ROME (Reuters) - Seventy years after a World War Two air raid killed 1,500 in their working-class Rome district, San Lorenzo residents on Friday rued a European Union they said had brought peace, but not prosperity.
Spending cuts and tax increases to lower the borrowing costs and debt of weaker euro zone economies have fed Europe-wide resentment towards the project of integration, conceived to ensure peace in the continent after centuries of war.
“There is peace, yes, but we’ve gone back to 50 years ago. All my grandchildren are without work. Even if they’ve gone to university they can’t find anything,” said Maria Minossi, who lived through the bombing aged eight.
“War with bombs, never again. But now it’s a different kind of struggle, they’ve abandoned us here to hardship, young and old.”
The shock bombardment of one of the world’s most beautiful cities by Allied forces helped to topple fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, but waves of bombs aimed at Rome’s railway hit the densely-populated adjacent San Lorenzo district, devastating a treasured basilica and causing mass civilian deaths.
Historians link bombings like San Lorenzo’s to the movement to unite Europe, because the deep trauma of city bombardments fuelled convictions that war should never happen again.
Yet even survivors who wept as they recalled finding corpses on the street said they were unhappy with Italy’s current state. While the country is at peace, Italy’s longest recession since the war ended has caused record-high youth unemployment.
“At least there is peace now. But we are feeling the crisis. My grandchildren can’t find work. Not knowing how they will have a future is a terrible thing,” said Adriana Amalfitani, who at the age of 17 ran frantically through San Lorenzo as bombs fell, searching for her family. Her sister was found dead in the rubble.
“Europe cannot be united. We are too different. There is no common idea,” Amalfitani said sadly, as she smoked a cigarette on a bench during a wreath-laying remembrance ceremony in San Lorenzo’s Park of the Fallen on Friday.
Angry local residents who said the government had neglected San Lorenzo, where several bombed buildings still stand open to the skies, harangued the Rome’s deputy mayor when he arrived to preside over the ceremony, blocking his way to the podium and shouting “Shame! Shame!”
A female protester grabbed the microphone and shouted: “Italy is in ruins! Our parents are turning in their graves!”
Anger at economic hardship fuelled the success of the 5-Star Movement, which has called for a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro, a key part of the European integration project now blamed by critics for hobbling growth for the 17 countries using the currency by shackling incompatible economies together.
The original purpose of the integration of Europe has, for many, been lost, said military historian Vanda Wilcox of John Cabot University, an American institution of higher learning in Rome.
“If you ask people about the European Union today they don’t even know that’s why it came into being. They associate it with economics and interference from Brussels, not that it was to preserve the peace of Europe,” Wilcox said.
Reporting by Naomi O'Leary; Editing by Michael Roddy