If there ever was an unlikely country to be designated a model of collective civility, that’s Italy. My native land is usually depicted as a beautiful place whose abundance of natural and cultural treasures is entrusted, alas, to its disorganised, corrupt, unruly inhabitants.
And yet everybody these days seems to be lavishing praise on us: the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal are all describing as exemplary the way in which we Italians have clawed ourselves out of the tragic pit we were in this spring, as coronavirus raged and convoys of military trucks had to be deployed to carry the coffins – they were so many.
We’ve certainly come a long way from being described, as we were at the pandemic’s start, as the usual irresponsible incompetents for allowing such a disaster to happen, or for sentencing to death an already terminally ill economy with an ultra-rigorous lockdown. Now, an article on the US website Foreign Policy presents Italy in almost mystical tones, as the country that “snatched health from the jaws of death”.
What should we Italians do exactly with all this praise? Is this global surprise at our collective behaviour flattering or patronising? Most of all, our national pride is sobered by the understanding that things are far from over.
We are now in a much better situation than in March, so we have certainly done something right, but the infection numbers are rising again. Claiming victory over Covid-19 when a vaccine is still out of reach and a winter in closed spaces is approaching, feels like hubris. More poignantly, we are still too much in the middle of the pandemic to say who was right and who was wrong, which policy was the best, who has saved more people from the mouth of the monster.