These are embarrassing times to be Italian. The country is in a financial mess, on the precipice of becoming the latest victim of the debt crisis. The prime minister is now regarded even by most Italians to be a national embarrassment, yet he still clings to power. The waste crisis in Naples has spiralled out of control, and Italy's handling of migrants from North Africa during the Arab Spring has drawn condemnation from human rights groups and European leaders alike. Even their prime minister has heaped scorn upon Italy, calling it a "shitty country". The last thing Italians needed was another embarrassment.
As I write this, Amanda Knox is boarding a plane in Rome, heading back to her home in the US after four years in an Italian jail for a crime the judiciary now says she did not commit. Yesterday's verdict of innocence, the conclusion of the most closely-watched Italian court case in decades, brought jeers and condemnation not just from the crowd of Italians outside but also from the Italian media. Many in Italy see the verdict as the judiciary bending to American pressure. But other Italians agree with the sentiment felt abroad - particularly in the US – that the Italian judiciary and police system are so flawed there was no way Ms Knox could be convicted without significant doubt about her guilt.
The prosecutors had alleged that Ms Knox, staying in Italy to study the language, had with her Italian boyfriend killed her British flatmate Meredith Kircher – also learning Italian – after a sex game had gone horribly wrong in 2007. They centered the case around painting her as an evil creature, even calling her a "witch" in court. Both were convicted of the murder in 2009, but in the Italian legal system defendants are allowed two appeals. Apparently convictions at a first trial are commonly later overturned on appeal. After 2009 significant flaws were found with the police investigation of the case. An independent review found that the DNA evidence found on a kitchen knife in the boyfriend's flat was unreliable because the police had not followed proper procedures when collecting it. Yesterday the judge found that the police had made a catalogue of errors.
In the end, one could read into yesterday's verdict that the Americans won. That's certainly what much of the Italian press seems to be doing. The newspaper Corriere della Serra wrote today that the American media had subjugated Italian justice. Other papers echoed the crowd's chants of "shame" after the verdict was read. Notably, the US state department said that they were "satisfied" that the court had come to this decision. The British foreign office had no comment.
Whether you think Knox is guilty or innocent, either way the Italian justice system comes out looking very bad here. Either they wrongfully accused a young woman of murder - brandishing her a witch and holding her in prison for four years - or the blundering of their investigation has let a brutal killer go free. But in Italy some are choosing to see this as a question of American media pressure letting a killer go free, choosing to ignore that mistakes made by the Italian police and prosecution.
It seems likely that the defensive Italian media reaction is part of a larger picture – a feeling within Italy that the country is being set upon by chastising neighbours. And that feeling is only going to get more pronounced. Recent leaked cables have shown that the European Central Bank is growing increasingly frustrated with the country and its inability to get control of its debt and implement an austerity package. Italy-bashing has become common place in Northern Europe, part of a growing trend of blaming Southern Europe and their perceived lack of a work ethic for the eurozone crisis.
Italian citizenship through ancestry three years ago. I also want to talk to people about how they're feeling about the eurozone crisis, particularly in the context of defending the European project from disintegration.
Paradoxically, Italians tend to be one of the most pro-EU countries at the same time as being very isolationist from the rest of Europe. This is simply for the reason that despite a tendency toward provincialism, Italians have such little faith in their own government that they welcome the EU coming in and enforcing European law. I've never met an Italian who wasn't a 'federalist' in the sense that they want more power to go from Rome to Brussels. Now that the entire European project is under threat, will Italians be enthusiastic about defending it? Or will they have a defensive reaction to being partly blamed for the crisis and join the anti-EU sentiments of the protestors in Greece? I'm curious to find out.