Three politicians that will change Europe – for better or for worse.


from left: Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and Beppe Grillo

They’re popular and appealing to young, disenchanted EU voters that in 60 days from now will decide who represents them best in Brussels. Will UKIP, the 5 Star Movement and Front National be the Trojan horse for the European Union?

Two months. On May 25th European voters will cast their ballots to elect a new European parliament that will most likely witness the end of the duopoly center-right/center-left we grew accustomed to.

According to recent electoral polls, the pro-European profile of the EU Parliament will shift towards a more Eurosceptic outline with the rise of three major political parties (or movements) that could wreck the fragile EU integration process.

Nigel Farage’s UKIP, Marine Le Pen’s Front National and Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star Movement are predicted to be the real winners of this year’s EU elections with an average of 20% of preferences each.

The newest electoral polls available show that UKIP might grab 23% of the British votes, Front National 20% and the 5 Star Movement 21.3%.

Enormous figures for Eurosceptic, nationalist, anti-immigration parties that reflect Europe’s increasingly restive electorate.

However, it is way too early to attempt precise projections for seat numbers at the European elections (due, mainly, to the varied electoral systems in each country) but, according to current trends, it is possible that this anti-EU bloc might get something in between 120 and 165 out of the 766 seats available at the European Parliament.

These seats are likely to be divided among these three parties and other hard right movements such as Greece’s Golden Dawn and Hungary’s Jobbik.

If Grillo and Le Pen’s relationship remains tense, it is no secret that Farage is trying to seduce Italy’s 5 Star Movement to team up in Parliament.

Will they succeed in dismantling European institutions and tear apart the single European currency? Not quite but if political inaction continues on both European and member States level, they could trigger a difficult de-integration process that could change the very heart of the European system.


Harrow’s Pretty Women – part 2


Every Sunday night, Dispenser will take you to a tour inside the inner world of sex workers in suburbia-ville. No judgments, just real people trying to make a living. And their fascinating stories of unrequited love, secret passions and peculiar personalities.

Part 2 / Selina is an unusual marketing strategist. Without a university degree, she brands and sells something she knows best: her body on a webcam.

Selina gave up a marketing degree for a profession that, to some extent, allows her to brand, commodify and sell her body without the need of getting out of the house. She is a webcam girl.

“I’m not doing anything wrong, I mean, plus I decide my own schedule and get good money to spend on things I like.”

She is British and her parents sent her to London to study four years ago. She soon dropped out, “it was too intense and I was learning pretty much nothing,” she says. It started “for fun” and soon the Internet became her full-time employer.

3369408905_82a2e7474a_o“In these days with a webcam and a laptop you can do whatever you want.” Do her parents know about her new ‘marketing’ skills? “Oh, God, why would they?” she laughs. As far as they’re concerned, she’s out from college because she got hired as a marketing strategist, “which is not a complete lie, because if you want to succeed in what I’m doing, you have to be careful, make the right decisions and be professional otherwise you’re just another desperate girl on the web.”

And Selina is really precise. She sets her own boundaries, which she would never cross, and takes a systematic approach to what would otherwise be an unusual working day: “Four and a half hours a day per six days a week. I charge two pounds a minute so you make the math.”  The result is roughly £3,250 a week. Not bad for a well mannered, 23 year-old English young lady.

“But it doesn’t come in cash only, otherwise I’d have problems with taxes and everything.” So Selina adopted a plan and to avoid troubles with the revenue service: she gets part of her income in vouchers and gifts. “I travelled to Paris for free because a guy once bought me an airplane ticket.”

Webcam_grayscaleEvery day Selina switches on her webcam and the show starts. “No penetration, I just show parts of my body. I get to play with my feet a lot because that’s a fetish and sometimes I have to do some water sport [a fetish practice that involves urination on something or somebody] or lick my shoes. There are so many fetishists out there, you don’t even imagine.”

One day she’s dressed like a baby girl, the other like a boss, “it really varies from what I’m up to and what the trends of the day are on other cam chats. It’s more like acting than anything.”

The problem arose when some of her friends found out her real job. “They were mad because I lied to them and I shouldn’t have done it. I’m not proud of what I do, but I’m just trying to make a living I guess.”

Our Skype conversation ends and she’s almost in tears thinking about the people she has lost for her lies. “But I’m pretty sure they watch me on cam from time to time. That’s their way to show me their love.”

* Names have been changed to protect the identities of the interviewees.

Crimea is not the only one – territorial disputes around the world


The CIA has just published a map of boundary disputes all over the world – and Ukraine seems not to be the only State with territorial issues.

Nations excluded from this list are grey, the other ones in orange are involved (on a different degree, of course) in geographical disputes.

According to the World Factbook, Kashmir is one of the most militarised areas in the world with portions under the de facto administration of China (Aksai Chin), India (Jammu and Kashmir), and Pakistan (Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas).

In Europe, major disagreements remain with Bosnia and Herzegovina over several small sections of the boundary related to maritime access that hinders ratification of the 1999 border agreement; since the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, Croatia and Slovenia have each claimed sovereignty over Pirin Bay and four villages, and Slovenia has objected to Croatia’s claim of an exclusive economic zone in the Adriatic Sea.

Be outraged and have guts – a lesson from the European Press Prize


During award ceremonies it’s easy to get sentimental. 

This year at the European Press Prize, where the best journalism in the continent gets awarded for its true effort of shaping not only the profession but also history, I was genuinely moved by the words of sir Harold Evans during his opening speech:

Could there ever have been a more representative moment for all the European Press Prize aspirations than when the mutinous colonels had the deputies held hostages cowering at gunpoint in Parliament and someone brought in the edition of El Pais proclaiming the king’s call to defend democracy and the Constitution. El Pais, out on the streets was more powerful in that moment than the tanks. The colonel was confronted by his own political obituary in bold glorious print.

Reporters are often overloaded with work and Twitter feeds and we forget at times that, although implicitly, our readership – or audience at large – expects something from us that goes beyond a cold and impartial account of what’s happening in Crimea, Uganda, Turkey, Iran and so forth. They need a voice they can rely on for its brutal honesty.

In a time where real-politik and Machiavellian plots have replaced a frank debate on politics and economy, journalists should hold their heads up high and be outraged in disgust.

And that’s what the EPP winners did this year – they screamed out loud from the four corners of the world what was wrong and what had to be changed. They fought against regimes and Governments, swam against the tide of conformism and they acted as true watchdogs.

In other words, they had guts. And, ultimately, they incarnated the quintessence of journalism.

Here’s the list of winners:

The Investigative Reporting Award

Steve Stecklow, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Yeganeh Torbati, “Assets of the Ayatollah”, published by Reuters, United Kingdom.

The Distinguished Writing Award

Sergey Khazov, “Forbidden islam”, “Vietnam town” and “A Man in Orange”, published by The New Times magazine, Russian Federation.

The Commentator Award

Boris Dežulović, “Vukovar: a Life-Size Monument to the Dead City””, published by Globus, Croatia.

The Innovation Award

Espen Sandli and Linn Kongsli Hillestad, “Null CTRL”, published by Dagbladet, Norway.

The Special Award

Yavuz Baydar for his work as ombudsman. His columns were censored. The award is a symbol of support for his fight for free press. Editor Alan Rusbridger from the Guardian and editor Wolfgang Buchner from Der Spiegel for their persistence and courage in publishing the NSA stories.

– A special mention goes to Paolo Bernacco and his team from La Stampa (by far, the best Italian newspaper) for their interactive projects here and here

Harrow’s “Pretty Women”


For the next four weeks, every Sunday night, Dispenser will take you to a tour inside the inner world of sex workers in suburbia-ville. No judgments, just real people trying to make a living. And their fascinating stories of unrequited love, secret passions and peculiar personalities.

Part 1/ In North West London there’s a place where call girls love their boyfriends and clients don’t just pay for sex, but a shoulder to cry on.

Katja cautiously opens the door and looks around to check if I’m alone. Then, with a quick wave of her hand, she whispers, “come in”.

It’s eleven o’clock at night and she has just finished her shift. She has cream on her face and she’s scrubbing her hands. Then she points at the couch where her boyfriend is watching TV. “Can we make it quick? We wanted to watch a movie”. Hanging from the eggshell walls, two portraits: a picture of Jesus “because he protects us all” and a poster of Al Pacino in Scarface.Phone_box_prostitute_calling_cards_1

In the quiet, suburban area of Harrow Katja is employed in “the world’s oldest profession”: prostitution. “I’m more of a psychologist than a prostitute to be honest” she makes clear from the very beginning. “Most of my clients come here to talk about their wives and children and why they’re unhappy. Some of them are so old the ‘thing’ doesn’t get up anymore,” she laughs, “They just need attention from a younger girl, that’s all”.

Five days a week, eight hours a day. “I try to finish early because my boyfriend and I like to watch TV and do things together.” Katja says with a thick Eastern European accent.

The couple both came to London from Romania three years ago full of expectations. He’s a quiet and pragmatic construction worker. She was working in a beauty salon but “the pay was awful and it soon went out of business”.

Katja’s professional experience is varied: as well as a beautician, she’s been a barista, and a waitress working in a fast-food chain. She was never satisfied. “I couldn’t find the time to stay with my boyfriend and we couldn’t make a living. So we talked and we discussed and I decided to do it.” Men’s eyes always fell on her curves, she says. She’s in her mid-twenties, attractive and talkative. “I have some friends from my small town who are here and do the same. It’s not that much of a big deal: after a while you have your own clients, you know what they want, you give it to them, they pay good money and everybody’s happy isn’t it sweetheart?” Katja says to her boyfriend while he’s staring at the TV set. His eyes semi closed, he doesn’t respond to her questions.

How much does she make? She lights up a cigarette, “It’s a hundred per hour which is good, it allows us to pay the rent, the bills and to go back to Romania every once in a while. I don’t advertise on Internet anymore because I don’t need to: people who are interested they know me already.”

Her family thinks she still works at the beauty salon “but they don’t ask that much and I’m glad, I don’t want to explain a lot to my mother”. If the week is good Katja makes £1500 and sends something home to her parents and grandparents “because you gotta be good to your family”.

How does her boyfriend cope with the fact that Katja is having sex with strangers? “We cry every now and then but with time he understood that we do this for our future. I always do protected sex, it’s a rule, and if a client wants to have sex he has to be clean. Most of the time, though, my clients don’t even need to have sex, they just want some attention and someone that listens to them.” She puts the cigarette out and that is the signal that my time is up. Tonight they’re going to watch one of the many Fast and Furious movies. “You heard Paul Walker died? That’s a shame.” She sighs while escorting me to the entrance. “Please be quiet when you go down the stairs, the neighbors complained already.” Then she disappears in the dark, behind the door.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the interviewees.

Sing for us, Ukraine!

Kiev is burning and the Ukranian government led by President Viktor Yanukovych is repressing the protests that have erupted in the capital.

Nine Thirteen people died already and police is launching an assault to Independence square but Ukranians keep on singing their national anthem, proudly waving their flags and hoping for a better future. Closer to Europe and away from dictatoriship.

Democracy is overrated: Francis Underwood would turn pale in front of Italian politics.

Francis Underwood would not survive half an hour Italian politics.

His manipulative skills would be worth less than nothing in modern Italy, the Terza Repubblica of Machiavellian cons, fearless fights for power and silent slaughters for the premiership.

Amid economic turbulences, industrial stagnation and sky-rocketing unemployment, Rome’s politics is mainly focused in appointing the third Prime minister in a row that hasn’t undergone a democratic election.

Earlier in 2011, Italy had super Mario Monti to reduce deficit and keep the country away from the bull’s eye of economic disaster after years of Berlusconi’s dubious laissez-faire ; then Enrico Letta was the only hope for a government of national unity. For inexplicable reasons, Letta resigned last Friday to allow the mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, to step in as the new Prime minister.


Matteo Renzi
new Italian PM
aka the Fonz

Renzi, also known as the Fonz for his easy smile and leather jackets, is a 39 year old ruthless politician that had previously pledged to seek power via an election, but last week engineered the removal of the sitting Prime Minister Letta by calling a vote for his removal at a meeting of their Democratic Party.

Of course Renzi, who will be sworn in as PM in the next 48 hours, adopted the Machiavellian quote “I am not interested in preserving the status quo. I want to overthrow it” but it seems he’s been perpetuating the same perfidious strategy of his predecessors during the darkest age of the Republic.

Democracy is overrated, but please wake us up from this nightmare that resembles too much the Italian version of House of Cards.

“Let’s reform Europe together” Barroso tells UK


President of the EU Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso (courtesy of Wikipedia)

The president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, visited London ahead of European elections in May and warned member states, in particular the UK, not to “shoot ourselves in our feet”.

The  head of the EU executive delivered a speech earlier this afternoon at the London School of Economics on the health of the European Union and the reforms needed to push the EU in a more globalized and competitive world.

Barroso’s visit in London was crucial as Prime Minister David Cameron  promised to give an in/out referendum on EU membership if re-elected next year.

“If you don’t like Europe, help us reform it but don’t turn your back on us” Barroso said before LSE’s students, stressing the importance of unity as the basic pillar to overcome economic and political differences.

“We now have the leverage to push reforms,” Barroso said “and of course we could have faced the crisis better but we are democratic states and we cannot impose decisions on member states. We can only advise them.”

Barroso, in his tenth year of presidency, tried ad well to persuade Cameron not to block a fundamental principle of the EU: freedom of movement. The PM has said he’d like to do to stop the citizens of new EU member states from tapping Britain’s welfare benefits.

” We cannot have a single market without the free movement of European citizens,” the president said. “and I don’t want to have first and second class EU citizens because this could lead to class stratification that goes against our ideals.”

What happened to the questions? The twilight of Italian journalism.


“To the moon”. Italian PM Enrico Letta
courtesy of Il Giorno

Every year around Christmas the Italian Prime Minister sits down with all the political correspondents for the traditional end-of-year press conference.

The PM in charge, Enrico Letta, faced yesterday twenty-three questions from Italian reporters who tried to sum up a peculiar year that started with an uncertain electoral result and ended with the final gasps of Berlusconism and the angered protests of the Pitchfork riots.

So we sat down on our sofa, grabbed a fresh made parmigiana and we tuned in to see what the Italian prime minister had to say about the state of the country after twelve, troubled months made of a tragic shipwreck in Lampedusa, the rise of Beppe Grillo’s quasi-fascist populism and the NSA scandal on which the Italian Government remained silent for a suspiciously long time.

“I’m proud, this is the year of a generational turn-over”

“Employment must be good employment”

“We’ll pass the electoral reform before the European elections”.

These are some of the answers Mr. Letta gave to the correspondents gathered yesterday at Montecitorio palace in Rome: answers that my grandma could recite with nonchalance while cooking Christmas dinner.

Mr. Letta was so vague in picturing the executive’s agenda and the plans he wants to put in place to save Italy from the economic disaster that I started wondering what the reporters were asking while waiting for the free buffet offered by the Government.

So we put aside the parmigiana and started listening more carefully.

“What is the relationship with Germany?”

“What is the relationship with Iran?”

“Is it better to have more deregulated jobs or less jobs that comply with the current law?”

“Will Italians pay more or less taxes in 2014?”.

And Mr. Letta was smiling and nodding. Just like a contestant on a special episode of “Who wants to be a millionaire” hosted by a herd of performing chimpanzee.

“Mr. Letta, do you prefer: a. more jobs; b. great jobs; c. less jobs; d. an ice cream?”

In the midst, there is my grandma and I, staring at the TV set and speechless in front of this kind of detachment from reality: there’s no need to be a professional football player to see that the team is losing the match in center field. There’s no need to be a professional journalist to see that no compelling questions were asked or even intended to be posed.

Journalists may have forgotten how to ask but there are normal families, workers, housewives or simply uneducated grandmas like mine that, in the secrecy of their homes, have a bunch of questions that have been waiting for an answer for the last twenty years and won’t let a prime minister walk away after his hazy and indeterminate monologue.

“Aren’t you a journalist?” my grandma asked me. “I’m not sure I’m going to live for that long but, next year, get me a pass to go to this annual press conference – I’d like to ask a couple of things”.

Next year, nana. And merry Christmas to you.

Bye Bye, Silvio.


Silvio Berlusconi dealing with State deficit. Courtesy of

Silvio Berlusconi, the media tycoon that monopolized Italian politics for the last 20 years with his personal problems, is now out of the Parliament.

Not because he decided to spontaneously step down as any public figure would do if facing tax fraud convictions, sex with minors accusations, bribery and close ties with mafia charges.

The Italian Senate had to spend four months arguing whether he was eligible or not for a parliamentarian seat when the economic situation in the old country doesn’t seem to be that bright at the moment (at least Italians are not self-injecting HIV virus to get State benefits as it is happening in other parts of Europe).

Now that Berlusconi is out, and his resuscitated Forza Italia party will threaten elections every single hour of the day from here to March, what it is going to happen to the sexy Italian politics we were used to?

What will the masterminds in Rome produce in order to entertain Italians and distract them from the very problems that afflict the country? Chronic public debt, corruption, increasing taxation and linear cuts on public services among others.

Given that every Italian, tomorrow morning at the café, would swear they have never voted for Berlusconi in their lives (everything accompanied by, of course, a disgusted grim on their faces and a slow, dismissive movement of their hands) I’m pretty sure that tonight, in the secrecy of their bedrooms, Italians will recollect bits and pieces of these past 20 years: all the Berlusconi’s gaffes during international meetings, his inappropriate comments on gays and girls, his coup de theatre and his judiciary problems treated as State priorities and they will smile.

In the end, we all had fun.

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