Patrice Riemens on Thu, 7 Jun 2001 19:02:54 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] Naomi Klein on Italian 'Centri Sociali'... (fwd)

Hi Mods,

Comes from the INURA list. You'll have to remove the ">>" sorry!
cheers, patrice


roger keil ( thought you would be interested in this
article from

Message: This article by columnist Naomi Klein (author of No Logo) was in
this morning's Globe and Mail in the Toronto edition. It is probably of
interest to Inura members.
(and now also to nettime readers...)


The Globe and Mail, Thursday, June  7, 2001

Three coins in a centri sociali

By Naomi Klein

A woman with long brown hair and a cigarette-scratched voice has a
question. "What does this place look like to you," she asks, with the help
of an interpreter. "An ugly ghetto, or something maybe beautiful?"

It was a trick question. We were sitting in a ramshackle squat in one of
the least picturesque suburbs of Rome. The walls of the stumpy building
were covered in graffiti, the ground was muddy, and all around us were
bulky, menacing housing projects. If any of the 20 million tourists who
flocked to Rome last year had taken a wrong turn and ended up here, they
would have dived for their Fodor's and fled for somewhere with vaulted
ceilings, fountains and frescoes.

But while the remains of one of the most powerful and centralized empires
in history are impeccably preserved in downtown Rome, it is here, in the
city's poor outskirts, where I caught a glimpse of a new, living politics.

The squat in question is called Corto Ciccuito, one of Italy's many centri
sociali. Social centres are abandoned buildings -- warehouses, factories,
military forts, schools -- that have been occupied by squatters and
transformed into cultural and political hubs, explicitly free from both
the market and state control. By some estimates, there are 150 social
centres in Italy.

The largest and oldest -- Leoncavallo in Milan -- is practically a
self-contained city, with several restaurants, gardens, a bookstore, a
cinema, an indoor skateboard ramp, and a club so large it was able to host
Public Enemy when the rap group came to town. These are scarce bohemian
spaces in a rapidly gentrifying world, a fact that prompted the French
newspaper Le Monde to describe them as "the Italian cultural jewel."

But the social centres are more than the best place to be on a Saturday
night. They are also ground zero of a growing political militancy in
Italy, one that is poised to explode onto the world stage when the G8
meets in Genoa next month. In the centres, culture and politics mix easily
together: a debate about direct action turns into a huge outdoor party, a
rave takes place next door to a meeting about unionizing fast-food

In Italy, this culture developed out of necessity. With politicians on
both the left and right mired in corruption scandals, large numbers of
Italian youths have understandably concluded that it is power itself that
corrupts. The social centre network is a parallel political sphere that,
rather than trying to gain state power, provides alternative state
services -- such as daycare and advocacy for refugees -- at the same time
as it confronts the state through direct action.

For instance, on the night I spent at Rome's Corto Ciccuito, the communal
dinner of lasagne and caprese salad received a particularly enthusiastic
reception because it was prepared by a chef who had just been released
from jail after his arrest at an anti-fascist rally. And two days before,
at Milan's Leoncavallo centre, I stumbled across several members of Le
Tute Bianche (the white overalls) poring over digital maps of Genoa in
preparation for the G8. The direct-action group, named after the uniform
its members wear to protests, has just issued a "declaration of war" on
the meeting in Genoa.

But such declarations aren't the most shocking things going on at the
social centres. Far more surprising is the fact that these
anti-authoritarian militants, defined by their rejection of party
politics, have begun running for office -- and winning. In Venice, Rome
and Milan, prominent social centre activists, including Tute Bianche
leaders, are now city councillors.

With Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing Forza Italia in office, they need to
protect themselves from those that would shut down the centres. But Beppe
Caccia, a Tute Bianche member and a Venetian city councillor, also says
the move into municipal politics is a natural evolution of social centre

The nation-state is in crisis, he argues, weakened in the face of global
powers and corrupt in the face of corporate ones. Meanwhile, in Italy, as
in Canada, strong regional sentiments for greater decentralization have
been seized by the right. In this climate, Mr. Caccia proposes a
two-pronged strategy of confronting unaccountable, unrepresentative powers
at the global level (for example, at the G8) while simultaneously
rebuilding a more accountable and participatory politic locally (where the
social centre meets the city council).

Which brings me back to the question posed in the suburbs of Rome's
mummified empire. Though it may be hard to tell at first, the social
centres aren't ghettos, they are windows -- not only into another way to
live, disengaged from the state, but also into a new politics of
engagement. And, yes, it's something maybe beautiful.


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Publishing Inc.

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