If empty places are filled with hope: the regeneration of depopulated countries

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By John

«We’re leaving./ We’re leaving./ From the Aron stream/ from the Simeri plain./ We’re leaving with ten centimeters /of dry earth under our shoes/ with angry hands with nothing…». Thus begins «The song of the new Emigrants» (1964) by Franco Costabile, our great poet, whose centenary of birth occurs this year. A song, which in reality is a planctus, a dirge of pain, a pitiful cry, a bitter and painful denunciation, a desperate list of the names of the countries from which one is fleeing and the indignant list of the names of the politicians responsible for the farewell of those who go to hanging their jackets «in the shacks in the chicken coops of Europe», with their lives tied to an assembly line from which millions «of machines come out bearing the Magna Grecia license plate».
A sour, powerful and melancholic song, which reached the end of a long process of erosion, which began at the end of the nineteenth century and which Alvaro had already collected in famous stories such as «The portrait of Melusina», with the town that seems like a perpetual Friday Santo, and in 1958, after his death, in «A train in the South», where he observes that one aspect of the landscape and life of Calabria is «that of the abandoned and uninhabited villages on the mountains and hills, the empty windows, the bell tower empty still standing, the castle in ruins.” From the ruined villages of Aspromonte and Serre, Alcide De Gasperi – memory is now history and myth – invited displaced people to study languages ​​and run to the factories of Northern Italy and Central Europe. He escaped from countries of poverty, but in the end it was a thousand-year-old civilization.
With the economic boom, the myth of the city, the gloomy representations of the mountains and inland areas, modernization without progress, the country also disappeared from the hegemonic narratives and it was only a few writers, a few demologists, new anthropologists and southerners who told it. In the Italy of the “Milan to drink” or in the Calabria of modernist rhetoric, of the festivals, of the “ports of Ulysses”, by now it was no longer people who were fleeing, but entire countries were leaving.
In the poem «Paese di notte» (in the collection «La forza degli occhi») Alfonso Gatto writes: «We are all in a hurry to die / to return to the country», but now even this return becomes less and less possible, because in many countries there are no they are more familiar with welcoming those who have gone, often there are no more roads, sometimes the cemeteries are unusable. The whole world is upside down. The “crib town” has become “no longer a place” without huts and shepherds. The “enchanted” person of the nativity scene who looked at the star and marveled at the miracle and wonders of the sky no longer exists. The demographic void (reference to the investigation by Domenico Cersosimo and Sabina Licursi, «Lento pede», Donzelli 2023) is “empty”, rarefied, poised between desperation and the desire to change the state of things.
Costabile also said: «Here, you and I, Southern Italy, must talk to each other once, really think calmly, alone, without telling each other fantasies / about our districts. / We must decide / with this heart that is too much of a storyteller». It’s time to decide that so much identity rhetoric has not increased GDP, employment and population. It is time to affirm that initiatives regarding countries cannot be left in the hands of those who do not know them and consider them lost. It’s time to tell us that the invention of the glossy, pure and uncontaminated “village” is only useful to some speculator who knows where the big loans go, or to some smug esthete of ruins and romantic narcissus, for whom “remainder” is a slogan and a gadget, and not as we would like a choice of life, of rebellion, of radical change, of active and creative mobility.
These countries that we have lived in and live in, and that we love, cannot become, from an Unfinished Paradise, a Perfect Hell. The fairy tale that everything has happened, that nothing more can be done, while, instead, a regeneration could be started (I quote Cersosimo again) if the towns were equipped with roads, services, schools, museums, social centers, if employment with real support for families, the vulnerable, the least fortunate, for those who bet on innovation in agricultural, artisanal and tourist production, if we were able to give substance to the words trust, pathos, solidarity, hospitality.
Depopulation, as Fulvio Librandi writes, is also a cultural and mental device for the “not yet”. Who, as Latour says, thinks that we don’t know “where we are” and that we are on a journey, wayfarers ready to look – enchanted – at the stars, at new landscapes, at others. Those who feel outside of urbancentrism or anthropocentrism can turn on the device of hope for themselves and others. He may think that rarefied, empty and abandoned places resemble the Third Landscape, which urbanists, artists and philosophers talk about (I am thinking of Caffo) where the humanity of tomorrow could live.
These empty, sad, loved and hated places could become salvation in the era of great climatic upheavals. Young people, women, professionals, artists who, in all internal areas, remain, return, arrive in the villages, to found a new life or those who are forced to leave do not deserve – even when we are most desperate and apocalyptic – surrenders, desertions, without fighting with dignity, to affirm the right to stay and leave, to have material and immaterial goods, which, after all, are listed in our Constitution.