As we have written before, the referendum which was recently held in Bologna against public funding for private (mostly Catholic) schools was an uneven struggle. On the one side was the committee Articolo 33, promoting the referendum and claiming that public funds – which already are insufficient – should go to public schools, not to private ones. A principle which, obvious as it may appear, was brought into question by the introduction of an “integrated” system in 1996, which recognised private schools as public and gave them the right to receive state funding. Needless to say, the introduction of this integrated system brought great income to Catholic schools and to the organizations which supported them.
On the other side and out in front, indeed, there was the Catholic power, with its schools, organizations, associations, unions and parties – altogether, the largest part of the political, economic and media forces in the city. The parties in favour of state funding for private schools represented the vast majority of the city council and of the national parliament, from the centre-left Democratic Party, to Mario Monti’s party Lista Civica, to Berlusconi’s PDL, to the Northern League. Many ministers and ex ministers expressed themselves in favour of private schools, alongside powerful organization Comunione e Liberazione, trade union CISL, the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) and even Pope Francis I himself. Even Confindustria (the national organization of entrepreneurs) and LegaCoop (the League of Cooperatives, linked to the Democratic Party and composed by 15.000 cooperatives employing almost 500.000 people) joined the team.
The campaign in favour of option B (that is, supporting private schools with public funds) was violent and used all the immense means available to its supporters: calls from churches’ pulpits, apocalyptic visions of a future where hundreds of children don’t have a school anymore, huge mobilization of local media. Democratic Party Mayor Virginio Merola and the city council did everything within their power to help promote option B. The Mayor stated that he wouldn’t have changed his mind about funding of private schools either way, even in case option A had won, and the city council institution itself made calls for option B on its website and through propaganda letters sent to every citizen.
As if this wasn’t enough, a real boycott was designed, through a distribution of polling stations that – as Articolo 33 and many witnesses report – disoriented most voters. In some areas, voters had to travel up to 5 kilometers to get to their assigned polling station and everywhere there were big difficulties. The volunteers of the Articolo 33 committee had to work hard during the whole day to help voters, and also had to face supporters of the B option, who kept provoking and striking to prevent them from giving help. Even the date – an almost summer-like Sunday – was chosen to discourage a wide flow of voters.
But despite all this, on May 26 the little committee with its volunteers defeated the giants. The A option won with 59% of votes and obtained victories in all quarters of the city, even in the ones most loyal to the Democratic Party, the only exception being the most rich and traditionally right-wing ones. Less than one third of the electorate voted, but for the Articolo 33 committee this result is far from disappointing. Piergiorgio Corbetta, analyst from Cattaneo research institute, shares this opinion, adding: “Neither the PD base nor the Catholic base voted for option B”.
For the Democratic Party and the other forces supporting private schools, it’s a debacle. Nevertheless, they’ve already started to use the flow records in order to lessen the results of the referendum and make it appear non-influential. Mayor Virginio Merola, just after the poll, said that the result doesn’t call the integrated system into question.
The result of the referendum in Bologna has widely overtaken the city boundaries, and ended up shaking the Parliament itself. Minister of Education Maria Chiara Carrozza, who was in the team of B supporters, said that the victory of option A must open a debate about the relationship between the public and the private educational systems. Just words for now, but a testimony of a little earthquake.
Most importantly, however, more than 50.000 people voted in favour of public schools and according to collective of writers Wu Ming (who were amongst the most active supporters during the campaign in favour of A), it’s with them that the city has to make a fresh start.