Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Sabbatical Diary
“A year on sabbatical? That means you’ll be doing nothing for a whole year; how lucky you are”. Well, not exactly… friends often think that a sabbatical means an extended holiday which is not quite the truth.
The point of this diary is not just to show the world that I am indeed working or to justify my absence to AUR though there’s a bit of that but it is mainly to show to students that their teachers do not just teach. And the diary is also a way of nailing my colours to the mast; when you have a secret schedule, it’s easy to fudge delays to oneself and to the world. If the world already knows, it becomes more difficult.
To be sure, I’m hugely looking forward to the coming year but it’s not going to be a bucolic 12 months by the seaside or in the country or travel to exotic places although I hope that it will include at least some of all three.
The plan is to complete a book project and two, maybe three serious articles and there are plenty of other projects to follow if I manage to finish the most important ones.
The first is a biography of a curious and contradictory fascist called Aldo Finzi; provisional title originally The dangerous edge of things (filched from Browning via Graham Greene) but I soon discovered that there was a book with the same title published in 2006. More about him later. Then in July, a colleague in Scotland, Maurizio Carbone asked me if I would contribute to a book on Italian foreign policy that he is editing. It was a great opportunity to develop threads which I’ve been working on for quite a few years, but the deadline is mid-September. The good news is that it will not take too much time and effort away from Finzi; the bad news is that I’ve got to deliver it in a fortnight.
Then there is a return to organised crime, at least the study of it; a year ago I gave a paper on Italian organised crime to the Criminal Intelligence Service of Ontario’s annual conference and in January I extended to the subject to Ghana with a paper at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Accra so it is time to write them up into an article. This is part of a bigger project with a friend and colleague, Antonio Vazquez in Madrid. We will be doing the research for the Real Instituto Elcan and trying to describe the tentacles that link Italy, Spain and West Africa in transnational crime. Elcan is Spain’s equivalent of Chatham House or the IAI here in Italy.
And then a small idea which I’ve been nursing for 20 years, Visegrad and Italian army diplomacy. In 1989 I spent some time in the Italian army archives looking for material on the former UN Secretary General, Kurt Waldheim’s activities in the Balkans in 1942. I came across what seemed to be an amazingly effective example of what today would be called “second track diplomacy”. Officers of the V Alpine Division, Pusteria, managed to negotiate their way into occupying the north eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad without firing a shot. The story had nothing to do with Waldheim so I shelved it, but that is what sabbaticals are for, to dust off old projects from the shelf and complete them. It will also mean finding someone in Belgrade to look at the Yugoslav partisan archives because I’ve only seen one side of the story.
And then there is a bigger Balkan idea which involves another friend and colleague, Maja Gori, an archæologist specialising on Balkan prehistory. We want to analyse the use and abuse of archæology and art in creating (and destroying) national identity in the Balkans. But Maja has a Ph.D. to finish in Heidelberg so this might take some time
This last August was indeed spent in the country or by the seaside and was most enjoyable too, thank you. But I also tried to keep up an average of 1,000 wds a day on the different fronts. There was the book proposal to be completed because writing comes much more easily if there is a contract; and there was the Italian foreign policy article to be planned and written. The commentary and calls for analysis don’t stop even in August in Italy. The Times asked me for a comment on the Berlusconi saga (published yesterday “The chasm between Berlusconi and reality” http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6815531.ece and I did an interview with John Hooper for The Economist audio service on north-south differences in Italy – what is La questione meridionale today and how does it affect the government? Well, it might just bring the government down. (hear it at http://audiovideo.economist.com/?fr_chl=9d59819ce6521b183cf4e109469807fc150d864c&rf=bm) The most surreal was recording an interview with Wolf Achtner for Iran’s Press TV. We were discussing the ronde, the newly instituted vigilante volunteers in Italy and the overall security and law and order situation in Italy; the same day, the international media reported accusations of the rape, torture and murder of Iranian demonstrators. Security in Italy is not a major problem but in Iran it is – Press TV, not surprisingly did not look at Iran. And while I have my doubts about the overall wisdom of deploying vigilantes on Italian streets, they are no the basij with their sinister robocop uniforms and menacing motorcyle formations.
And today, I started working on a dig at S. Severa (the castle between S. Marinella and Cerveteri). The local archæological association, (Gruppo Archeologico del Territorio Cerite) has been able to look at all the areas of the castle that have been dug up during a major renovation project and they’ve already found the first church of S. Severa, a Roman villa and mediæval cemetry plus a lot of information about the Roman castrum. With luck, the area where I’ll be working will go down to the Etruscan layer. I’ve done one morning so far and will do two weeks in all