July 22, 2012

Temple of Heracles, Sicily

Temple of Heracles, Sicily

Journalists call August the “€œsilly season”€ because according to legend there is no news and so their job requires them to use even more fantasy than usual.

But the global financial markets have a nasty habit of going berserk in August as they did last year when the Dow lost more than 2,000 points (16%) in 14 trading sessions. The main cause then was the eurozone debt crisis, which is a lot worse now. So this August, Europe is abuzz with the soothsayers”€™ hissing voices: “€œBeware the Ides of August!”€

The day of reckoning is nigh for southern Europe’s debt-addicted countries. They must either abandon the single currency or their sovereignty. They cannot keep both. The markets will force them to decide sooner or later. Will that be this August?

Sicily is southern Europe in microcosm. Sicilians are addicted to government handouts and loans. For decades they have mainlined their way through mountains of the stuff. It’s what they do for a living.

“€œSicily is southern Europe in microcosm. Sicilians are addicted to government handouts and loans.”€

But the pusher, in this case the Italian government, has now told Sicilians: Basta! On Tuesday, Mario Monti, Italy’s unelected prime minister who came to power after Silvio Berlusconi’s defenestration in a euro-putsch last November, called for Sicilian President Raffaele Lombardo to resign because Sicily’s regional government has no money left. Signor Monti, a former economics professor and advisor to Goldman Sachs, told Lombardo that if he did not go by the end of July then Monti would take over the island’s regional government.

Sicily is a spectacularly beautiful island between Europe and Africa. It is surrounded by sea as clear and clean as gin, but what happens on dry land there is as dark and disturbing as sewage. In Sicily, which gave the world the word “€œMafia,”€ it is impossible to tell the difference between a mafioso and a politician. Follow the money”€”if you can.

I have been to Sicily many times for work and on holiday. Its stunning countryside is dotted with stately old abandoned houses in the baroque style. I love it there. It would be great to own one of those houses and they cost next to nothing, but what would be the point? How could I possibly live in Sicily? Life is tough enough here in the “€œred”€ Romagna surrounded by “€œex”€ communists who years ago sent me a bullet in the post for my eldest daughter (now eight) because of something I wrote. It is not difficult to imagine what the Sicilians would do to me, my family, and the children’s pet lovebirds and cockatiels if I decided to live in their midst.

There is the Italy that works”€”north of Rome”€”which does not cost the taxpayer crippling sums of money. And then there is the Italy that does not work”€”south of Rome”€”which bleeds the economy. Sicily is Italy’s Greece. It was part of Greece”€”called Magna Græcia“€”before the Romans.


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