News Flash! The British have cracked!
On the morning of the 10th of November British students in their thousands took to the streets of London to march in protest of a major university fee increase. This government plan would see the cost of university rise to over 10,000 Euros a year by 2012. At a time when cuts are being made all over the world, internationally, this is not a very big story. With a few broken windows and a rather pathetic looking bomb fire, this story turned into front page news of the Wall Street Journal. Over the past few months we have seen countries in their true colours, as each nation have reacted accordingly to cuts in public funding.
In comparison to the violence of the Greek protests and the scale of the recent French demonstrations, the UK student protests seem almost meek. it is the fact that there has been any public violence and protest in the UK at all, that is important.For the first time in the past two years, the stoic patina of the British public has been cracked. Even Schwarzenegger, in his own way, has been holding up the UK as an example of a nation who are making appropriate sacrifices and dealing with them in the right way. Basically, that we’ve been keeping our mouths’ shut. How very English…
Over the past year, a few countries have started to represent the varied European responses to economic cuts. Like protagonists in a serialised novel, France, Greece and now the UK are all stars. But where does Italy sit in all of this? Obviously the Italian economy is suffering as much if not more in some ways than its European counterparts. But why do the French get all the attention and manage to make themselves heard around the world? The answer is Unity. The French public has a way of unifying itself against what they consider unjust. If the English are seen as keeping their discontent to themselves then Italians are seen as doing nothing about it.
Stories of classrooms in some parts of the country being so over full that students are being asked to bring their own chairs, are not uncommon. Extra curricular activities at schools have been slashed and university professors are increasingly being poached into other industries with more prospects.
Italian universities no longer appear in the top 200 Universities of the world, even though they were created in Bologna in the middle ages. If these kinds of troubles were to start affecting primary education in the UK, the discontent would be so widespread that the demonstrations would be front page news because of their scale and not their violence. A close Milanese friend often speaks to me about these such problems but admits to have never taken part in a rally of any kind. When asked why, he says its “just not done”.
There is no shame in making problems heard. How can they be rectified otherwise? That same Milanese friend emailed me last week furious, after Berlusconi had made a comment in the press saying that it was “better to be passionate about girls that being gay”. How I ask myself can a prime minister ever get away with a comment such as this without any consequences? In other countries such a statement would lead to a resignation. Its not funny, its not true, its pathetic. Again, my friend apart from emailing me did nothing. Clearly others felt angry too, just like they do about the education problems.
But what will spark a fire and burn away the complacency which stops people making their discontent heard? On the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, perhaps the marches should not just be ceremonial and for the sake of making leaders look even better but should be real people making themselves heard.
Translation in Progress
by Mika via xL Repubblica