Thursday, July 10, 2014

Milan's Deputy Mayor: "Citizen participation not essential, agreement is"

    Ada Lucia De Cesaris, Milan's Deputy Mayor stated that "citizen participation is not essential"

Investigative journalism is mostly a news-oriented mindset with which you wake up every day. 

"Like attracts like," says the Law of Attraction.  It's the same with news stories—that is to say when you get up in the morning or, as in this case when you are going to go to bed at night, you don't have to go look for a story because the story is already waiting for you behind the corner or right on your PC screen.

This story totally came out of the blue while I was commenting on a Facebook post that the Milan's Deputy Mayor published on her Facebook page on July 6 which I am reporting below with the English translation attached.

The Deputy Mayor's post was initially intended to advertise an event that will take place at the Milan's Trienniale Museum next July 15 and whose headline goes: "Re-forming Milan". 

My first comment on her post was, "at this public meeting will the audience be allowed to speak and ask questions or will it be just another non-debating-one-way-speech like the one on good government that was held a month ago at the Verme Theater?"

Cut to a month ago, when I attended this public event that was held at the Verme Theater here in Milano, where a bunch of "experts" were invited by the Milan City Hall to talk about the concept of "good government." I went to the event and sneaked into the first row in order to get a chance to at least ask the Deputy Mayor a question. The event lasted three hours and except for an art lecture at the beginning, the event was predictable and a complete sham, where words like "leadership" or "Consciousness" were never even pronounced. Obviously questions were not allowed.  

As you can see from the Facebook post reported below, when I observed that citizens were not allowed to ask questions, she responded, "Clearly you were distracted.”

This statement contains the whole essence of the Italian attitude towards the very concept of free speech and free press. First of all Italian public officials, when they feel themselves to be under scrutiny, get extremely defensive and their first reaction is to question the legitimacy of what or who is questioning them. 

So they won't answer your question but they reply to yours by questioning the legitimacy of your question.

In the short Facebook dialogue that occurred between me and Milan's Deputy Mayor, this woman showed all of her play-hard-lawyer attitude because the story premise here is that she's a professional lawyer and she's been working as a lawyer for her whole life. Hence she's used to court-fighting, and court-fighting is all about questioning the legitimacy of the counterpart's claim. 

The only problem here is that we are not in court; you are a public official now and you must answer my questions as I am a member of the press and I represent that public opinion who wants to know about everything you do with the taxpayer's money. 

These things might be taken for granted in civilized countries like Britain or in the U.S. but Italy is different. Public officials here have a way of having higher consideration of their role. Being in office means you have the divine power to rule and you are above all and everyone. You are the power, without the need to care what citizens might think about your public conduct and what possible unethical behavior you might be involved in. 

Italian politicians never think they are in charge to represent the citizens; instead they think they are  in charge on a mission to save the world from doomsday.

They consider themselves like prophets following their God-given vision, and they should not be bothered while on duty.  

As a matter of fact this short dialogue is a real manifesto of how Italian public officials consider the basics of Democracy: from Free Speech to Citizen Participation, to Public Dissent, to Public Discussion and Community Development. None of these basics do exist in their parochial-narrowed mind. 

When the Deputy Mayor said: "participation is not essential" I was so flabbergasted I didn't know what to say. 

Citizen Participation is one of the fundamental principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The Declaration arose directly from the experience of the Second World War and represents the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled. 

The World Affairs Council of Philadelphia is a non-profit, non partisan podium for thought leaders. Prominent past speakers included government leaders and major players on the world stage - such as Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, Yitzhak Rabin, Margaret Thatcher, former U.S. Presidents Nixon, Johnson, Reagan, Carter, Bush, leaders and Advocates like General Petraeus, Al Gore and Media personalities like Barbara Walters and Bob Woodward; The organization's motto is "in a Democracy, agreement is not essential; Participation is" which is just the opposite concept expressed by Mrs. De Cesaris.

    The World Affairs Council's website and its motto on Participation 

That's why the Milan's Deputy Mayor's attitude is at least "out of place" if not "contradictory", especially after the recent political election that saw the young reformist Matteo Renzi being elected Prime Minister. 

While serving as Mayor of Florence, Renzi adopted the Town Meeting Tool, to ensure maximum transparency and active citizen participation 

Now I ask myself "what is the cultural background of this woman?" Can she really dare to state such a blasphemy without thinking that she is going to face public judgment and scrutiny? I mean does she really think she is above the law, above the citizens and above those democratic principles which are the basics of our Civilization?

I do not want to bring up psychology, because otherwise I should have made an in-depth analysis of another one of her statements: "Once in a while it is important to listen" which clearly shows a projection of her own state of mind. Could it be some sort of reassuring warning she made to herself? Do I have to go on here? 

In developed countries like the UK or the U.S. public participation has become a central principle of public policymaking. In the UK for example, all levels of government have started to build citizen and stakeholder engagement into their policy-making processes. This may involve large-scale consultations, focus group research, On-line discussion forums, or deliberative citizens' juries. 

Citizen participation is viewed as a tool that is meant to inform planning, organizing or funding of activities. Public participation may also be used to measure attainable objectives, evaluate impact, and identify lessons for future practice.

In the U.S. Public participation is mandatory for rules promulgated by the executive branch and statutes or agency policies may mandate public hearings during this period.

Instead, the Milan's Deputy Mayor stated that "I am happy if people participate but they must agree with the initiative". 

Am I missing something here? 

This woman is not just a public official, she's the Deputy Mayor of one of the main European cities and she's telling a journalist that in order to participate to a public event organized by the city government "citizens must first agree with the initiative".

I would like to remind you that Milan is going to host the next Expo in 2015 and the city has been inundated with a bunch of posters claiming that the Expo is "a party with 4 billion guests". Although someone should tell them they must agree with the initiative before coming to Milan as public dissent is not welcome here.  

For the Deputy Mayor's convenience I am posting below a meaningful statement by the most distinguished representative in the field of Human Rights: Nelson Mandela. 

The real paradox however is that Mrs. De Cesaris has a reputation for sticking to the letter of the Law. 

E Pluribus Unum  

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