Monday, September 24, 2012

Point-based Italian citizenship

Now and then I happen to meet the children of some foreigners who migrated to Italy before they were born. It still gives me a strange feeling. This is not America or Australia, where people have been used to this kind of situations for decades. In here this is still a recent phenomenon. Listening to what looks like an Indian gentleman speaking with a Bolognese accent or a Chinese lady using open and closed vowels the wrong way, like a perfect Milanese, can still surprise and fascinate me a lot. In cases like this I am not able to flaunt imperturbability.
They carry the obvious signs of their origins on their skin, countenance, hair and height. Then they tell you that they feel Italian, in big percentage at least. Many of them can't speak the language of their parents, they are ill at ease when they sit for lunch with their distant relatives and prefer to have a pizza with their Italian friends instead.
Still, they are to be considered foreigners in every respect. They have their parents' nationality and live in Italy on a residence permit. They are fluent in Italian, they attended Italian schools, from the very beginning, they studied Italian history, literature, social studies and civics. Some of them didn't understand much of it, true, but one must admit that so did lots of "real" Italians too. Well, it all doesn't make a bit of difference. They are almost never granted Italian citizenship. Their applications get lost in a sea of intricate procedures, absurd quibbles and layers of dust that settled on the desks of recalcitrant government officials. The Italian government prefers to grant the nationality to a South American or an Australian who can claim a great-great-grandfather from the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia or the one of the Two Sicilies - perhaps even a fake one - who can't speak a word in Italian and doesn't even know whether Italy is a republic or a kingdom. As a matter of fact thousands of Italian passports have been given away like that in the last ten-twenty years.
It's impossible for me to empathize with a fierce racist but I can understand some of the arguments of the soft nationalists, or, even better, those of the ordinary citizen, a little confused and worried. What if these communities grew up excessively, remaining faithful to the values and principles of their ancestors, and managed, by voting new political parties, based on race or religion, to influence or even upset our legal system? What if, knowing that the Italian nationality would soon be granted to their children, thousands of pregnant women landed on the Italian coast?
It seems to me that these are vaguely apocalyptic scenarios, based on slightly paranoid conditions, still they are not impossible, and they might materialize, at least in part. 
The fact is that Italians normally tend to yield to a subtle tendency: in order to avoid opposed catastrophic scenarios they prefer the timorous option in between, the one that doesn't force them to take dramatic decisions and doesn't lead to big upsets, at least in the short run. Tomorrow, who knows, god bless us. That's why for fear of Fascism and Bolshevism we had the same party - the Cristian Democracy - in power for more than forty years. 
As a consequence we won't pursue serious policies to curb illegal immigration because mum (The EU) and dad (the USA) don't want us to (solidarity is often used as a hypocritical excuse). At the same time we avoid any bold measure aimed at progressive integration because we are afraid of the bogeyman. We couldn't possibly be more childish than this. 
Italians, who like to boast about their creativity, flexibility, intuition and improvisation skills, are incapable of making a decision because they cannot think out of the box and can only see the two most obvious alternatives, there only seem to be black and white to choose from, everybody or nobody: we can either automatically grant nationality to everyone or refuse it no matter what. 
Why don't we seriously analyze the situation instead? Let's talk about measurable factors, leaving personal opinions and groundless phobias aside for a moment. Let's take one of those boats with a few hundred wretches aboard that normally reach the island of Lampedusa into account for instance. Among those people there must be a few dozens at least who carry in their cultural background and chromosomes a god mix of positive features such as honesty, good will, a high IQ, a strong body, good health, etc.
Why don't we set up a program of progressive assimilation limited to those individuals who were born and raised in Italy then? Let's grant the Italian citizenship to a certain number of eligible people each year, using a point-based system. Educational qualification = n points. Teachers' evaluation and opinion = n points. Outcome of an interview with a specifically appointed commission = n points. Bad criminal record = - n points. Other (certifications, foreign language knowledge, sport, scientific, artistic and humanitarian achievements) = n points.
Other countries already have similar policies. If it works, the program can be progressively strengthened. If, on the other hand, some unexpected issue arises, it can always be reduced or even discontinued altogether.
Easy? Maybe even too much, for a country like Italy. It's much better to raise twisted and complicated objection...that way it'll be easier to avoid every decision and to lay that responsibility on the future generations.

Photo by 7bart (CC)

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