Following Emmanuel Macron’s example, the Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, has announced the introduction of a ‘Green Pass’. Draghi’s initiative, which was announced at a press conference on 24 July and comes into effect on 6 August, has sparked protests all over Italy
The Green Pass will discriminate between Italians who are vaccinated and those who are not. Anyone who has not received their jabs, or cannot show a recent negative test or that they have recovered from Covid in the past six months, will be denied access to indoor restaurants, museums, cinemas and exhibitions. Further restrictions under discussion would prevent them from access to trains and ferries. There are also plans to limit entry into schools and universities to the vaccinated.
What has particularly angered people is Draghi’s position on vaccinating teenagers. When one journalist asked him what he thought about the suggestion from Matteo Salvini, the head of the Northern League, that teenagers shouldn’t be encouraged to get jabbed at the moment, his response was that ‘any invitation to avoid vaccination is simply an invitation to get sick and die’. Many Italians want to know why their Prime Minister is recommending that they vaccinate over-12s when northern European countries such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Sweden have decided against it until more data becomes available.
Just over half of Italians are fully vaccinated and 11 per cent have had one dose. An aggressive media campaign has been launched to urge more to take the jab. La Repubblica, one of the major national newspapers, even ran a headline saying: ‘Now is the time to hunt down the unvaccinated!’ A virologist named Roberto Burioni, who appears regularly on television, has referred to the unvaccinated as ‘rats, who will be obliged to close themselves in their holes’.
Such diatribes have inflamed Italy. On the evening of Draghi’s press conference, a major demonstration took place in Turin’s main square, which came as a surprise to many. A few days later, demonstrations filled squares throughout the country. Many appear to have been organised over the social media platform Telegram.
The following week, more organised demonstrations took place in Milan, Genova and Rome. Protestors gathered in Piazza del Popolo in central Rome and, while the square was full, the event was peaceful and the crowd diverse. I was astounded by the large number of menacing armoured vehicles, paramilitary troops and police.
People chanted ‘Liberta, Liberta’. And this soon turned into ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’ when Florian Philippot, one of the former leaders of the Front National who flew in from France, began his speech. Members of the Italian parliament were there, many of whom have been have been outspoken critics of the government’s Covid restrictions. Armando Siri from the Northern League was in the crowd, as were the flamboyant art critic Vittorio Sgarbi and Senator Gianluigi Paragone, leader of the new Italexit party.
I spoke to Senator Paragone. ‘Is this a demonstration against vaccines?’ I asked. ‘Not at all,’ he said. ‘The derogatory label of “No Vax” is being used by the mainstream media against us. There are plenty of vaccinated people who nevertheless are against the Green Pass, against the direct or indirect obligation to vaccinate, against a Green Pass which will discriminate between Italians.’
I put it to him that the Green Pass is justified on scientific grounds. ‘Look, we have a British destroyer, HMS Diamond, moored in the harbour of Taranto,’ he said. ‘All of the sailors are double vaccinated but there has been an outbreak of coronavirus on board. Fortunately, they are young and mostly asymptomatic. But in countries with the highest rate of vaccination, like Israel and the UK, infection rates are still very high, especially since the Delta variant has appeared. This shows that the vaccines can’t really stop the circulation of the virus. Healthy younger people have very little chance of getting severely ill, while the medium- to long-term effects of the vaccines are still unknown. So no, the Prime Minister is wrong and there is no scientific basis to justify the Green Pass.’
The idea of subjecting the younger generation to an experimental vaccine, which has received only emergency approval, has enraged plenty of Italians. I asked Paragone what he thinks about the Draghi government’s decision to extend the state of emergency powers until the end of 2021. ‘They might have been justified in the first months of the pandemic,’ he said. ‘But not now, not after more than a year. If this is an emergency, what will the state do in the event of a real one? They are using the state of emergency for other reasons: to implement other agendas that have nothing to do with public health.’ He tells me there are plans for demonstrations like this to be held all over Italy until ‘these liberticidal measures’ are retracted.
The next day, MPs from the opposition party Fratelli d’Italia occupied the Italian parliament chamber with billboards protesting against the pass. Families and communities are at loggerheads. At the church of San Paolo in Casale Monferrato near Turin, zealous priests have hung billboards up saying: ‘Unvaccinated people are not welcome!’
The most prominent dissent against the Green Pass comes from two of Italy’s most respected and widely translated philosophers, Giorgio Agamben and Massimo Cacciari — who is also a highly influential left-wing politician. They have jointly produced a manifesto, published by the prestigious Italian Institute for Philosophical Studies, warning about the danger to liberty and democracy. They compare the pass to documentation used in the former Soviet Union and by the Chinese Communist party.
Cacciari has said neither he nor Agamben could remain silent, even though it has meant being criticised by their own political allies on the left, which has been extremely pro-vaccination. Their entry into the debate has greatly boosted the ‘No Green Pass’ movement.
If Italy does implement the pass this week, it will lead to more clashes and to an increasingly polarised country. Agamben has warned that once man is reduced to his crude biological existence, he risks being totally subjugated and enslaved — and that the Green Pass is a dangerous step in this direction.
Sacrificing liberty and all which makes a life worth living is not a real life. The ancient Romans knew this. As Pompey the Great said: ‘Navigare necesse est vivere non necesse’ — ‘To sail is necessary; to [merely] live is not.’