive class, a vision that provokes someone like Galli Della Loggia, who though he has always been critical of the South, pulls Felice into line: it is the entire Italian executive class that has produced the ills of the Mezzogiorno. These ills according to Patruno can be summed up in a ghastly museum of Horrors. The book counts about twenty of them, each analyzed and discussed. They are fiscal Federalism, which impacts the poorest citizens; the transfer of capital to the Regions without adjustments at the outset for what is needed in hospitals and in the road and railway system; the lack of intervention to guarantee essential public services. 

Patruno’s examination continues with the analysis of the infrastructures, and the railway situation. Five hours to get from Rome to Bari, the same time from Bari to Naples, twelve from Bari to Reggio Calabria. The trains are obsolete, even on the section pompously described as served by the “Freccia bianca”, where the population has long been waiting for the works for the “Freccia rossa”. On the trains there is no assistance of any kind. The analysis of the infrastructures then passes to the sore point of the road system, to the disastrous Salerno-Reggio Calabria motorway, to the worrying cracks in the Naples-Bari viaducts, to the unfinished Taranto Cosenza road. And if one wanted to get to Catania from Bari? By train it would be exorbitant. And by plane? You’d have to go to Rome and wait for the connection. It would take a whole day. And when will the logistic platform on the Mediterranean ever get started if the port of Taranto is waiting for a dredging that would free it of the rubbish deposited on the seabed so it can go from the present depth of 12 meters to the sixteen envisaged?

The accusations made by Patruno are at this point accompanied by the historical analysis of events linked to the spread of the mafia in Italy. He starts from the Unification, when the phenomenon was first recorded in Sicily. The mafia spread out, slowly attacking the organisms of the State, to the point where it contaminated men like Dell’Utri, one of the founders of Forza Italia, in collusion with the criminal organizations. This was the way we got to the latest phenomena of Rome-mafia capital, while in outlying areas even the processions, as in the case of Oppido Mamertina, bow in respect to the local mafia boss. Patruno admits that the examination of the South cannot shirk coming to terms with its own evils. And this issue of the mafias, although today we are seeing a globalization of the phenomenon, is one of the evils endemic to the Mezzogiorno. The worst South. A South whose disgraceful own-goals are listed here with arithmetical precision. The gargantuan hospital in Gravina that has never been opened; the light rail between Cosenza and Rende, blocked due to internal political feuds in the region; illegal building on crown land in Vibo Valentia; the scarcity of royalties coming from the crude oil in Lucania; the various eco-monsters scattered throughout Campania and Sicily; the rivers of money spent on garbage in Calabria; the abandonment of Pompei and many others…

But does a better South exist? A South not crippled by crime? A productive South? Patruno’s analysis ends with a list of positive projects and of names and organizations that make the South a land that works, thinks, and holds its own. The high point is the naming of Matera as European capital of culture for 2019. 

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