Sunday

27th Sep 2020

Feature

Italy: After the balcony-singing stopped ...

  • Now #IoRestoaCasa (I Stay at Home) risks becoming Italy's most hated hashtag. (Photo: G.Catania)

After more than 22,000 coronavirus-related deaths and over a month of lockdown, Italy's health emergency is taking its toll from the social point of view too. Stress is skyrocketing.

Those who venture to the supermarket without a mask risk a verbal lynching.

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  • Empty streets in Padua (Photo: G.Catania)

Residents watch the streets from their balconies and sometimes abuse runners, and even parents walking with children with disabilities.

And the quarantine is inevitably exacerbating long-standing issues, such as domestic violence and overcrowded prisons.

The streets are terribly quiet. Silence reigns in the orderly and clean neighbourhoods of Vicenza and Padua (two of the wealthiest cities of Northern Italy).

The same happens in many other Italian provinces, as residents in Lombardy, Piedmont, and Emilia-Romagna tell EUobserver by phone.

Paolo is a pensioner from Padua.

He goes out to buy the newspaper for his wife almost every day. "I remember post-war Italy. It was devastated, we were poor and hungry. I used to hunt snails and frogs in the countryside to bring some food home. But people were not so nervous and scared," he says.

According to a survey by the Piepoli Institute and the Italian Association of Psychologists, 8-out-of-10 Italians feel stressed because of the lockdown.

2020 is going to be an annus horribilis for the Italian economy.

Millions of Italians are already suffering financial difficulties, and local newspapers are talking about long queues in front of the pawnshop.

People leave their watches, bracelets, and jewellery to borrow money for grocery shopping.

A group of homeless Africans has stayed in a park near Vicenza train station for days; Amadou is the only one left now; he says the others "went to Verona or Milan because it is easier to find something to eat in the street there".

The hashtag #IoRestoaCasa" (I Stay at Home) is now Italy's most popular. But what about those who have no home, like Amadou?

Homeless people are especially vulnerable, Riccardo Noury, spokesperson for Amnesty International Italia, points out. "They are at high risk of infection, and if they get sick they may face obstacles in accessing health services".

Migrants and Roma living in poor hygienic and housing conditions are also at risk, Noury says, as well as "precarious workers. They are disproportionately affected by lockdown measures, but do not receive adequate social protection: they lose their wages and have no right to paid sick leave".

The middle class is scared too. Francesco [not his real name] is a young business lawyer.

"My law firm has less and less work," he tells EUobserver. "The partners are worried, and if they have to cut off heads [personnel], the first to fall will be those of us young employees".

Francesco does not fear going hungry, (he lives with his middle-cass parents) but he has already had to cut expenses. "I was going to buy a new car this year, but I had to renounce". His parents, he adds, were planning to go on holiday to Nice, but they will probably stay at home.

Luca Pezzullo is a psychologist from Padua specialised in emergencies-related psychological effects. According to him, Italians have managed to adapt quite well to the quarantine.

Now, "anger and anxiety focus mainly on their livelihood, on the uncertainty about their job, their children's educational future," he says. Concerns fuel anxiety and anxiety means insomnia, irritability, and aggressiveness; all this can lead to quarrels and conflicts.

Domestic violence under lockdown

For women living with a violent husband or partner, the situation is dramatic.

"Violence against women is a widespread, serious, and very strong phenomenon on a cultural level in Italy, though consistent with worldwide data," explains Elena Biaggioni, a lawyer engaged in the fight against gender violence, and coordinator of the lawyers of the national anti-violence centres association D.i.Re.

"It is not that the lockdown is generating domestic violence, abusive individuals are abusive regardless. What happens is that in an emergency that forces people to stay home, this kind of situation worsens".

Besides physical violence, there is also psychological violence.

"For an abusive man, the current control situation is ideal, it is a dream. The more a victim is still, stuck in one place, the better you can control her," Biaggioni adds.

The most recent data reported by Italian anti-violence centres are alarming.

The national lockdown was decreed on March 9, and between March 2 and April 5 requests for support increased by 74 percent compared to the monthly average in 2018.

Balconies go quiet

Balconies are hardly a stage for songs, concerts, and poems anymore.

Instead, they are becoming a post for the so-called 'Sceriffi da Balcone' (Balcony sheriffs): some spend their time reporting to the police people walking without a mask, or neighbours taking their dog out too often, even parents taking their children with disabilities to the park.

In some regions - Lombardy, for example - some commentators claim that people breaking the lockdown rules are becoming scapegoats for local politicians' failures in managing the coronavirus crisis.

According to psychologist and psychotherapist Serena Valorzi, when people are well, they manage to put themselves in other people's shoes.

"It is much harder to be clear-headed and empathise when unpleasant emotions such as anger, sadness or anxiety prevail, and when deep emotional needs, such as freedom and safety, are not met," she says.

"Well, a lockdown is the best example of lack of freedom and safety".

While people are less and less tolerant of what many call "a domestic jail", the situation is far worse for inmates, close to 58,000. Overcrowding is a long-standing issue for Italy's prison system.

"Before the coronavirus outbreak, detainees complained that there were few re-education and training opportunities," says Alessio Scandurra, coordinator of the observatory on detention conditions of the Rome-based Antigone Association.

"Now they are worried about the contagion, they are afraid. Important resources against the infection, such as soaps and masks, are only a few, for too many".

#IoRestoaCasa risks becoming Italy's most hated hashtag.

Author bio

Valentina Saini is a freelance journalist specialising in Italian social issues and politics, gender issues and the Middle East and North Africa region.

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