SAIS Next Europe

« Previous Post | Next Post »

Italy's Students Protest Education Cuts

By Jared Katz

When I was an undergrad at the University of Southern California, the greatest confrontation between students and administration came when the university decided to stop beer sales at football games. How did the student population react? Write letters? Sign petitions? Organize? Protest? Well, we mostly whined to one another, drank even more before the games, and left at half time feeling bad - and not because of the score - soon forgetting the luxury of ever having been able to drink in the stadium.

In my few weeks as a student in Italy, however, I've been exposed to a whole new world of student activism.

These photos capture images from a thousands-strong student protest march through the streets of Bologna last Tuesday. They are part of a larger movement in Italy, where students are protesting education reforms that will amount to cuts of 1.5 billion Euros in the university sector and decrease the number of degree courses offered.

That might seem much more significant than cutting beer sales at a football game, but I think the protest turn-out would have been even larger had the Italian Education Ministry interfered with Italian futbol.

Armed with fiery tongues and water balloons filled with red paint, the students laid siege to and assaulted several faculty buildings, painted a municipal police car, and even left a few officers with red shirts (I left with a newly-red sweatshirt and a paint-splattered camera after getting caught in the crossfire.)

The demonstrators occupied the train station, making everyone leaving or entering Bologna even more late than their already delayed trains would have made them (Italian transportation delays deserve a study and article of their own, and perhaps they're even more deserving of reforms). Riot police were deployed further down the tracks and were forced to helmet up when flying paint grenades were launched anonymously from the mass of students. After flexing their collective muscle and bringing the Bologna train station to a halt, the demonstrators moved back to the streets and finally to their makeshift protester headquarters in Piazza Verdi before dispersing back into the narrow Italian streets from which they came.

The students certainly got some attention: the Italian education minister called an emergency meeting with students associations on October 23rd, and Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi declared that any further student protests would be broken up by force. In response, the students have upped the ante by calling for a mass demonstration on October 30th in Rome.

In search of excitement in an otherwise in-the-books focused life, I've self-declared myself a protest-chaser and plan to join the fun in Rome ... Stay tuned.

Jared Katz is a graduate student in the IR/Conflict Management program at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Bologna Center in Italy.

Email the Author | Email This Post | | Digg | Facebook

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.

Comments (3)

bouhan Author Profile Page:

“Maroni should do what I did when I was Minister of the Interior. University students? Let them do what they want. Withdraw the police from streets and universities, infiltrate the movement with provoking agents ready for anything ["agenti provocatori" is the Italian term] and let them devastate shops, put fire to the cars and put cities to the sword for ten days."

jaredkatz1 Author Profile Page:

It was not Minister Maroni and it was the use of force, and sit-ins are protests:

"Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said he would use the police to break up student sit-ins if protests against spending cuts disrupted schools and universities." -BBC NEWS

alexpersons Author Profile Page:

I just wanted to post an article that I found very useful in understanding this issue:

As for Berlusconi declaring he would use force to break the protests, it is not true. Minister Maroni declared that students squatting schools and university would be prosecuted (which is quite different). So far the protests have been quite orderly except for the Piazza Navona incident, initiated by the students themselves.

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.