Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lesbian book launch

Last night Pachamama hosted a book launch: ‘Lesbianism in Nazi-Fascist Europe’. Only our locale could have hosted such an event. The organiser, my Spanish friend, was highly excited when she came, with her projector and images and requests for fun music to lighten the atmosphere. Arci-Gay arrived from Messina laden with posters on safe gay sex and anti-gay and anti-discrimination slogans which he then plastered all over the front of the locale. It reminded me of the early 90s in Ireland, and the 80s in England. but being gay is still a taboo topic in Sicily. But apart from Arci-Gay and the Rita Atria Women’s Anti-Mafia group and a few of the Donne Libere there weren’t too many people. The usual. We had just enough chairs so it was perfect in the privé (sideroom).

I thought all was going well – young Claudia introduced the subject matter and then the two co-authors talked about the difficulty of researching a topic about which there is so much secrecy and censorship. Survivors, they said, were reluctant to talk. But when the writers took questions from the audience, a heated discussion broke out between the president of Arci-Gay and one of the authors. He accused her of not wanting to lobby or promote their cause with right-wing parties, and she defended herself by saying she had worked within Arci-Gay for many years and seen how this approach was fraught with difficulties because Arci-Gay used only certain channels and people in the right-wing parties and it didn’t work for her. The Arci-Gay president, a large man, got out of his seat and went up to the panel and stood right in front of the writer while vehemently putting his point across. This will have seemed intimidating to her as his stance was belligerent and forceful. So she responded on the defensive and this too came across very strongly. At one point she jumped to her feet shouting, ‘Well, if I am going to have to defend myself to the Arci-Gay, I’m leaving!’ The organiser managed to placate her and convince her to stay till the end. Afterwards, the president said he would right a damning review of this skirmish in the local press the next day, which seemed unnecessary and petty. The writer herself was very taken aback and upset, especially since her reasons for not dialoguing with right wing parties are based on previous negative experience of how Arci-Gay operates with the said parties.

My Spanish friend was upset by all of this and said this was a perfect example of why nothing worked in this country and no progress in anything regarding social issues, could ever be made. How can we work on environmental issues, refuse and recycling problem and equality for women in Sicily, if these groups, who ostensibly would appear to have similar agendas, cannot even agree or discuss things in a diplomatic manner? She despaired. She said it was evidence of how in Sicily everyone has their own agendas, people will only participate in an event/meeting if they can promote their own interests; rather than listening and sharing other ideas, they want only to talk over the head of other members of the group to voice their own concerns. There is no concept of working together for the collective group. She reckons this springs from two traits prevalent in Sicilians: protagonismo – each wants to be a protagonist, the main actor on their own stage playing out their own drama; and familismo or amoral familism (a concept coined by American sociologist Edward C. Banfield in his 1958 study ‘The moral Basis of a Backward Society’ based on research he conducted on peasants in Lucania in the South of Italy.) which, in short, translates as looking out for your family only and not caring for the collective good, or improving the world now for the benefit of future generations.

My Spanish friend wanted to have a meeting with mio marito and a friend who has been elected to the town council, today to discuss the recycling and refuse collection problems and women’s issues too with a view to meeting the sindaco (mayor) with a strong agenda; but even our councillor friend was off-putting. He said the new mayor seems open enough at this point to constructive projects, but it had to be remembered that he was mayor for 7 years before in which it became clear that he was heavily influenced by his corrupt brother who had a string of dodgy powerful friends needing favours. He said in local politics here you had to be aware that each and every person had their own personal and political agenda, and that it was never about working together on a project for the general improvement and benefit of society. How depressing.

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