By Guido Talarico
The unworthy political quarrels in Milan in recent days have perhaps definitively compromised the entry of Aramco, the Saudi oil company among the largest in the world, in the Teatro della Scala. A farce that has caused three consequences: 1) the loss of 15 million sponsorships; 2) the probable cancellation of a well-paid collaboration for the creation of an opera school in Riyadh; 3) the probable laying of a tombstone on future cultural and commercial collaborations between Saudi Arabia and Italy.
Collaborations on which our embassy had been working for three years. While all this was going on, with French, Spanish and British people happily ready to replace us, I took the opportunity of the opening of some contemporary art exhibitions in Riyadh and Jeddah to see what air was pulling on the Saudi soil and to try to understand why the top management of public institutions in Milan have closed the door in front of Armaco, using excuses, pathetic excuses, as the lack of causal in the notarial deposit. (Do you think that a sane person refuses a sponsorship of 15 million for a formal fact?) But let’s start from the beginning.
Why did Attilio Fontana’s League and Giuseppe Sala’s Democratic Party say no to Aramco? Simple: for pure political opportunism. The League for fake patriotism and not to leave space to Gasbarri and Larussa, the PD for fake feminism and usual moralism. If you ask them, they will tell you another story. But these are the facts. If instead you visit the Italian ambassador in Riyadh, which I have done, you will find a man who has worked for years to rebuild a balanced relationship that would make our country recover opportunities in various areas, from culture to armaments, and who now finds himself lying because of small quarrels in the Lombard workshop. However, on one point we can only agree with Fontana.
Scala director Alexander Pereira is an amateur, to say the least. Because it’s true that he initially thought of this deserving operation, but then he handled it so badly that he arrived at the disaster of these hours. A capable manager, and at La Scala it is expected to be just like that, would have had to prepare and manage the consent within the Board of Directors well before bringing you the contract. The Austrian, on the other hand, attempted a clever sortie that broke up the whole thing. Having made that clear, the responsibility for this failure lies entirely with Sala, who is chairman of the Board of Directors and Fontana. And if it is not comparable to the no of the Olympics in Rome of Mrs Raggi and the same no of the Appendino in Turin, because the stakes are incomparable, in terms of political approach we lack little.
The central point of the question is, in fact the inability of politics, even of two people otherwise serious and qualified as Sala and Fontana, to make the most appropriate choices for the public and not those most convenient from an electoral point of view and consensus. To have, in other words, the political vision and the courage of one’s own choices. La Scala, Milan and all Italian opera deserved the international development that the relationship with Aramco would have brought. It was a great opportunity that now, except for the last hour turntable, will seize our European cousins. We said no because Fontana couldn’t resist the Lombard belly that doesn’t want Arabs in the temple of opera and because Sala couldn’t let go of the pseudo-feminist and libertarian pressures (as in the case of Kashoggi) of his political side.
It was only a matter of a small political calculation, of putting one’s face where one’s own people want to see it. Because the theme here was not to give a moral promotion to Saudi Arabia, which certainly does not need us. Here the theme was to do something good and useful for La Scala, for Milan and for the country. And that the attitude of Milanese politics is hypocritical is demonstrated by the facts. When it comes to real trade agreements, those with many zeros to be clear (of private companies or from the State), nobody says anything. Because there are big interests involved. Even when we do business with giants of democracy and champions of feminism and freedom, such as Russia, China, Egypt or Turkey, just to give a few examples, nobody comments.
Then comes a few million for culture and since the media spotlight is on, everyone turns into purists and strenuous defenders of the highest moral and civil liberties. Fontana and Sala certainly know well that Italian fashion, for example, exports most of its products in the countries mentioned above. Not to mention the public multinationals, some of which are also present on the Board of Directors of La Scala, which rightly work all over the world. Because the point, let’s be clear and strong, is that us, from the West, can’t make anyone’s morals. We were and still are, fighting with different weapons, colonialists. This is not the place to make a geopolitical analysis of neocolonialism. But a synthetic concept can also be said here: the economy is global and reigns supreme over the markets and ultimately over politics and governments. “Business is business”. Everybody knows it and in Milan they know it better than elsewhere. But when it comes to culture and low figures, then you can be a moralist, a picky one. Few burnt money is worth a bit of visibility and helps to rebuild a purist image.
Well, the story is all here: a bad fig leaf that the duo Fontana Sala has given birth to avoid remaining each with the classic match in hand. And how are things in Saudi Arabia? I also went to Riyadh and Jeddah to attend the opening of two important exhibitions of contemporary art. One entitled “The Red Palace”, by Sultan bin Al Fahad, the other by Mohammed Hafiz’s Athr Gallery, where a series of young Saudi talents were presented. All very interesting and that contemporary art is made at this level in Saudi Arabia is in itself a piece of news that many in Italy do not know, but I will talk about this in another article. Here I would like to briefly tell you what I have seen during this visit. A country that grew up on a clear legal institution that is that of the family, or if sometimes of the tribe, and that for millennia has been morally guided by the religious dictates of the Koran. Things are not too different from our Catholic and familistic Italy. The diversity lies in the times and in the discovery of well-being, in Europe, for example, arrived well before. With well-being comes culture, sociality, modernity.
Saudi Arabia has launched a programme called “Vision 2030”, a project that aims to develop the country as a whole in the medium term. The results are already beginning to be seen. You can see it as soon as you leave the airport. I take the infrastructure almost for granted. Instead, I like to underline the openings made for women, who no longer have the obligation to wear a veil, who can drive and go alone to the cinema. Of course there is still a long way to go, but for the new generations they are epoch-making achievements. In short, Saudi Arabia is a country that is trying with its time to change skin and a millenary history, being in a geographical area, let’s not forget, very complicated where the conflicts are south, east and some threat comes from the west. The agreement with La Scala was yet another sign of their culture’s openness and attention to our culture. And culture is known to be the key to progress. Instead, everything has gone to the nettles for some ephemeral “like” more. The hope now is that Sala and Fontana will repent, find an excuse for the turnabout in order to save face, and sign an agreement before the French or Spanish arrive. Hoping that in Riyadh they will still be interested in an understanding with these gentlemen. Even though, as I understand it when I went around there, farce is the least appreciated lyrical genre by the Saudis.