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Italy’s heritage up for sale

Italy’s government has unveiled a fire sale of some real gems of the country’s heritage. Some 350 historic buildings in the capital and historic towns across the country are to flogged off, including Castello Orsini di Soriano in Cimiano, Palazzo Bolis Gualdo in Milan and Palazzo Diedo in Venice.

€42 billion worth of property is being put onto the market, a sizeable chunk of the country’s €600 billion public property portfolio. Prime Minister Mario Monti says the move is necessary to reduce the country’s debt and so reassure the financial markets that have sent Italy’s borrowing costs to record highs.

In practice the policy is just one more gift to banks – which have plenty to spend what with the billions in government support and from the European Central Bank – and the rich – who in Italy are master tax dodgers and who yet again have escaped a wealth tax demanded by left wingers and tax justice campaigners.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of Italians, who are being steadily impoverished by unemployment, reforms increasing job insecurity and austerity measures cutting living standards, won’t get a look in. They face a plain and simple plunder of their heritage.

Among those horrified by the privatisation of the country’s cultural jewels is Nicola Caracciola from Italia Nostra, an organisation that campaigns for the protection of the country’s artistic and natural heritage. Not only because with the property market in the doledrums, public buildings that are currently for all in the nation will be sold off at bargain prices to private individuals and organisations for profit.

‘It makes more sense and in the long run there will be a greater return if we invest in our heritage rather than sell it off,’ Caracciola told il Manifesto newspaper.

Caracciola argues Italy, the eurozone’s third largest economy, should reject its destructive obsession with austerity, and instead learn from the New Deal that used public investment to lift the USA out of the Great Depression in the 1930s: among the most successful government programmes of President Roosevelt was the Civil Conservation Corps which provided a living, shelter and training for 2.5 million young Americans in an ambitious conservation project for the American countryside. In parallel to this, the Democrat President promoted a massive cultural programme known as the Works Progress Administration.

Despite Italy’s unique strengths in this area, Rome has a long history of neglect. Yet viewing the country’s Roman ruins, Renaissance churches and thousands of other historic treasures as assets rather than costs, would undoubtedly boost tourism, and crucially, create thousands of jobs, especially among the young, who are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis.

Sadly in Italy it is Mario Monti, a blinkered, neo-liberal Eurocrat, not a visionary like Roosevelt, at the helm.

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