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‘The great rubbish dump’: Why Romans are fed up with the state of their city

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‘The great rubbish dump’: Why Romans are fed up with the state of their city
Roman teens hold up signs criticising the city council. Photo: Elaine Allaby/The Local
17:00 CET+01:00
On the steps of Michelangelo’s Piazza Campidoglio on Saturday morning, a few feet from Rome’s Renaissance city hall, Dr. Giuliana Orlandi stood brandishing a placard with the words “ENOUGH!! 'THE GREAT RUBBISH DUMP'” printed in large capitals.

“The great rubbish dump” or “The great corruption”, La grande monnezza, is a wry wordplay on La grande bellezza, film director Paulo Sorrentino’s 2013 tribute to the beauty of the eternal city, which its inhabitants now say is rapidly falling into a state of decay.

“This city has sunk into disrepair, with many many things not tended to; the suburbs, the buses, the transport, the trash,” Orlandi told The Local.

“I’m here to rouse the soul of Rome. This city needs a good shock.”

Dr. Giuliana Orlandi. Photo: Elaine Allaby/The Local

It’s a sentiment shared by many of the city’s residents, who turned out in their thousands on Saturday to protest municipal inaction in the face of Rome’s steady decline.

Wearing T-shirts and holding signs displaying the slogan Roma dice basta (“Rome says enough”), the demonstrators expressed their frustration at having to live in a city where rats and wild boar roam streets overflowing with rubbish, fallen trees are left to obstruct public walkways for weeks on end, and antiquated public buses catch fire at a rate of 20 vehicles per year.

READ ALSO: Thousands protest over Rome's decline

Protesters in Rome 's Piazza del Campidoglio, on October 27, 2018. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Many of the protesters wore scraps of orange construction netting and municipal barricade tape to highlight their concerns over the capital’s crumbling infrastructure, which has been linked to several serious recent incidents.

At the start of October four pedestrians were killed in a single week in traffic collisions on the city’s pothole-littered roads, on which crosswalks and other road markings are often faded to the point of invisibility.

On Tuesday an escalator in the city’s central Repubblica metro station collapsed with a full load of travellers on board, injuring more than 20 people.

READ ALSO: More than 20 injured in Rome escalator collapse

It’s generally agreed that the capital’s condition has been worsening for a number of years, but the finger of blame is now pointing increasingly towards Rome’s Five Star Movement city council, led by 40-year-old mayor Virginia Raggi.

The Five Star Movement’s victory in Rome’s 2016 city council elections – two years before it won just over 32% of the vote in Italy’s March 2018 national elections and went on to form a coalition government with the far-right League party – marked the anti-establishment group’s first ascension to political office, and was seen as a test of its ability to govern rather than merely oppose.

It’s a test many Romans think the party has failed.

READ ALSO: Eternal City's woes turn up heat on Rome mayor

A protester holds up a sign that reads "RAGGI UNFIT MAYOR". Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

“At this point I would say that it’s definitely the fault of this administration,” said office worker Nicoletta Ciroldi, who says she quickly came to regret her vote for the Five Star Movement in 2016.

“Things are much, much worse than they were before,” she told The Local.

“Rome has never been in this bad a condition. It’s really awful. It’s extremely difficult to live here. You have problems with public transport, with traffic, noise, street lighting – so many I can’t name them all.”

Nicoletta Ciroldi. Photo: Elaine Allaby/The Local

15-year-old students Olivia Mevel, Adriana Bietti, and Valentina Mori, who all attend Virgilio high school, agreed with her.

“It’s not like we’ve been around so long that we can compare the city to how things were many years ago, but you can see things have deteriorated in the last two years,” said Bietti.

“Instead of complaining about how the people who came before did a bad job, she [Raggi] should concentrate on improving the city,” added Mevel.

Students Adriana Bietti and Valentina Mori. Photo: Elaine Allaby/The Local

Others took a broader view of the reasons behind the city’s decline.

A 66-year-old pensioner and former bank clerk, who did not want to be named, said he believes the problem lies with a dysfunctional apparatus which has long allowed council-appointed city managers and directors to collect large salaries with little accountability or oversight.

“Every morning in my residential suburb I see the same four workers in Ama [Rome’s rubbish collection service] uniforms who have nothing to do standing around playing on their cell phones when they could be sent to clean up the city centre, but the managers don’t care because they get paid the same amount either way,” he said.

His main complaint, however, was with the “deafening silence of the opposition”.

READ ALSO: Rome's rubbish crisis has become a political battle - but locals just want their city cleaned up

Demonstrators hold up reproductions of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" . Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

“It’s not just PD [Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party, which ruled Rome’s city council until 2015 and governed the country until 2018]; everyone is absent. Where are they, the opposition? How can a democracy function if there is no one to oppose the ruling party?”

The protest was organised by Roma per tutti. Tutti per Roma (“Rome for all. All for Rome”), a closed Facebook group which was founded by six women in May 2018 and has quickly grown into a community of 23,000 members.

The group describes itself as political but non-partisan, and is anti-fascist, anti-racist, and pro-LGBT.

“We wanted to channel the sense of abandonment, disappointment, and anger at how the city has been treated, and make use of the energy, the ability, the creativity, the ideas that many Romans have, which can make a contribution towards reviving the city,” co-founder Emma Amiconi, who is also the president of the civic engagement foundation Fondaca, told The Local.

READ ALSO: After a year in the job, Rome's populist mayor is struggling

Event organiser Emma Amiconi being interviewed after the protest. Photo: Elaine Allaby/The Local

Amiconi brushed aside criticisms made by Massimiliano Tonelli, a founder of the blog Roma fa schifo (“Rome is disgusting”), that the protest lacked any concrete aims and was “a populist response to a populist administration”.

“We prefer positive proposals – which is why we’re not called “Rome is disgusting” but “Rome for all and all for Rome” – and we think civic activism is an important part of democracy, so we’re on two different paths, and it’s natural that we would disagree,” Amiconi said.

Raggi, who did not make an appearance at the protest, responded dismissively to the event, claiming it was attended solely by “members of the PD old guard… the same tired old faces”.

Her response drew ire from the demonstrators, and well-known journalist Carrado Formigli rebuked the mayor in a Facebook post which has since gone viral.

“Going beyond the comments of the militants on the web, anyone living in Rome knows exactly what is happening to our city… Today Rome is in a very bad condition. I have never seen her in such a state of abandonment,” he wrote in the post.

“Stop dividing Romans into friends and enemies, rich and poor, PD and Five Star Movement supporters. Citizens are citizens and beyond what they think everyone has a daily life to live, children to raise and take to school, parents or grandparents to take care of.”

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