by: Alexander Smoltczyk in Siena, Italy
August 7, 2012
Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, took five centuries to accumulate its wealth — and three years to gamble it away. Its fall from grace is a disaster for its home city of Siena, which relied on distributed profits from the bank. Now the picturesque Tuscan city is trying to come to terms with the new reality.
Siena’s Financial Fiasco
Valentina still has exactly 22 hours before her future comes to an end. She has to drop off papers at the Italian Football Federation by 6 p.m. tomorrow to register her club in Serie A, Italy’s top soccer league. It would be a triumph, a well-earned conclusion of a season in which the female football team of the Italian city of Siena qualified for promotion into the country’s highest league for the first time.
Dropping off the papers in Rome on time wouldn’t have been the problem, but the €17,000 ($21,000) registration fee was. The club’s traditional sponsor had backed out, due to “an internal decision,” as had been explained in the fax, written on letterhead with the Monte dei Paschi Foundation’s logo of three beehives at the top.
Valentina Lorenzini is the coach, masseuse and organizer of the soccer club Siena Calcio Femminile. She is a stocky 43-year-old who refuses to believe that it’s over, that something has finally come to an end in her city. “We won and we can’t be promoted,” she says. “How sick is that?”
But there is still time. It’s only 8 p.m. Perhaps she’ll still manage to find someone.
A Happy Exception
This is the way it’s always been in Siena, an idyllic Tuscan city where even the curbstones look as if they’d been chiseled by the sculptor Bernini. It’s a city over which the profits of a major bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS), were distributed year after year like manna. Sometimes it was €150 million, and sometimes it was even €200 million. It’s a lot of money for a city with a population of 55,000 people.
Siena was always considered a happy exception in Italy, a prosperous city with functioning hospitals, recycling and free buses for the schools. And now there isn’t even enough money to register the local women’s soccer club in Serie A. Siena’s coffers are empty, the main bank has to borrow money, the elites have failed and a commissioner has taken control of the city. Siena has gone from being an exception to a reflection of Italy’s general situation.
Most locals don’t perceive that as a compliment.
It is partly to do with the debt crisis, partly with the Italian state and a lot to do with Siena. It also has a lot to do with the fact that now, at 8 p.m., hundreds of Sienese wearing fake Yulia Tymoshenko-style braids and with pacifiers in their mouths are marching across the Piazza del Campo, banging on drums and waving blue-and-white flags.