Is what people do and the way they live in the territory of a country always and exclusively equated with the politics of the government and the sensationalist mass-media representation that supports it? Or can there be other ways of organizing and presenting them to the public, that is, informing the people who may be affected and interested for it? Are different media possible that do not want to participate in political manipulations, but rather devote themselves to supporting people who strive to create their own autonomous sanctuaries – economically sustainable, ecological, local, solidary, and even defensive when it comes to the mix of state politics and crime, making them public? We received a large part of the answers to these questions from the network of independent journalists in Italy, during the visit and international meeting in Mantua, a small town in the north of Italy, which was realized as part of the Emerging Communities project.
“There is another Italy, different from the image of crisis and decadence that the mass media gives us every day”, is a sentence that also represents a kind of motto of the organization Italia che Cambia (translated as “Italy is changing”), which consists of about dozens of journalists from different parts of the country. In their words, “there is an Italy that is changing and quietly building a new way of life and action”. Their main activity is to present, map and network people in one place who, facing problems, organize themselves, as they say, without delegating or waiting for someone to do it for them. This specific presentation of the positive and transformative projects undertaken by Italia che Cambia also aims to enable sharing acquired knowledge with others, as well as connecting already existing projects and initiatives. Moreover, their ambition is to participate in the creation of a new cultural paradigm which, according to them, is emerging in Italy. In order to do this, they have created a very rich website that contains thousands of processed projects, an interactive map, territorial portals, video interviews and campaigns, during the ten-year period in which they have been operating as an association.
What caught our attention is the phrase they use to describe their position, which is constructive journalism. That would be journalism that presents to the public the changes that are taking place in society and the people who are working on those changes, in the sense that they are trying to solve the problems they are facing, to gather people from local communities and do something that does not remain at the level of ideas, which is already realized in the form of various forms of action – citizens’ associations, groups, cooperatives, small businesses – in the domain of various economic activities, agriculture, tourism, sustainable energy, health, nutrition, etc. In short, these are projects and initiatives of people who self-organize to work and live in alternative ways. According to the members of Italia che Cambia, what makes this journalism constructive is recording and presenting initiatives that are considered to contribute to positive changes, then connecting them which can result in networking initiatives through sharing experiences, as and informing people who until then did not know that some of those projects are in their immediate environment. As they believe, it is not up to them to say whether an initiative is good or not, which opens up new questions regarding these practices, primarily journalism as a practice in Italy but also in our region.
Their practice, therefore, was partly created by making a distance from mass media sensationalism and in this sense has a clearly constructed editorial policy and the subject of their journalistic work – an affirmative view of the projects and initiatives of people that they themselves consider successful. According to what we could hear at the presentation of this association, it is that they are rethinking their editorial policy and changing it, in the sense that they are trying to talk about the problems that citizens face by organizing themselves, first of all, in order not to create false expectations and an ideal image of initiatives that it does not necessarily correspond to real circumstances. At the same time, it is a difficult task, because people do not want to talk about problems, about failures as well, but about the good sides of their practices and the successes they achieve. As in our environment, it is believed that talking about failure and problems cannot be a place for meeting and mutual recognition, and our experience shows that these are precisely the situations when the most productive collaborations are created. However, it is really difficult to bring problems and a kind of criticism to the public when the citizens do not want to talk about it at first. It would be possible if we worked with those citizens on joint actions, but that is something that concerns the position of an activist and not a journalist. Moreover, according to our experience gained through many years of working with people and with journalists in Serbia, when a journalist is an activist at the same time, it is tantamount to a disaster, because people will interpret the practices according to their often undisguised political-official ambitions without any kind of contact or concrete joint action, i.e. organization with the people.
However, although this association of journalists with its editorial policy gives space for positive practices of people, it is not immune to the socio-political context in which the practices of people and them as journalists take place. Italy is one of the most corrupt countries in the European Union, and it is at the very top of the world trade in drugs, weapons and people. That Italian society, politics and economy are under the strong influence of the mafia is not only something we can learn about by watching drama series, but also by following many sources that deal with this issue1. The high level of entrenchment of criminal actors in the state apparatus is particularly visible at the local level, where the mafia has an influence on all aspects of people’s lives and work. It can often have an impact on local, self-organized projects, initiatives and small businesses, placing them under its “protection”. We assume that if the citizens themselves do not speak openly about this type of problem, the job of the journalist who should present them to the public as a positive thing is very difficult. In a sense and in the light of this, it seems that journalists still have to make a decision about whether an initiative is good or not.
But, their position is still simpler when, among the initiatives and projects they deal with, there are those who base their local work on various forms of resistance to the influence of the mafia – from mutual connection and self-protection, to alternative tourism and the creation of jobs outside of the mafia network, which is the only one that existed until these initiatives. According to the journalist of Italia che Cambia, in the south of Italy the state is practically absent and the only existing institution is the mafia, which, among other things, provides people with employment. To combat such influence, organizations like the Goel Cooperative Group from Calabria are creating alternative jobs for people so they don’t have to work for the mafia. This association consists of several communities of people, families, different groups and companies, which work together to provide protection for each individual. Perhaps the most well-known association of this type originated in Sicily, where today more than a thousand small businesses, tens of thousands of people and over a hundred schools joined the anti-mafia movement Addiopizzo (in translation: Goodbye to the racket). They united in refusing to pay the mafia “protection”, that is, racketeering and extorting money, but also to protect each other by speaking publicly about this all-pervading problem of Italian society. The main principles that guided them are: critical consumption as the main strategy to fight the mafia and a collective practice that obliges citizens and consumers to buy in commercial establishments that have said NO to racketeering, social inclusion and free legal, psychological and commercial assistance to victims of extortion with following peoples’ path to freedom from mafia influences.
The starting point for launching the last mentioned initiative was the pasting of thousands of stickers all over Palermo, with the provocative message: “He who pays a racket is a person without dignity”. On a more abstract level, with this entire situation, but without a concrete initiative to oppose it (on a declarative level, only party-opposition actors talk about it), parallels can be drawn with Serbian society, which is not in the clutches of the mafia but of organized crime that protects the state apparatus of coercion. Unlike the mafia which tries to infiltrate the state apparatus, organized crime is characterized by the fact that it originates from the state apparatus and that it networks every part of it. Thus, those who are employed in it are most often blackmailed people who have to agree to corruption, to membership in the ruling party and who not only have to vote for it, but also to involve their friends, family members and their local communities by the capillary mobilization. In this way, they enable and maintain a huge machinery of mass clientelism that networks Serbian society as a whole. In this sense, can we say that the message that the activists of the Addiopizzo movement sent to their fellow citizens could sound even more provocative in Serbian conditions: “He who is employed by the state is a person without dignity”? Many are aware of this situation, but for now there is no organized initiative in Serbia that would create not only a provocation, but that would really work to create different working spaces for people, freed from the constraints of mass clientelism and organized crime. Part of that is the fundamental mistrust of people in civil society and any form of organization that is not mediated by the government.
Today, this agile group of journalists united in the association is thinking about other forms of organization such as a cooperative, which is one of the paths by which they could secure more stable financing. One of the points of consolidation of the organization is the creation of an official office, which at the moment is located in the online space, although their work also includes work in the field, that is, in the physical space – visits to each of the initiatives and projects that they present on their now highly elaborated online portal. Thus, the choice of place for the meeting of the organizations participating in the project fell on Mantua, the city where one of the initiatives with which Italia che Cambia cooperates operates. It is the R84 Multifactory, a work and public post-industrial space for over forty non-governmental organizations, artists and creatives, which was created by inhabiting the pavilion of the former refinery that existed in Mantua. Although the living conditions in this area are very favorable (even more favorable than the Serbian circumstances), these organizations, in order to be accommodated in R84, must fulfill one condition, which is to engage in their work professionally and not as a hobbyist. At the same time, it is a way to ensure the sustainability of the project which in the future can be the purchased and become the collective ownership of the four buildings in which this multitude of organizations work today. The idyllic image of Mantua is in a certain way completed or, on the other hand, changed by the insights of the members of R84, who are also actively involved in the protection and restoration of the environment, which is heavily polluted by industrial activities (swimming is not allowed in the lakes surrounding Mantua). One of those actions is the reforestation of the area surrounding the former refinery. Another project we had the opportunity to visit is La Macchina Fissa, a self-sustainable and pleasant place to rest, a gallery of works of art and for exhibiting a collection of plants, as well as a public space for cultural events located ten kilometers from Mantua. A direct consequence of this visit is the fact that this initiative will soon be on the map of alternative projects Italia che Cambia.
The visit to Mantua and the joint meeting of partner organizations from Germany, Spain, Denmark, Greece, Serbia and Italy took place during May 2022 within the framework of the Emerging Communities: Empowerment for social engagement, self-organization and development of local solutions project, which is supported by the Erasmus+ project of the European Union. Finally, we do not see a better conclusion than the reflection of this event written by the journalist of Italia che Cambia, Andrea Degl’Innocenti, considering the current situation: “Diversity is scary only when it is not known, once known it becomes personal and collective enrichment. Getting to know the cultures, customs, and laws of other countries besides ours opens the mind to new perspectives, creates new ideas. I think Erasmus projects have made Europe more than international agreements. Maybe there would be no war today if twenty years ago we had included more boys and girls from Russia in European exchange projects.”