Austerity kills in Genoa, Italy

The collapsed bridge in Genoa

By Ben Chacko:

European Union CHIEFS sought to deny today that years of crippling budget cuts imposed on Italy could be responsible for the collapse of a Genoa motorway bridge with the loss of at least 39 lives earlier this week.

Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said that Italy would increase infrastructure spending to tackle dangerously degraded bridges and roads even if doing so breached EU rules.

EU spokesman Christian Spahr retorted that the 2014-2020 EU budget plan earmarks €2.5 billion for Italian network infrastructure spending and claimed that “the EU has encouraged investment in infrastructure.”

But investment in Italy’s roads dropped by over €10bn in the three years following the bankers’ crash of 2007-8. Left newspaper Il Manifesto pointed out today that spending had dropped from €7.30 to €2.20 per kilometre (£10.40 to £3.12 a mile) over a few years of savage budgets.

As recently as May, the European Commission was demanding further cuts to Italian public spending.

Cuts imposed by the Silvio Berlusconi administration up to 2011 were prescribed in minute detail by the European Central Bank, with a leaked letter from then bank chiefs Mario Draghi and Jean-Claude Trichet on August 5 2011 instructing the Italian prime minister to accelerate the “full liberalisation of local public services … through large-scale privatisations”, achieve a balanced budget by 2013 “mainly via expenditure cuts”, abolish collective bargaining and cut public-sector pay and pensions.

Former EU commissioner Mario Monti, who was installed as a technocrat PM from 2011, inflicted even deeper spending cuts on Italy.

Rome has said it will revoke the concession granted to the Atlantia holding company which controls Italy’s motorway operator Autostrade per l’Italia, with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte saying it had not properly maintained the bridge.

The firm, itself owned by Benetton, has protested that specific fault has not been proven and, if it loses the concession, the government will need to pay its full value.

The death toll from the disaster is expected to rise, with Genoa’s chief prosecutor saying that “as many as 20” people could still be trapped under rubble.

By Marianne Arens, 17 August 2018:

Following the collapse of a motorway bridge in Genoa, Italy, the death toll has risen to at least 42. The Morandi Bridge had subsided and broke over a length of over 200 metres on August 14, burying buildings and railroad tracks and plunging vehicles into the Polcevera River. So far, 16 people have been hauled out of the rubble with serious injuries and more than 600 have lost their homes. …

The exact technical reasons that led to the disaster have not yet been clarified. However, the tragedy is a piece of a bigger picture, which is becoming clearer and clearer. It reveals a deeply sick society in which public institutions and infrastructure are underfunded and systematically looted.

For decades, changing governments have organized an unprecedented orgy of enrichment by the Italian bourgeoisie at the expense of working people. Every year, public investment is cut back and infrastructure support systematically pared down.

All political camps are responsible for this. This applies both to the four governments under Silvio Berlusconi, who, as the epitome of corruption, had declared self-enrichment a virtue, as well as to various centre-left governments that alternated in power with Berlusconi. From Mario Monti to Romano Prodi to Enrico Letta, Matteo Renzi and Paolo Gentiloni, these were the governments in which the Democratic Party (PD) … cut back on everything and everyone to fill the gaps in the budget. Public investment, social spending and infrastructure were allowed to deteriorate.

The resulting social catastrophe created the conditions under which the current government of the right-wing Lega and the Five Star Movement came to power in June. This coalition pushes the worst characteristics of previous governments to extremes. It is mercilessly building up the police state, attacking the working class and organizing mass murder in the Mediterranean refugee crisis.

The current government politicians from the Lega and Five Star Movement are themselves directly responsible for the neglect of public infrastructure. For decades, the Lega has been an integral part of the various Berlusconi governments.

In the month since the August 14 collapse of Genoa’s Morandi Bridge, it has become clear that there were repeated warnings about the dangerous decay of the bridge’s structural integrity. Although minor repairs were carried out, calls from engineers and other experts for major repairs and the decommissioning of the structure were ignored by the private operator and the government: here.

Vehicle crashes claim lives of 16 migrant workers in Italy. By Allison Smith, 17 August 2018. The deadly vehicle crashes—caused by sheer greed for profit at the expense of the labourers—are linked to the extremely right-wing course of the government in Rome: here.

Violinist Paganini, new film

This video is called The Devils’s Violinist — Official Trailer (English).

By Bernd Reinhardt in Germany:

Paganini or The Devil’s Violinist?

14 December 2013

Written and directed by Bernard Rose

The life of Italian violin virtuoso, Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840), continues to be largely a myth inflated by legend. The German-Italian feature film The Devil’s Violinist (scripted and directed by Bernard Rose) does little to debunk the legends or honour Paganini’s genuine artistic achievements. While German actor Klaus Kinski’s earlier film, Paganini (1989), presented the violinist as a “mad genius”, the makers of The Devil’s Violinist irritatingly portray Paganini as a “rock star of the 19th century”.

The Devil’s Violinist

The Devil’s Violinist

In Rose’s film, we see Paganini becoming an undisputed star in London in 1830. Until then he has often had to resort to cheap antics to draw attention to himself. He meets the manager Urbani (Jared Harris), who one immediately recognises is involved with “dark forces”. And, in fact, Paganini sells him his soul for money and fame. Now the great concert halls are open to him. Young ladies shriek as soon as the “devil’s fiddler” positions his bow—if they haven’t already fallen into a swoon.

Paganini is played by German-born violinist David Garrett (born David Bongarz in 1980), who certainly has a mastery of his instrument. However, even in the concert scenes, the film fails to genuinely take off. The production is shallow and boring on the whole, including its overwrought scenes of public hysteria. Garrett’s Paganini spouts clichés such as “I live only for music”, and the film builds toward a kitschy love story. Paganini meets Charlotte (Andrea Deck), a young singer, not very talented but pretty. He gives her singing lessons and predictably she blossoms under his guidance.

The film’s mild criticism of the commercialisation of art consists of fashionable platitudes. The message seems to be: there’s a devil inside each one of us. Or, in a more secular vein, people are never safe from their unconscious hunger for wealth and fame. In the end, Charlotte also treads the same thin show business ice, which has just broken under Paganini.

Somewhere in the film a character even drops the phrase “culture industry” or “music industry”. And in the person of Paganini arriving in foggy London, the viewer might momentarily think he or she sees—wearing dark glasses and holding a handkerchief to his mouth—Michael Jackson in the carriage. Paganini is confronted by a demonstration of angry women incited by the press to protest against the foreigner and alleged child molester.

At several points, Paganini stages scenes of crowds whipped up into fanaticism by the media. However, the filmmakers seem incapable of imagining that art itself could have the power to inspire and exalt people. The Paganini of the film becomes a megastar, thanks to clever advertising and stage management. As his star declines, the fickle public again call on him to perform his early tricks. All of this has little to do with the real Paganini.

Paganini in 1819

Niccol Paganini was born into a poor family in Genoa. His father was a dock worker and self-taught musician who tried to supplement the family income by gambling. His mother was a simple woman who could barely read and write, but loved music. Even as a small child, Niccol busied himself with mandolin, fiddle and guitar. He received his first lessons from his father. Aided by a Genoese merchant and patron of the arts, the boy received a number of violin lessons from a reputable musician and completed his first public performance, winning adulation from the surrounding community.

Before his father sent him to Parma to continue instruction under distinguished musicians in 1795, the 13-year-old gave a performance of one of his own compositions in Genoa. The Carmagnola consist of 14 variations on a popular French revolutionary song. Most of the inhabitants of Genoa were supporters of the Jacobins in France and welcomed the Ligurian Republic (1797-1805), which replaced the old aristocratic regime following Napoleon’s invasion of Italy. Napoleon quickly proved a bitter disappointment. By the time Niccol returned to Genoa at the end of 1797, the population had been forced to provide for the French army and was reduced to starvation.

After the fall of Napoleon, the Ligurian Republic, briefly restored in 1814, was dissolved for good by the Congress of Vienna under the leadership of Austrian foreign minister Prince Metternich in 1815. The old feudal powers were back in charge. Paganini was never again to play the Carmagnola variations. Instead, the Vienna Hoftheater resounded in 1828 to his variations on Haydn’s hymn, “God Save Kaiser Franz”, today known as the German national anthem. In Berlin a year later, he first performed his variations on the German emperor’s hymn, “Hail to Thee in Victor’s Crown”, which he then conveniently presented as “God Save the King”—variations on the English national anthem—in London in 1830. (It is the same tune.) Notwithstanding its reception by the crowned heads of Europe, Paganini’s music continued to express the unbridled energy of the Carmagnola.

Viennese classical music of the time reached its height in the works of Beethoven (1770-1827), which evoked the spirit of revolutionary ideals. “Be embraced, you millions. This kiss is for the whole world”, declared the Ninth Symphony in the words of Schiller’s poem. Napoleon’s conquests had meant that this “kiss” ended in disappointment. But Paganini’s music does not share Beethoven’s pathos. The theatrically pompous orchestral inserts in the first movement of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 1 are charged with a sense of irony.

Paganini and Beethoven represented very different musical traditions. Beethoven’s work expressed the high level of development reached by instrumental music in Austria-Hungary. His music unfolds to the listener in complex musical patterns. Paganini was influenced by the artistically and technically demanding culture of Italian opera. His virtuoso compositions appeal directly and spontaneously, often more improvised than composed. Like other Italian composers, he incorporated catchy folk music themes, as in “Il Carneval di Venezia”. He was more concerned than was Beethoven with the development of melody. The orchestra essentially served to accompany the soloist.

Paganini's 'Il Cannone Guarnerius' violin

Paganini explored the possibilities of the solo violin, developing new playing techniques and sounds. He often tuned the instrument to a higher pitch than usual. Exploiting his breathtaking virtuosity, he expanded the violin’s conventional tonal range. (Several works, like the “Sonata Napoleone” or “Le Streghe [Witches Dance]”, are played on a single string.) He employed reinforced harmonics (flageoletttöne) and developed a whole system of artificially generated harmonics that often seem to consist of two sounds. His handling of the bow was as impressive as it was dynamic. His trademark was a virtuoso plucking technique.

The effect of this music could be overwhelming. In the wake of the Congress of Vienna and the restoration of various European monarchies, at a time of considerable disillusionment, an individual managed to do the apparently impossible: create a new world—through art. Goethe, who heard Paganini in Weimar, referred to his music as “meteoric”, a “flaming column of cloud”.

Lucca Cathedral

At the same time, many so-called serious listeners were outraged by his alleged “bad taste” and lack of respect—for example, Paganini’s habit of arbitrarily reinterpreting the works of other composers (not that this was unique to him during this period). Nor was he considered to have shown the Catholic Church the required reverence. During solemn mass in Lucca Cathedral, the “Jacobin” Paganini played—as was noted in contemporary records—not only for an indecently long time. He also imitated various musical instruments and animals on his violin.

Paganini loved making such jokes. His repertoire included a Spanish dance in which he imitated bird calls. This would have been nothing unusual in the 17th or 18th century. His attitude toward the audience was communicative, even provocative. He imitated the braying of a donkey in a concert in Ferrara, and dedicated it to a member of the audience who had insulted a female vocalist. In the “La Campanella” section of the Violin Concerto No. 2, a little bell rings from the audience several times, and each time receives a friendly answer from the violin on stage.

This juxtaposition of the “divine” and the profane played a major role in creating Paganini’s reputation as a “charlatan”. This was unfair. Music for him simply had nothing to do with elitism. He was certainly influenced in this respect by the Enlightenment. His concerts were invariably memorable social events. He also refused to compose so-called “utility music” (Gebrauchsmusik) for domestic amateur music-makers. According to music historian Edward Neill, this made Paganini—together with a few others—a real pioneer. Paganini liked playing for fun and was always ready in friendly company to pick up a mandolin, guitar or violin.

Paganini influenced European music as a whole and a great number of musicians and composers, including Liszt, Chopin and Schumann. Both human and artistic humility are evident in his public genuflection in Paris to the young composer Hector Berlioz, whose talent he recognised earlier than others, whose Symphonie Fantastique he venerated, and whom he supported with a generous donation. Despite his rough edges, Paganini was not the eccentric egoist of Rose’s film, who prefers to spend the day in bed—that is, when he is not plodding dreamy-eyed through the various locations.

The Church took revenge on Paganini for his disrespect. When he died in Nice in 1840, the church refused to bury the “infidel”. The odyssey of his remains continued for more than thirty years, until he was finally interred in Parma in 1876, thanks to close friends and his son, Achille. Paganini’s birthplace in Genoa sadly fell victim to highway construction some years ago. His favourite violin is kept in the Genoa town hall. Paganini’s 24 Caprices for Solo Violin, dedicated to “all artists”, are known by every violin student. His marvellous, invigorating music still inspires many violinists, including David Garrett, all around the world.

Rose’s film fails to capture the spirit of Paganini’s times and the qualities of this exceptional artist even in their basics. Striving to cater for modernity, Paganini prefers to recycle hackneyed notions about the backwardness of the masses and mass audiences. Its feeble criticism of show business is actually directed against the public. The masses constitute a bloodthirsty vampire that sucks the artist dry and deserts him at a whim. This standpoint aligns with the thinking of much of the nobility of the time, which virulently opposed artistic democratisation. In the view of the aristocracy art that touched the hearts of the people, ceased to be art.

YouTube links: “God save the King”, Interpreter: Frank-Peter Zimmermann Violin Concerto No.1, Interpreter: Leonid Kogan Il Carneval di Venezia, Interpreter: David Garrett Sonata Napoleon, Interpreter: Salvatore Accardo Variazioni sull Mosé, Interpreter: Antal Zalai Dal tuo stellato soglio, G. Rossini Duo merveille Sonata per violino solo, C major, Ning Feng La Campagnella, Mario Hossen Capriccio No. 5, Nathan Milstein.

Genoa, Copenhagen, summits and protests on film

This video is called Protests at G8 summit in Genoa.

By Ian Sinclair in England, about two films to be screened in London next week:

Human Rights Film Festival

Wednesday 14 March 2012

In July 2001 around 300,000 people protested against the G8 summit being held in Genoa. Two hundred arrests were made, with 1,000 people wounded and one person – Carlo Giuliani – killed by the police.

But perhaps the most shocking episode of the summit was the Italian police’s night raid on the Diaz school, where 93 unarmed activists were staying.

The events are now largely forgotten because of the fall of the Twin Towers a few months later. But by using archive video footage and interviews with the protesters, the low-budget Black Block, directed by Carlo Augusto Bachschmidt, recalls the terror meted out by the riot police.

Accounts of the beatings, which take up the majority of the documentary, are graphic and harrowing – one police officer later said the school looked like “a Mexican butcher’s shop.”

The extreme violence may be explained by the fact the Italian authorities thought the school was the headquarters of the often violent Black Block. In reality it was the co-ordinating centre for the G8 protests. They had even placed guards outside the school to stop members of the Block from entering.

It is of course an important topic. But by concentrating on questions of what, when, where and how rather than why, Black Block feels like a wasted opportunity.

The relationship between the Italian police and far-right groups is never mentioned and who authorised the raid is also left unexplored.

Muli, a German activist who was in the school, briefly points to bigger issues. “They wanted to show what can happen when you bother those in power. I think their aim was to traumatise the movement,” he says.

Although it also focuses on an international summit, the 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference, Jon Shenk’s The Island President is a far slicker, more mainstream documentary.

Soundtracked by 14 Radiohead songs, it follows Mohamed Nasheed, the charismatic president of the Maldives, as he attempts to save his country from the rising sea levels caused by man-made climate change.

Imprisoned by the 30-year dictatorship of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, including 18 months in solitary confinement, Nasheed became the first democratically elected leader of the Maldives in 2008.

Since then he has pledged to make the Maldives the first carbon-neutral nation in the world and he even held a cabinet meeting underwater to highlight his country’s plight.

With the Maldives made up of 2,000 tiny and low-lying islands in the Indian Ocean this “is the fight for our survival,” the 44-year-old president says.

Turning up at Copenhagen, flanked by his climate adviser Mark Lynas, Nasheed receives a celebrity welcome.

Interestingly, the villain at the talks for Nasheed and Lynas is China, with the US barely receiving any attention.

This is odd when one considers the US position at the time was to reduce emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels.

“This is far short of what science demands and what Europe has committed to achieve,” Greenpeace noted and, according to environmental campaigner George Monbiot, “The immediate reason or the failure of the talks can be summarised in two words: Barack Obama.”

Unfortunately, events on the ground have significantly changed the political landscape in the Maldives. Last month, Nasheed was overthrown in a coup by elements of the military and police allegedly loyal to Gayoom. Currently under house arrest, Nasheed has called for free elections.

While The Island President is a positive and hopeful film, the future of Maldivian democracy and the likelihood of the world’s governments coming together to stop runaway climate change currently looks very bleak.

The British premiere of The Island President is on March 22 at the Curzon Cinema in London, followed by the premiere of Black Block on March 24 at the same venue. Details:

How a Documentary Gets Made: here.

Henry A. Giroux | Youth in Revolt: The Plague of State-Sponsored Violence. Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: “As young people make diverse claims on the promise of a radical democracy, articulating what a fair and just world might be, they are increasingly met with forms of physical, ideological and structural violence…. What must be addressed in the most immediate sense is the threat the emerging police state in the United States poses not to just the young protesters occupying a number of American cities, but also the threat it poses to democracy itself”: here.

Infiltration of Political Movements Is the Norm, Not the Exception in the United States. Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, Occupy Washington, DC: “When the long history of political infiltration is reviewed, the Occupy Movement should be surprised if it is not infiltrated. Almost every movement in modern history has been infiltrated by police and others using many of the same tactics we are now seeing in Occupy”: here.