Erik Messori / Gregory Beals  / Alessandro Mazza


Emilia-Romangna is a study in paradox. It is a land of bitter winter and boiling summers. It is filled with cities of art and industy. Its plains are lost flat on the horizon. Its mountains are some of the highest in Italy. Its beaches and rivers pulsate day and night and often there is only a railway separating the two. Walk the streets of any town in the Italian region of Emilia Romagna and you will likely find at least one street named after Antonio Gramsci who among other things was one of the founding members of the Italian Communist Party. At the same time, it is impossible to stroll past villages like Modena, Sant’Agata or cities like Bologna and not feel the raw power of places that produce the world’s best sports cars – think Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati – to the wealthiest people on Earth. These contrasts – good governance, extreme wealth, the power of labor, the church – live both in confluence in conflict in a region known both for its fierce debate and artistic civility. The people of Emilia-Romangna will debate you over virtually everything: the stuffing of tortellini, how to cook fried dumplings, what is the best balsamic vinegar. Everything, food, cars, art and politics lives within the realm of philosophy. We are a people who talk, argue, live in associations, communes, committies, cooperatives, consortia. It is no wonder then, that the region in which the state of Italy was founded, where the phrase “Bel Paese” or beautiful country was invented is also a region in which everything belongs to the realm of politics. And until recently, that politics represented a kind of fluidity in which the right and the left coexisted in ways that benefited both. Extreme right-wing populism threatened to destroy the balance. And when voters went to the polls in Sunday’s regional elections, the real issue was whether this tradition of  metropolitan civility would continue or whether it would give way to the reactionary inflexibility of Matteo Salvini’s brand of right-wing populism. The question essentially was whether the region would succumb to a political outlook of an Italy that suffered darker moments. Prior to the Second World War, you see, Emila-Romanga was also the birthplace of Italian fascism. Emilia-Romagna did not  falls to the politics of populism nor to an ideology in which migrants are scapegoated as threats. But it managed to do so just barely. If it had fallen, the rest of Italy would have been soon to follow. This photo essay  team visually documents the contrasting traditions of Emilia Romagna within the context of contemporary politics. It seeks to better understand its communist history, the power of the church as well as the outlook of a new generation of Italians who unsuccessfully until now, have sought to turn the region sharply to the right.

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