Foreign Affairs / Opinion

Italy, the Marines, and the dignity lost in India

khurshid_on_marine1(Il Sole 24 Ore – V.E.Parsi)Dignity, once lost, is never regained,” an insightful John Malkovich observes in Gabriele Salvatores’ newest film, “Siberian Education.” It is distressing to think that it was not even necessary to disturb the great thinkers of the state from the 1600s or the concerned lamentations of Machiavelli on the sad destiny of the Italian homeland to bitterly comment on the embarrassing, unskilled and unacceptable performance by the government “in charge of current affairs” on the issue of the Italian Marò, delivered back to their kidnappers as if it were nothing.

A good videotape, or a well-written novel, is enough to ascertain the magnitude of the damage inflicted on national dignity—to Italy’s honor—while trying to obtain the liberation of our sailors, illegally detained by Indian authorities for more than one year, first through a deft pickpocketing scheme and then by “dropping the pants” in less than a week when faced with the very predictable Indian reaction. If having undertaken a leery shortcut to resolve the issue could have been debatable, doubling back on one’s step is unforgivable, giving the impression that Italy does not keep its word, choosing instead to bow in front of anyone who makes a lot of noise, not to mention insinuating that the loss of lucrative commissions is more valuable than two of our countrymen’s freedom.

The sequence of errors, the underestimation and the actual stupidity are well-known: letting the merchant ship enter Indian waters without having preventively secured the military personnel; not opposing the shoring of the two noncommissioned officers, Girone and Latorre; having accepted an agreement only to then violate it; and, finally, breaking the word given to two servants of the state, who followed orders despite the Italian government’s flagrant about-face.

Servants of the state, we are saying. And here, among all—and that means all—the only ones that fully deserve this title are the First Class Captain Massimiliano Latorre and Second Captain Salvatore Girone. Regarding the others, it is truly best to draw a veil over them. Demonstrating what it means to swear loyalty to the republic, Latorre and Girone returned to those who illegally detained them for more than a year, because they were ordered to do so. Who knows whether the newspapers that today praise their sense of honor will still remember them in the future; perhaps when this or that political figure leaves his high charge to take over some other prestigious and well-remunerated position, he will have some decency, some degree of reserve, when using the term “servant of the state” loosely. Naturally, nothing prohibits serving the state in high positions, under the media spotlights and perhaps even “climbing the political ladder” from charge to charge. But it is hard to shake the unfortunately common feeling that once again, the best are not sitting in the highest chairs.

As the experience of the technical government documented amply and without pity, even those who consider themselves temporarily “on loan” to politics quickly adopt all the “professional” vices—beginning with that of passing the buck. If we stay on this path, why not put forth Francesco Schettino, captain of the Costa Concordia, which ran aground near Giglio Island in 2012, to guide the next government, in case Bersani should fail? After all, it seems that he too was occupied with other concerns while the ship for which he was responsible headed for the rocks. The paradox is that from the sadness and shame of this incident—which nonetheless bewilders two families who had believed in the practicality of the “solution” devised by executive—emerges the figure of a better country, with a higher sense of state, a greater dignity and a more untamed pride by those who govern it. We should not find much consolation in this fact, because it implies that neither the electoral selection nor the coopted one were able to provide Italy with that which it really needs: a governing class able to make brave decisions and dutiful responsibilities and draw the necessary conclusions from its failures, plus a political elite worthy of the title.


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