Together with national and international media partners, ZEIT ONLINE is currently developing My Country Talks, a platform to set up face-to-face conversations around the world between people with opposing political viewpoints. On a recent Sunday in Bologna, L'Italia si parla took place, the first test of the platform outside of Germany. Our reporter was on hand to observe two of the participants. Further pilot events are scheduled for Weimar and Ulm.
It's a few hours before Enrico Verno is scheduled to meet up with a woman who holds a completely different worldview to his own, and he is sitting in a park in Bologna doing his best to explain his own political stance. Thirty-eight years old, Verno is a friendly, slightly portly man from Turin with a gray-specked beard. He studied law, directs internal communications at the company he works for and has a girlfriend who is a teacher. Things are going well for him, better than for the many of his fellow Italians who are out of work, particularly in the south of the country. But he is nevertheless disappointed – with politics in his country and with the Italian left, which was once his political home. The problem, Verno says, is that the terms right and left no longer have any meaning in Italian politics.
Verno still regards himself as left-wing but says that the left actually no longer exists in the country. And the person to blame, he believes, is Matteo Renzi, the former prime minister and erstwhile head of the center-left Partido Democratico. "Renzi basically killed off the left," Verno says, arguing that Renzi and his economic reforms pushed the social democratic party further and further to the right in recent years. So far that Verno could no longer vote for the party in good conscience in the last election. Instead, he cast his ballot for the populist Five Star Movement, which emerged from the March 4 election as the strongest party. Since the beginning of June, M5S has shared power with the far-right Lega, led by Matteo Salvini.
Is he happy with the election result? "No, how can I be happy?" Verno says. "But what else could I do? Not vote at all?"
That was the decision that Anna Albanese made in March. She was on her honeymoon and didn't cast a ballot. And she says she wouldn't have known who to vote for anyway. Albanese is from the south of Italy, from the province of Salerno, near Naples. Like Verno, she was born in 1980, the year a massive earthquake struck the south, killing almost 3,000 people. At the age of two, she and her parents moved to Modena, a city of 180,000 located about half an hour away from Bologna. Her father was a trade unionist.
A Meeting of Opposites
"The biggest problem in Italy today is work," she says. There is too little job security, too much unemployment and too many short-term contracts, in her opinion. "How can I buy a house or have children if I don't know if I'm still going to have a job tomorrow." Albanese studied art history and works as a receptionist. She would really like to be doing something else, but then she looks at her friends and her brother, all of whom are still unemployed in their mid-30s, and feels guilty for being dissatisfied. She tells herself to be happy that she has a job at all.
Verno and Albanese have a lot in common when it comes to their biographies and they are also broadly in agreement on what Italy's problems are. But for the encounter earlier this month in Bologna, they met as adversaries. They had both registered with L'Italia si parla (or: "Italy speaks with itself"), an event facilitated by the Italian publications La Repubblica and Huffington Post Italia, both of which are partners in the international project My Country Talks.
The idea behind the event is that of pairing up strangers with adversarial political positions for a discussion – right in the midst of the country's political crisis. The event was scheduled to take place at midday on June 10 at La Repubblica's festival of ideas in Bologna.