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From UN intern to waitress: open letter to Italian labour minister

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Alessia Bottone speaks three languages, has studied in seven countries and has an impressive four-page long CV to show for her 26 years. She now waits tables for two hours a week in a bar. The valkryie became a media sensation in Italy after her public letter to Elsa Fornero, a politician herself famous for breaking down in tears in public

Alessia Bottone moved back home to Verona in Italy in early 2012, convinced that she was ready to make the big leap into the work world. She has a masters and relevant international work experience in her pocket, as well as an internship from the united nations as a figurative cherry on top. She has sent her CV to over 200 addresses. But she has also spent the past seven months serving coffee whilst she turns down inacceptable internship after inacceptable internship; no wonder when one position, to be a saleswoman, offered to pay a meagre 300 euros a month. The youth unemployment rate in Italy hit a record 36.2% for the country in July 2012.

See 'Labour and welfare minister Elsa Fornero weeps for Italy' on

Alessia ended up putting pen to paper, like in the good old days, to write a letter to Italy's labour and welfare minister, Elsa Fornero. The letter was published in the online magazine Italian Affairs ('Affari Italiani'), and is composed of two realistic requests. Firstly, Alessia asks for a more modern regulation to be put into place concerning internships in Italy. For example, in France, an internship is paid after two months according to the law. Secondly, she asks for the young people who 'believed' that higher education was the first step on the ladder, to 'get their dignity back'. As Alessia wrote, 'I could have easily been a saleswoman six years ago, without having needed my parents to tighten their belts over the years'. Interview. Alessia, did Elsa Fornero reply to your open letter? What message would you send to European leaders?

Alessia Bottone: No, but it's not the response which is important – we all basically know what the rhetoric will sound like. We just need to keep being heard, because sooner or later the European leaders would listen. Is there really a movement for young unemployed people in Europe? The 'indignant' citizens movement is more about young people refusing certain conditions and choosing something else. I don't want to explain the crisis, I want to tell it. I am the product, as are many other young people. What's next after the letter?

Alessia Bottone: After all the comments and mail I received after the letter was published in the newspaper, I had the idea of creating a common denominator, a space where we could talk openly. The shame factor comes hot off the heels of the crisis – people are afraid of revealing what they are going through, they are even scared of recognising it themselves. So I created a blog with other girls called 'From north to south, let's talk about it' ('Da Nord a Sud, parliamone'). It's an outlet for everyone, not just young people. This whole 'I don't believe anymore' thing united everyone's story. It's very serious when you are 25 or 26. People are even sending me their cvs now because they get no replies to them. How can the process be reversed?

Alessia Bottone: After doing five internships, I am basically still waiting to start my first job. The years are zipping by and opportunities are at an all-time low. The job centre recently contacted me to offer me another internship, which I turned down. They told me I should take it because I didn't have any other choice. So I spoke to the director who told me herself that it was a job which had been fashioned up as a way of not paying the worker. 

'The crisis can be a huge advantage for us'

That's a legal form of exploitation. It's hard to understand that Europe fought to defend its basic human rights whilst some of the EU's countries are asking their young people to work almost for free. It feels like the state comes before all of us citizens. From the moment we stop, the state stops too. We have this enormous power but we don't know how to use it. The crisis can basically be a huge advantage for us. Why not say – 'hey, watch out, we are the government, and we're always going to be there to keep an eye on you'? How do you get into a situation without perspectives in the first place?

Alessia Bottone: We were told to study to have a better life than our parents. We were told we needed degrees and diplomas to then find out that actually they meant nothing, that we were not qualified, that we are a resource which still needs to be trained. We all graduated, are qualified, are educated, but we became outcasts in the work world. I am the daughter of this paradox. Which unemployment story that you have heard about has most moved you?

Alessia Bottone: I know a fortysomething who owns his own estate agency and who tried to kill himself. His wife does not want people to know about that because she is ashamed, and she is worried that people then won't want to buy homes through her husband. That's the desperation of a father. I could basically still leave tomorrow to become a waitress in Switzerland, but what kind of opportunities are out there for a father-of-three in Italy? What can we invent for him? What's the next step for you?

Alessia Bottone: These are not the kind of stories we thought we'd be talking about one day. In isolated cases yes, but we basically live in fear. People are beginning to suffer from the crisis on a psychological level. The blog is helping me with this little project, at least in compiling some sort of document which brings together all the help numbers, psychological aid and so on for whoever needs to speak about it.

You can reach Alessia at: alessiabottone[at]libero[dot]it

Images: © video Elsa Fornero (cc) rainews24/ youtube

Translated from "Da stagista ONU a cameriera: la mia storia per la Fornero"