Today I was blessed with a lesson in Italian culture that I could not have asked for. I witnessed a genuine Italian election. At least, it was supposed to be an election. And I think I was supposed to vote, too.
As a Catholic and an American, I feel it is more than civil duty to be a well-informed citizen and to participate in elections. It is a moral imperative.
So, when Karina, one of my housemates, mentioned at breakfast this morning that our second class of the day was cancelled due to student elections, I was intrigued. In fact, last night was the first time anyone had mentioned the fact that we even had student representatives, or a government of some kind… though no one was really clear on what they did, who they were, or when the elections were. No mention of this is made in the 300 page, mostly bilingual Ordine degli Studi except in the Italian language calendar which indicates only, “Elezioni Studentesce (10.30-12.15)” on this day.
Today, when we arrived at the Angelicum, there were a few copies of an “avviso” pinned to some classroom doors, apparently informing people (in Italian) that elections were being held today but without explaining much else.
At the appointed hour, our professor seemed mildly surprised to learn that his class was cancelled due to elections, and did not really know where we were supposed to go, or who was coordinating them.
The Angelicum is not really that big. One can peek into every classroom in about 15 minutes, and that is about how long it took me to find no one gathering to elect anyone, anywhere.
A fellow Anglophone student who has been here a few years, Kim, found me and decided he would introduce me to Italian-government-inaction, so together we continued the scavenger hunt for clues. After another search we found canon lawyers getting ready to elect someone from their faculty, some first cycle (Baccalaureate) students who had had elections in their classes, and finally we found a Canadian Anglican priest who had been the License representative last year, but who was equally unaware of where we were supposed to be doing elections this year.
At that point, in true Roman fashion, we decided nothing could be done and headed to the student bar for a cappuccino. Naturally, it was after caffé that someone walking by mentioned that the elections for student president were going to be held in a few minutes in the John Paul II Aula Magna (the giant lecture hall which seast several hundred).
Gathered there were less than 50 people (out of about 1400 registered students), almost all of whom seemed to be Italians (probably the entire Italian student population). The proceedings were held entirely in Italian, and when they started calling for votes, our request for a translation gained only a few brief comments in English.
Apparently, the sitting president was pointing out that with the absence of either the Rector of the university or the General Secretary precluded us from moving forward with the election. Moreover, only one candidate had met the (unpublished) deadline for submitting his name. So the discussion was to either take a non-binding vote to recommend another general assembly, to refer to the rector the current candidate, or to just ask him to appoint somebody.
At that point, people just started to leave. As far as I can tell, we did not really vote on anything, or decide anything. But at least I got to see a genuine Italian electoral process in action!