Milan, 7 Dec. (AKI) – Protesters clashed with Italian riot police on Tuesday in front of Milan’s world-famous La Scala opera house. Police charged a group of around 50 people opposing the Italian government’s proposed education reforms. Hours before an opera season opening performance of Richard Wagner’s The Valkyrie was due to open at La Scala, students let off flares and smoke bombs as part of protests against government higher education reforms currently in parliament.
Protesters carried banners with slogans calling for the resignation of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and education Minister Maria Stella Gelmini. Theatre workers angry at government culture cuts also gathered in the area, as did a small group of immigrants demanding residence permits for themselves and other migrant workers.
In similar protests in late November, students stormed several of Italy’s famous landmarks, including the Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and St Mark’s Square in Venice.
La Scala itself has been hit by government austerity cuts and has said it will record a deficit of five million euros in 2010 and 17 million euros in 2011 if the cuts are implemented. It has had five previous years of balanced budgets.
Israeli maestro Daniel Barenboim made a statement expressing concern about the cuts before conducting The Valkyrie, Richard Wagner’s five-hour tale of love, incest and rebellion.
The education reform bill currently before the parliament includes cutting funds to faculties and courses which the government says attract only a few students and drain resources from other more vital areas of study, and includes proposals aimed at making the education system more transparent and meritocratic.
Critics of the planned reforms, including the centre-left opposition, say they will make less funds available for research projects and other investments universities have to make to guarantee high standards of education, and that thye plans amount to the privatisation of higher education.