Hunger strike in Italy

27 October 2005

A Hunger Strike for the Arts By Carlo Vitali October 20, 2005 FLORENCE – Claudio Fantoni, a baritone in the chorus at Florence’s Maggio Musicale and a respected figure in Florence's political community, has gone on a hunger strike to protest the drastic cuts to the performing arts proposed by the Berlusconi government. Since Tuesday he has lived on only three sugared cappuccinos a day; he says he will continue to do so until the government assures him that the cuts will not be implemented. The support that he is gaining, not to mention the media attention, is impressive and, in its bi-partisan nature, highly unusual. As largely commented on in the international media last week, a draft budgetary bill recommends cuts to the Fondo Unico dello Spettacolo (National Fund for the Performing Arts) from 464 million euros to 300 million. Promised reimbursement to the fund for taxes paid but since repealed also have been postponed, adding further to the fund’s depletion, by $11.5 euros. Also planned are cuts -- of up to 50 per cent – to monies for the arts coming from local governments and the lottery. Associazione Nazionale Industrie Cinematografiche (National Association of Film Industries), or ANICA, estimates that the cuts to Fondo Unico alone may put some 60,000 jobs at risk. In a letter to the national Minister for Culture Rocco Buttiglione, a Catholic philosopher, Fantoni agrees that Italy’s show-business sytem, particularly with regard to opera, needs for public resources be optimized and overspending avoided. Yet the new bill, he argues, is more like a patient-killing cure and raises the suspicion that not budgetary necessity, but rather a will for retaliation, is at its root. Fantoni writes, “Though I can hardly believe it, some people think that both your Government and the majority supporting it are ready to sacrifice the performing arts sector only because it’s not strategic for electoral purposes.” Such a suspicion is understandable in light of some of the Government’s other proposals, such as the tax exemption for some 300 million euros to benefit churches’ real estate -- including those buildings hosting commercial activities, such as hotels, shops, restaurants and cinemas. In fact, the Roman Catholic church is regarded as a conservative vote-mover in Italy, while performing artists are generally noted for their liberal or leftist leanings. According to a highly placed representative of Coordinamento Musica Associazione Generale Italiana dello Spettacolo -- the country’s powerful union of performing arts managers, employers and professionals -- Fantoni is rapidly gaining ground. A peculiar feature of this campaign is that both employers and employees are taking sides against Berlusconi and his government.