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           Volume 11 |Issue 10| March 09, 2012 |


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A Roman Column

Expulsion from Eden:
A Modern Italian Sequel

Neeman Sobhan

The first time involved Adam and Eve, the original biblical progenitors and protagonists of the first expulsion from paradise. That history has been etched ever since on the ceilings of the world's best cathedrals and chapels, hung on the walls of its famed art galleries and museums.

A long shot of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

But Michelangelo, lying on a scaffolding high on the Capella Sistina in Rome painting the 'Fall and Expulsion from Eden' could never have imagined that centuries later, the same story of being forced to leave the familiar and migrating to new worlds, would be enacted by hordes of latter day Adams and Eves not only in other parts of the world, but in his native land. Only this time, the expulsion would be self-inflicted, an act of choice; it would be self-exile forced by economic considerations, rather than an angry God.

The hordes of Italian Adamo and Evas numbering 25 million would, between the years 1876-1970, leave the Mediterranean shores in search of work. Yet, the exodus of humanity uprooting from one home to plant itself in another soil is not an Italian phenomenon, but something global. It happened to Italy a century ago; it is happening to Asia and Bangladesh now. The journey of men and women weeping their way to alien lands to struggle for their children's future is the modern day exile story of a parental generation that Michelangelo might have painted under the title: the Second Expulsion from Eden.

In Italy, just when the memory of its history of migrations was fading, reversing its role to now play host country to immigrants from the rest of the world, the painted ceiling of its past is peeling off revealing underneath yet another 'Expulsion from Paradiso' being painted. But this time, it figures not the older generation but the young and the innocent. This time it is the children who risk being shut out from Eden.

The new exiles from paradise are Italy's youth. They represent the new generation of Italians, Europeans and the young everywhere, who after partaking of the apple of institutional knowledge and education in these blighted times of global economic crisis, are being punished. Italy is a nation in crisis, and the section of the population that is suffering most are the fresh graduates among whom there is deep frustration. In a beautiful country like Italy, considered to be almost a paradise on earth, more and more Italian youth are leaving because they cannot get a job.

The 8th largest world economy is stagnating, and unemployment among Italy's youth is a bleak 28.9 percent, the second highest in Europe after bankrupt Greece. Italy has a long tradition of emigration, but whereas in the past, it was mainly the unskilled and uneducated who packed their bags, now it is well-trained graduates. Italy may be facing a brain drain soon, since one in every three Italians-- bright university graduates and talented youngsters, say they are willing to go abroad, sometimes even to other continents to get work.

Sergio Nava, a journalist who has written a book and blog tracking "la fuga dei talenti" (the flight of the talented) says, "Italy is a country dominated by old men. They give work to people they know and trust, rather than to those with the best qualifications. It is a nightmare for young people," he said.

To make matter worse, Italian firms invariably offer graduates a string of short-term, or "precarious" contracts, reserving the perks and job protection for older workers. The lack of work, low pay and shaky contracts mean that nearly a third of Italians in their early 30s still live at home with parents -- a figure that has tripled since 1983 and forced people to delay buying an apartment, getting married, having children, starting their own families.

Fra Angelico's “The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden”.

The younger generation feels it has beenzzz abandoned by society to become dependants.They are unhappy and frustrated, with no idea which direction their country is heading. Most feel that the prospect of getting a good job is better in other countries where, unlike in Italy, opportunities are available as long as you are young and dynamic, whereas in Italy everything is old-fashioned.

"Some great talent is leaving Italy because of its medieval approach to hiring people. It is not what you have done, but who you know, or who you have slept with," says a Rome academic actively seeking work abroad. "If you want to work in a supermarket you can find a job. But if you want to be an architect, a dentist or a journalist then you will really struggle. It is a feudal system."

Also, Italy's economic and political system is largely based on family structures and the elderly who don't want to give up power. Many economic experts agree that Italy focuses more on its older generation than on its youth. It spends little on housing or child care but a lot on pensions. Corruption is also a perennial problem.

The recently installed technocratic 'care-taker' government under Mario Monti says it is aware of all the problems and wants to create new opportunities for its younger generation, whom Monti calls “Italy's great wasted resources." Monti's government has already passed laws which will make it easier for doctors, lawyers and other academics to start a career in Italy, and has promised to free up the economy and reform closed-door guilds - 28 professional bodies that guard their long-standing privileges ferociously, making it hard for bright youngsters to get ahead in a broad range of jobs. But even if he starts working on a new style economy right away it may take years before things in Italy really change. Still, it is hoped that a government of technocrats would have the courage to carry out a reform since, unlike Politicians, they aren't running after every vote.

Given its rich history, landscape, weather, cuisine, and culture that draw over 40 million tourists every year, it seems a tragic irony that its own youth are disenchanted with their paradise and restless to leave, seeking their fortunes in less beautiful climes. Many of the young people do not really want to leave, and those who have left would like to return. But for that to happen, Italy will have to be more than a pretty face; it has to become more economically attractive and viable a place to live. The Italian parliament has passed legislations trying to entice the emigrants to return, but Prime Minister Mario Monti will have to go much further with the reforms if he hopes to halt the exodus.

There can be nothing more tragic than a sterile Eden, a Paradise Lost or abandoned, a land from which the youth has vanished. Any country, Bangladesh included, should try to woo its young, bind them to its heart, never let them go. What did Shakespeare say through Hamlet: “grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel”. The young are our future, our immortality, our paradise regained.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2012