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May 17, 2013

Lost in documentation

In Italy, a trip to the library is an education in navigating the tedium of bureaucracy.

One day my friend Harriett and I decided to go to the Archiginnasio, a library repurposed from the original building for the University of Bologna. Upon entering the 500-year old structure, we check in at the front desk, where the desk worker asks me for some ID.  After a few seconds spent deliberating over whether to use my student visa, New York state drivers license, or university identification, I hand her my driver’s license.  Then, both Harriet and I have to fill out a form with name, address, phone number, reasons for being there, etc. After the paperwork, we get a key to a locker, in which we are instructed to put all of our things save the books that we will be using. The desk clerk presently dismisses us without even telling us where the lockers are. So after another five minutes of wandering around, we find them, put our stuff in, and are finally ready to enter the library.

But no: That would be too easy. We have to return to the same lady, who gives us a large 5x8 yellow laminated card and another sheet of paper on which we have to write our names and other personal information. She then stamps this second sheet of paper, and we are finally ready to enter the library.

After studying, it’s time to leave—and that’s a production in itself. We have to go to another desk and get the second sheet of paper stamped. Then we go back to the first desk, wait in line, and hand in that sheet of paper. Then we have to retrieve our key, trek to the lockers to get our stuff, and then return to the same desk and wait in yet another line to return the key and pick up my driver’s license.

So passed a few hours of studying, minus 40 minutes of bouncing back from desk to desk filling out forms and getting pieces of paper stamped, signed, dated, whatever.

In my experience, library bureaucracy is not usually this bad—however, I can only think of two libraries in all of Bologna that you can just go into, find a seat, and sit down and study. I hope my experience gives you some insight into a country where bureaucracy reigns supreme, reaching levels to which it impedes significantly on my life—and I’m just a foreign student who, thankfully, had a study abroad program that navigated all of the bureaucracy of getting my student visa. (Which, if you were wondering, entails going to the post office to officially pay in person for my permesso di soggiorno, or visa, and then to the immigration office to have my fingerprints taken multiple times and the information on my forms checked and checked again, and then to the police station to be fingerprinted yet again! The process continues).

Although I tend to stay positive when things go wrong—fighting won’t work, especially when it comes to immigration—sometimes it is difficult to look at the bureaucracy and not see it as something far more dangerous.

Today, Italy is in a grave economic crisis. The crisis of 2008 was only a small drop in the bucket. The Italian economy has been in trouble since the end of the post-war economic boom. Much of this trouble has been created by Italian politicians, who have long used public money to finance the construction of their own political empires, part of which includes expanding the bureaucracy in order to fill it with men loyal to the parties in power.

These corrupt actions have had real, concrete effects: People rarely have jobs that last for more than a few months, businesses open and close in the blink of an eye, and young people are continually shuffling back and forth between living with their parents and moving out for the few months that they have employment. And, keep in mind that my experience is in the north of Italy, where the economy is strongest.

Returning to the theme of bureaucracy: When I shuffle between offices and desks in my attempts to negotiate this enormous bureaucracy, I can only think of two things. First, I think of the taxes that are being paid in order to fund a redundant and bloated system. Second, I think of the simple inefficiency of a system that makes anyone trying to do anything that involves the state (which is virtually everything) want to pull his hair out while paying for the privilege to do so.

From my observations of daily life and my studies of Italian history, I have come to the conclusion that the Italian bureaucracy is one of many factors impeding the Italian economy and society as a whole from overcoming Italy’s history and moving into a more prosperous phase. I do not blame people who work for the Italian government. I understand that civil service is a steady job with good opportunities, and I cannot blame anyone for pursuing that. I merely think the system is broken. I am sad and angry because most of the people who struggle with this system and with this economy have inherited all of these problems. They are innocent and still have to pay. Bureaucracy must exist in every country, but Italy is an extreme and lamentable case.

Noelle Turtur is a third-year in the College majoring in history.

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