In early August, Italy banned the unvaccinated from most forms of social life, then most forms of travel and now most forms of work. The unvaccinated are pariahs.
Yet unlike in France, say, where thousands have taken to the streets to protest against compulsory vaccine passports, in Italy hardly anyone has protested against ‘Il Green Pass’ which is now the most draconian in Europe.
Many Italians have never been especially keen on liberty, and as a result liberty has never flourished in Italy. This explains why this removal of the basic liberties – or rights, if we must – of unvaccinated Italians by Italy’s unelected premier Mario Draghi is so hugely popular.
On Thursday, Draghi’s government of national unity issued a new decree extending ‘Il Green Pass’ to the entire workforce: 23 million Italians. This will come into effect on 15 October.
The unvaccinated have already been banned since 6 August from most indoor public places such as bars, restaurants and gyms, plus many outdoor ones such as football stadiums and the Colosseum. And since 1 September from planes, ferries, inter-regional trains and coaches, plus universities (staff and students) and schools (staff only). The vaccine has been compulsory for health workers since April.
More or less the only activities the unvaccinated are allowed to do outside their homes are shopping – and mass.
They can still get ‘Il Green Pass’ by paying for a Covid test every 48 hours – but presumably few are going to do that – or else if they have had Covid and can prove it.
That 75 per cent of Italians over the age of 12 are already fully vaccinated and 80 per cent are expected to be so by the end of this month has made no difference. Nor have Italy’s relatively low Covid case numbers – roughly 4,500 new cases and 50 deaths a day (Britain by comparison has roughly 29,500 new cases and 175 deaths a day).
The ex boss of the European Central Bank Draghi, who saved the euro with his massive buy up of the eurozone’s sovereign debt, apparently thinks that to save Italy everyone over 12 must be vaccinated.
Punishments for those caught in flagrante without ‘Il Green Pass’ include fines of up to 1,500 euros (£1,200), the temporary closure of business premises and venues, and suspension from work without pay – though not the sack.
There are roughly 11 million Italians, aged 12 and over – about 20 per cent – who have not had a first dose of the vaccine with a second one booked – the requirement for the pass. You might assume that there are many millions more vaccinated Italians deeply concerned about such a grave violation of the civil liberties of the unvaccinated. There are not.
Protests in Italy against ‘Il Green Pass’ have been pathetic. There has been much violent language on social media but little actual violence.
Virtually no one heeded calls to blockade major railway stations on 1 September when the ban was extended to long distance travel. Large numbers of police waited in vain.
Yes, some suspended health workers and teachers are suing the state for violenza privata and discriminazione – and lots more from other jobs will now follow suit – but judges are ruling against them for a number of reasons, such as the very slippery one that their rights are not violated because they can still get ‘Il Green Pass’ if they pay for a Covid test every two days.
We do not know how long vaccination immunity or increased resistance lasts – yet ‘Il Green Pass’ is valid for 12 months. The vaccinated can still, of course, get infected and can infect others. This means that the only really convincing justification for Italy’s ban on the unvaccinated – achieving herd immunity – looks flawed.
Draghi is Italy’s sixth unelected premier since Silvio Berlusconi resigned in 2011 – unelected in the sense that neither he nor the other five came to power via the ballot box as head of a victorious coalition or party. Yet if an election were held today, Draghi might actually win, so popular are his vaccine mandates. More than two thirds approve both Draghi as Premier and his draconian treatment of the unvaccinated, according to the polls. A similar proportion think he should be even more dictatorial and replace ‘Il Green Pass’ with compulsory vaccination. Indeed, 61 per cent of Italians think that far from depriving them of liberty all these bans actually enhance their liberty.
The only party opposing the transformation of the unvaccinated into pariahs is the post-fascist Fratelli d’Italia which in most polls in recent months has slightly more support (roughly 20 per cent) than its two nearest rivals, the alt right Lega with whom it is normally in alliance and the post-Communist Partito Democratico. But on this issue it is badly out of kilter with the overwhelming majority.
None of this surprises me after a quarter of a century living here because the thing about Italy is that it is only pretending to be a free country. You see this in the little things such as the identity card you must have and show all the time. Or in the question ‘where are you resident?’ rather than ‘what is your address?’. And in the road blocks everywhere manned by police with machine guns who stop cars at random. There are so many laws and so much red tape that everyone is guilty of something.
In Italy, if you are done for drink driving — as I was, funnily enough, by a traffic cop called Mussolini — in order to get your licence back you must prove that you are suitable to drive at the end of your ban with a blood test. This checks your average alcohol consumption which means you must give up drink a good month before the test. If you pass, you get your licence back for three months – during the last month of which you must give up drink and do another blood test. And so on.
The reason many Italians are so unfaithful to liberty was identified, I think, by the 19th century French anthropologist, Gustave Le Bon, and his cult book La Psychologie des Foules (1895). Le Bon defined the modern era as ‘the era of crowds’ – not democracy – because after the collapse of old Europe, the crowd was the last sovereign power left. But the crowd is impotent, he noted, without a charismatic leader.
Le Bon made a particular distinction between Anglo-Saxon and Latin crowds:
‘It is more especially in Latin crowds that authoritarianism and intolerance are found developed in the highest measure. In fact, their development is such in crowds of Latin origin that they have entirely destroyed that sentiment of the independence of the individual which is so powerful in the Anglo-Saxon. Latin crowds are only concerned with the collective independence of the sect to which they belong, and the characteristic feature of their conception of independence is the need they experience of bringing those who are in disagreement with themselves into immediate and violent subjection to their beliefs.’
‘Among the Latin races, the word democracy above all means the obliteration of individual will and initiative in favour of the State. The latter is increasingly granted the power to manage, centralise, monopolise and produce. (…) Among the Anglo-Saxon races, especially in America, the very same word democracy means, on the contrary, the intense development of individual will and restriction of the powers of the State (…).’
Experiencing first hand how the Italians are reacting to the Covid crisis reminds me that the dominant historical narrative about fascism invented by the Partito Comunista Italiano – the largest communist party outside the Soviet bloc – in order to absolve the Italians of blame is nonsense: that fascism was imposed not wanted. The Italians wanted fascism to stop communism. It was not imposed. Just as many want this new authoritarianism to stop Covid.
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