When in Rome


The newly elected Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has finally been sworn in and his Cabinet named. After one of the closest elections in Italian history it seems that the Centre-Left coalition l’Unione has Italians living abroad to thank for pushing them over the line.

Romano Prodi

But being seen as ‘a group of foreign objects who have changed the destiny of Italian politics’ is the last thing that Marco Fedi wants. Fedi is one of the two Italo-Australians elected to represent the vast electorate of Oceania, Asia, Africa and Antarctica. In a cruel twist of fate, it was outgoing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Centre-Right Government that introduced legislation that created 18 new seats in the Parliament for Italian expatriates (11 of which were secured by l’Unione), as well as the ‘Premio di Maggioranza’ legislation that gives a Party the right to govern by gaining victory in the Lower House, no matter how slim the majority.

W hile governing a nation split down the middle politically, with a majority of just two seats in the Senate, may have many punters doubting the stability of Prodi’s Government, it is not something that Marco Fedi and members of the Italian community in Australia are too concerned about.

It is the first time that Italian communities abroad have had a direct electoral link with the Italian government, and according Dr Giuseppe Musso, President of Sydney’s ‘Committee of Italians Abroad’ (Com.It.Es), Berlusconi’s legislative changes came at a perfect time:

We are Italians, 150 per cent. Even if we live here, we are still Italian and we now have the right, by law, to have a say. We are in the middle at the moment the elderly are going toward their final destination and the young are trying to find a new link with Italy and establishing some sort of representation in the new Italian Parliament will make it easier for us to have a more direct approach.

For Fedi, this direct approach has already meant a ‘discussion about priorities’ with Prime Minister Prodi:

W e have indicated to Mr Prodi, that we will be parliamentarians in the truest meaning of the word actively discussing in Parliament every aspect of Italian political life and foreign affairs, and every single Bill that goes to Parliament will be assessed by us. And the Parliament will now focus on issues relevant to our communities abroad.

These issues include working toward improving consular networks, the promotion of the Italian language abroad, and dealing with the problems associated with social security for the elderly. The complicated issue of the re-acquisition of Italian citizenship by those Italians abroad who were previously forced to renounce it, was also mentioned.

However, dual citizenship is something that Fedi says should be of secondary importance after his role as both a representative from abroad and as an Italian parliamentarian:

I f we show them firstly that we are there because we have been elected to represent Italians citizens abroad but, now, we can also contribute to Italian political life then within that framework we can show them that there is something beyond Italy as well as showing them what the Italian communities abroad are all about.

This sentiment is shared by Claudio Marcello, Australian correspondent for the Italian News Agency, who says, ‘It will make Italians aware of this other reality, that there are as many Italians abroad as there are in Italy, and they are a strength. And they are not all nostalgic old-fashioned conservative people they are people of today with a progressive leaning.’

Marco Fedi

According to Fedi, the contributions that expatriates can make in Italian Parliament can include a discussion of Italian immigration policies ‘promoting the multicultural approach which has shaped Australia’ and trying to attract some attention to serious issues in a country where ‘the media is usually focussed on the big names of Italian politics and their political battles.’

However, success will depend largely on just how much contact Fedi and his colleague elected to the Senate, Nino Randazzo, can have with their electorate which spans a third of the globe. They will be relying on a change to parliamentary sittings to allow them to visit their constituents and associations (like Com.It.Es), and to hold community forums to inform Italo-Australians of what is happening in Parliament in Rome.

Musso aims to use the new reality of parliamentary representation as a platform to generate political interest and an engagement with Italian culture among Italo-Australians, especially the young who, according to 23-year-old Isabella Restifa, assistant campaign manager for Berlusconi’s Forza Italia candidate in Sydney, do not take an active interest:

The younger generation don’t seem to be aware and that’s a problem. Having this election and the representation in the long-term is for our generation, rather than the elderly … It can work, but it depends on the candidates. It’s the first time this has happened, so we just don’t know.

This uncertainty is echoed by Musso, who says the Italian community will be ‘keeping an eye’ on what unfolds in the Italian Parliament:

I will wait for a few years and see what they have achieved for us, and what really can be achieved in the Italian Parliament by the introduction of members from abroad. If it doesn’t work, give us the vote and we will vote for the Italians living there. But I think this exercise will really benefit the Italians living abroad.

Marco Fedi may not want to be seen as changing the destiny of Italian politics, but as an active Italian Parliamentarian, representing a community on the brink of generational change, he may be in the process of doing just that.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.