< Italy's Generation Gap


Friday, February 11, 2011

BROOKE GLADSTONE: The Middle East is not the only region roiling with generational strife. In Italy, grown kids have been recently slammed by a politician as “bamboccioni,” big babies, living in the comfort of home until marriage. Sounds cozy. It’s not. It’s a country with one of the oldest populations in Europe. It’s also a country with an extremely high unemployment rate of young people, and that’s been the source of long-simmering resentment. As Megan Williams reports, that resentment is causing a widening gap between generations, both on the streets and in the press.


MEGAN WILLIAMS: The sound of student marches in Rome this fall.

[SOUND OF STUDENT PROTESTORS] Week after week, young people took to the streets to protests cuts to education and the lack of opportunity for young people in Italy. It’s a scene that’s common throughout Europe, yet young protestors in Italy perhaps have the most to complain about. Within Europe, Italy has the highest number of idle young people, one in five between ages 15 and 29 doing essentially nothing.

[CROWD HUBBUB] The pessimism is pretty apparent in recent polls. More than half of Italians aged 25 to 34 would leave Italy, if they could. But pessimism doesn't mean passivity. Blogs, books and websites have popped up, pointing their fingers directly at their elders.

MARIO ADINOLFI: We lived in Italy for 23 years with people that ate all the cake and thought nothing about what was the need for the future.

MEGAN WILLIAMS: Mario Adinolfi is the publisher and editor of the newly founded magazine called The Week, which is:

MARIO ADINOLFI: Written by old people born after 1970, in Italy, young people. They – they laugh that we are young, even if I'm [LAUGHS] nearly 40 years old.

MEGAN WILLIAMS: Adinolfi is a poker player. Last year, he won a big windfall and decided to invest it in a magazine devoted to fighting for the rights of Italy’s under-40s. On one cover are the headshots of four leading politicians with the headline, “You’re All Old.” On another is a glib-looking Silvio Berlusconi, with the even harsher headline, “He Never Dies.”

MARIO ADINOLFI: Because they're old. [LAUGHS] Silvio Berlusconi is 75 years old, Umberto Bossi is 70 years old. John Franco Fini is 60 years old, but is – he’s in politics since 40 years, and the same from Massimo D’Alema, the leader of left-wing party, 62 years old, 40 years in politics.

MEGAN WILLIAMS: Adinolfi says these older politicians, bankers and journalists have formed a kind of geriocracy that ensures its generation secure jobs, hefty pensions and housing, while shutting out Italy’s under-40s from positions of power, cutting education and shrinking their pension prospects. Adinolfi has voiced his critique on Italian TV to the ire of older journalists. In this talk show, the editor of a leading right wing newspaper said someone should beat him up:



[END CLIP] One of the accusations that the older generation throws in the face of younger Italians is that they're too comfortable for their own good. They point to the fact that 68 percent of Italians under 40 still live with their parents. Many more are financially helped out. Adinolfi, who struggled to leave home at 18, concedes there’s truth in the accusation, but he says the loving Italian family can, in fact, be a kind of juvenile prison.

MARIO ADINOLFI: Because if you say to people that are 35 or 38, look, your parents are stealing your future, they always answer you, what are you saying? They, they're doing everything for me. They pay for me. And they don't understand that that is the way parents control the other half of the country.


MEGAN WILLIAMS: Bamboccioni or big babies, that’s what Italy’s Minister of Innovation, Renato Brunetta, called his country’s young people.


INTERPRETER FOR RENATO BRUNETTA: I said I wanted to pass a law that would force young people to leave home at 18, and all hell broke loose, both on the left and on the right. The left criticized me, saying the issue wasn't kids staying home, but jobs. The right cried, no, you must keep families together. They're all hypocrites.


MEGAN WILLIAMS: People like Mario Adinolfi shot back, pointing out that Brunetta himself lived at home until he was 30, with his mother making his bed every day. What triggered the whole debate was a court case in Northern Italy, where a 33-year-old woman sued her father for support, and won. Brunetta says blaming the older generation, or forcing them to pay, is a copout. [RENATO BRUNETTA SPEAKING ITALIAN]

INTERPRETER FOR RENATO BRUNETTA: It’s useless to blame the older generation for having power. Young people have to take power by leaving home, by starting careers, by innovation, by being young and modernizing. But no one’s going to give it to you. You have to fight for it.

MEGAN WILLIAMS: Dance instructor Marina Casagrande has fought for it. Tonight, in the small city of Trento in the Italian Alps, she’s teaching a class of six-year-olds. Tomorrow she'll work all day in a dress shop, before heading home to her tiny studio apartment to finish sewing some outfits for a little more money. She makes less than a thousand dollars a month.


INTERPRETER FOR MARINA CASAGRANDE: I've also worked part time, and after high school I worked too. Okay, I've never earned very good money as a sales clerk, and I've always had to rely partly on my mother, but I've always worked. And I continue to work.

MEGAN WILLIAMS: Casagrande is the 33-year-old who sued her father for support and got lacerated in the press.


INTERPRETER FOR MARINA CASAGRANDE: The Italian media depicted me as someone who stayed at home doing nothing all day and who was out partying every night, having a great time when, in reality, I was working.

MEGAN WILLIAMS: Editorials from the U.S. to Australia mocked and scorned Casagrande as an example of all that’s wrong with today’s youth - lazy, unrealistic and overindulged. What didn't get out in the press was that Casagrande was actually suing her father for back support he was obliged to pay her single mother while Casagrande was still a teenager, a meager 150 dollars a month over several years. Casagrande needed the money for a back operation that her mother couldn't afford to pay. Journalists didn't bother to check the facts. Instead, they presented a narrative that vilified young people.

[MAGAZINE/HUBBUB] Back in Rome, Mario Adinolfi is busy planning the next issue of his magazine. As a father of a baby, he looks tired but also invigorated, energized by his new project. But he says in an Italy that suffocates its young people, he’s an exception. MARIO ADINOLFI: Young people can innovate. Every – everywhere happens things like that. There is always a, a 20-year-old Mark Zuckerberg that gets out and creates something. In Italy [LAUGHS] you can't even imagine to do something like that. You stay home and you have to just understand that if you stay in the condition that your parents decide you to stay, it’s much more easier. But this kills the country.

MEGAN WILLIAMS: It hasn't killed it yet, though, as more young people like Adinolfi are hitting back.

MARIO ADINOLFI: Now something is happening because you see a lot of rage in the - streets, but I don't think that politics and newspapers and social condition and intellectual people in this country are understanding what’s happening, or what’s going to happen in some years.

MEGAN WILLIAMS: By then though, they may not be around to see it.

For On the Media, I'm Megan Williams, in Rome. [MUSIC/MUSIC UP AND UNDER]