News / Europe

Poor Economy Sparks Protests in Italy

Sabina Castelfranco

Discontent runs high in Italy among the population due to the country's economic difficulties. This led to massive protests over the weekend attended by tens of thousands of demonstrators.

It was meant to be a peaceful effort to voice unhappiness over the government's failure to provide concrete responses to existing problems. But soon extremist elements infiltrated the demonstrators, turning their anger into violence.

The streets of Rome saw scenes of urban guerrilla warfare that they had not witnessed in years.

Italy has Europe's second highest debt burden after Greece. Unemployment is high. Young and old find it very difficult to make ends meet.

Many students feel they have no prospects, no future. Among them is Camilla Polimadei, 17.

"I am worried about the fact the at the moment the way things are going I should no longer even bother studying because what's the point? I'll end up working as a hairdresser even if I get a degree," said Polimadei.  "I don't want a future like this. I want a future that I earn what I want to become."

Her father is equally discontented.

"Politics do not do the interests of the population," he said.  "Politics does its own private interests, especially this government. We have seen it at all levels with the corruption and bad management. And those who pay for all this are citizens who pay their taxes and do not know where the money goes and where it is being invested."

The center-right government led by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi narrowly survived a confidence vote in parliament last week. Many feel it is time for a new leadership because this government lacks the ability to implement the needed reforms.

The London School of Economics' Marco Simoni says Italy's inactive government has exacerbated the economic situation.

"It's like a spiral," Simoni noted.  "Like you don't do your reforms. Because you didn't do the reforms, the economy gets worse. Because the economy gets worse, interest groups cling even more than before to what they have. And therefore reforms become even more unlikely."

Simoni says the economy could get worse before it gets better. And he says, while many believe a change of government would help solve the economic situation, Berlusconi will likely hold on to his leadership until elections in 2013.

Italians hold out little hope that their economic conditions will change any time soon. They feel poorer and poorer and more demonstrations are expected. Now authorities are discussing what measures need to be adopted to avoid a repeat of what was described as incredible and unacceptable violence.

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