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Inside Italy: Stereotyping the south and a brawl in parliament

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
Inside Italy: Stereotyping the south and a brawl in parliament
Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni snaps a selfie with press photographers as she waits for other G7 leaders to arrive at the Borgo Egnazia resort in Puglia on Wednesday. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

This week the news in Italy has been dominated by politics, following the EU elections and the G7 summit. From Meloni's awkward encounters with other world leaders to the chaos unfolding in parliament while she's away, here's what we've been talking about.


Nice to see you?

One telling quirk of the Italian language is that it doesn’t have a direct translation for the word ‘awkward’. Many come close: there’s imbarazzante (embarrassing), scomodo (uncomfortable), strano (weird), and impacciato (clumsy), but there’s no one word that fully expresses the concept of awkwardness. I suspect this must be because Italians generally don’t behave awkwardly, so there’s not much need to describe it.

But you can trust the British to introduce a dollop of profound awkwardness into any situation. Our prime minister this week over-delivered in that department, representing us at the G7 meeting in Italy with what may have been the most awkward greeting between prime ministers ever captured on camera.

If you’re on Twitter you will no doubt have seen ‘that’ photo of Meloni and Sunak multiple times by now, but the video is well worth watching in order to appreciate the awkwardness in all its glory. And if an Italian friend ever asks you to define the word 'awkward’, you can just show them this.

Some reports interpreted this uncomfortable moment as a snub on Meloni's part, and suggested that she was backing away from their famous friendship with the British prime minister as he's imminently on his way out of office.

While Sunak's popularity wanes, Meloni is riding high on the result of the European parliamentary election, which she had pitched to Italian voters as a referendum on her premiership - coming out with two percent more of the vote than she took at the general election in 2022. She was the only leader of a major European country who came out stronger from the EU poll.

READ ALSO: What does Meloni’s EU election success mean for foreigners in Italy?

Meloni was noticeably frosty when greeting French President Emmanual Macron at the G7 meeting, after he called a snap election he risks losing to the far right following his party's poor results in the EU vote.


Similarly, in Germany the EU elections resulted in a strong showing for the far right, while US president Joe Biden faces a tough re-election battle in November. The Guardian this week described the triumphant Meloni hosting the G7 as her meeting "a parade of haunted-looking statesmen, most of whose days in power are numbered."

Southern stereotypes

If you've followed any reporting on the G7 summit, it won't have escaped your attention that it's being held at a luxury resort in rural Puglia. The sunny southern region's status as a favourite destination for celebrities, and efforts by local tourism operators to appeal ever more to the luxury tourism market, makes it a fitting choice for such a lavish international affair.

The region is filled with ancient olive groves and family-run hotels within converted masserie (traditional, centuries-old fortified farmhouses). Meloni chose to hold her swish event at the famous Borgo Egnazia resort, purpose built in rustic style in 2010, and known for hosting such spectacles as Justin Bieber's 2012 wedding to Jessica Biel and Posh and Becks' family holiday.


Tucked away on the 'heel' of Italy's boot, Puglia has an altogether different character to other parts of southern Italy. That's not to say it doesn't suffer from many of the same issues seen across the south - poverty levels are higher than in northern regions, for one thing, and driving on the roads requires nerves of steel - but Puglia's distinct history and culture set it apart.

This fact didn't stop some international media from applying the usual cliches: US outlet CNN claimed the region of Puglia was currently experiencing a "rise in mafia-style violence" - a headline that triggered an angry response from the Italian government this week, as well as several long, indignant op-eds in leading Italian newspapers.

While it wouldn't be accurate to say there's no mafia activity in Puglia at all, it's a vast, mostly rural region, some 400 kilometres long. Organised crime groups do operate and prey upon pockets of deprivation and social exclusion in some large towns and cities, mainly Foggia - almost 200 kilometres north of the quaint tourist hub of Fasano, where the G7 summit is being held.

But the CNN article's assertions that mafia clans across Puglia are "knocking off foes in brazen daylight attacks and carrying out armed car-jackings at an alarming rate" were angrily denied by national and local politicians, and it wasn't entirely clear what they were based on.


Political punch-up

And finally, the most bizarre news story we've published on The Local Italy this week: 11 Italian MPs were suspended after a mass brawl broke out in the lower house of parliament on Wednesday evening.

What was the fight over? A debate on new laws on regional devolution - which may not sound like something to get overly worked up about. But what began as a row over flags ended up with around 20 men pushing and shouting in the middle of the chamber, and one lawmaker being accused of exaggerating his injuries after he was carted out in a wheelchair. Numerous discussions and protests over the incident have taken up hours of parliamentary time in both houses since.

Perhaps the strangest thing about the whole episode is that minor scuffles are not even that unusual in Italy's parliament - though senior politicians seemed to agree it was embarrassing (and perhaps a little awkward?) for all concerned.

Meloni, watching these scenes unfold from Borgo Egnazia, will no doubt be having words when she gets back to Rome.

Inside Italy is our weekly look at some of the news and talking points in Italy that you might not have heard about. It’s published each Saturday and members can receive it directly to their inbox, by going to their newsletter preferences or adding their email to the sign-up box in this article.



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