When the opportunity of an interview in New York with the Royal Highnesses Bourbon – Two Sicilies presents itself, you first think of a prank. Then, when you realize that Prince Carlo and Princess Camilla actually are in New York, and that by meeting with them you will have the chance of asking whichever question you might think of, you understand that a moment like this one is a unique moment that you cannot let slip away, only a few days after the elections in Italy, and then you start thinking: with the Northern League winning up north, and Five Star Movement winning in the south, what would the heirs of the Family that once ruled Naples think about all of that…
The meeting is on Monday at the Plaza Hotel, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and south Central Park. When I arrive, Prince Carlo welcomes me very warmly, and I can perceive right away that special “r” inflection so very characteristic of French royalty. In fact, Carlo di Borbone was born and raised in France. When after a few minutes, Princess Camilla arrives, the atmosphere tunes up with the energy of the former New Yorker who lived and studied here, and appears to be at home in New York.
We sit down and start the interview. While I ask the questions, Carlo and Camilla, Prince and Princess of Bourbon – Two Sicilies, answer those questions alternating between the two of them. There is not one subject that does not bring us into an elaborate and thoughtful conversation. And as you will read here after, their positions are not always identical.
I start by trying to understand the reason that brought them to New York, and what are their thoughts on America.
Camilla answers right away: “New York is always in my heart. I grew up here, I studied at New York University, and I still have a lot of friends here. It is natural for me to feel like I’m home in New York, an endless love affair with this city. I grew up with the idea of liberty, and an adventurous spirit, being able to engage in any professional career. Our Family takes its roots in in history and culture, like America does, having never severed the ties with the old Europe. The seeds of this culture grew up to produce liberty and wealth here in New York in so many beautiful shapes and forms. The best of both worlds finds its perfect spot in New York to connect and create dialogue. In this global world, New York remains the fulcrum and the motor of modernity”.
Princess Camilla continues: “I am very much involved, as UN Women For Peace association’s Ambassador, in the fight against violence and abuses on women and children. A fight for the right to health and dignity, but also nowadays the right for women not to be discriminated in any way, and even worth sexually abused. I thank all the women that fight every day for all of that, sometimes in the worst possible conditions. The morals and the traditions of the Royal House make it a very important matter to be considered very seriously and in a very sensitive way. Women’s rights have been defended through countless examples of women that not only have been the pillar of their families, but as well in the fulcrum of social and cultural evolution of the entire community and society. There still is a lot of changes to be made in this field. A necessity of evolution that is every one’s business, men and women, that needs to be enforced every day and under any circumstances, and that promotes the value of liberty and respect that are the heart of the European culture. As very well know all the Italians that left the motherland in pursue of a better life, and found it in America”.
Prince Carlo steps in: “As always, big changes do not occur over night. This is a primordial subject, and you had the great honor of ringing the NYSE opening bell …”
“It has been an immense emotion for me to be able to ring the bell that opens the markets in Wall street. This gesture, under the patronage of Woman For Peace supported by the united Nations, in defense of women and against any and every form of violence and abuse against them, this gesture had an extraordinary visibility and I hope it brought attention to this global pandemic even in the temple of finance. In my speech at the United Nations, I later wanted to emphasize that violence against women has no barriers. It spread through every country, every layer of society, or cultural origin. The recent argument of the sexual abuse that women had to experience within their work place or in order to pursue their professional careers was brought to light in the United States. From the movie industry, which is a cultural vector, and on to every other layer of the professional society…business offices, public offices, universities. A message that strong, if originated from Los Angeles or New York, can maybe make a difference. It is paramount to make people understand that women, not only have the responsibility of being mothers, raise children, work (…)”
“And be spouses as well” added Prince Carlo…
“Yes, exactly, be spouses as well, it is paramount to make people understand that if in addition to all those responsibilities you deprive those women of their rights and their dignity, it becomes unbearable. I am proud of what the Bourbon Family have done throughout the years for women’s rights. In Italy and Europe, I am Ambassador of every project we started with my husband caring and protecting every woman victim of domestic (and not only) abuse (Progetto Salvamamme), and in favor of better healthcare (Cardarelli Hospital in Naples and Bambin Gesù in Rome). One the most important things is that I pass on those values and principles to my daughters, and they already are Ambassadors of several humanitarian projects”.
I then ask what are their thoughts on today’s Italy and the recent elections outcome: Do you worry or do you think that things, even in the south, are not going that bad ? Prince Carlo seems to have an urge to express something positive right away: “First of all, I do believe Italy is one great country. For its complexity, its history, its past civilizations. There is, of course, the problem that occurred after the unification between the north and the south, as if the south was a burden for the rest of Italy. Even though we must not live in the past, we still must remember the much more balanced equilibrium that existed at the time between north and south. Then, pretty much every southern asset was brought north. Thus, this today’s Italian phenomenon, without any political view but just the need for reassessing the southern needs, was not born yesterday. It was created after the unification of Italy. Unfortunately, this affects a lot the rest of the country. Until we do not give back to the south some dignity, its own identity (…)”
Then Princess Camilla adds: “By investing time and capitals, elaborating programs…”
Prince Carlo stop talking for a moment, and then continues: “Until all this does not happen, the southern Italy will remain a problem for the rest of the country. We need to provide the means and tools to help the south, where there is the ability to change things, the necessary talent to change things, but there are no means to do so. Unfortunately, the people who are supposed to take action and make some important decisions,…. how can I put it…”
And Princess Camilla adds again: “The will! There is no will to change things ! Not from the people in charge, and who would be expected to take action …” And Prince Carlo to add: “Well yes, that too”.
Prince Carlo then concludes his speech about the present situation in Italy: “Italy is made by Italians. Their diversity; the richness of their traditions, of their values, of their history, and of their successes. You cannot comprehend Italy today without keeping in mind everything that I just mentioned about it. Italians have always had to overcome enormous difficulties, and succeeded in doing so thanks to their moral and intellectual qualities. The problems today are in front of everybody’s face, and that partially explains the outcome of this election. I cannot express a political opinion, neither take sides, being the Head of a Royal House that supposed to safeguard and protect the values and expectations of each and every one. I can only reaffirm my trust in the capacity of our people to transform those difficulties in opportunities, and in future successes. In our own little way, and as far as much as we possibly can, we dedicate ourselves to helping whomever is in need, invest in public health and education, trusting that we will work together in order to prepare and build what we all deserve, a better future”.
So what do you think of the south voting for the Five Star Movement? Why such a vote?
“This vote probably is a sign, by the southern people, of impatience and of a desperate need for a change”. They answered simultaneously.
Have you ever thought of a political career? “We must not be nostalgic” states Prince Carlo right away. But then he explains “as for the expression of common desires and interests attached to the history of all the people of the south, and out of respect of every cultural differences that are what make the south what it is, a member of the Royal House cannot take any part. We are at everybody’s disposal. Our day to day business is made helping the ones in need, all and every of them. This is how far we are and we want to be dragged into ‘politics’.”
In other words, no political journey to be expected?
“The raise of the Northern League over 25 years ago created the Neo Borbonici movement, that today has a certain political appeal. The way of gaining back its own identity. But as for myself, personally, I would not see me as a politician. No.”
Even if, at this time, people from the south is in need of a new voice, someone saying new things, someone who will stop blaming the south for everything, and who will reestablish the truth about the south being a victim of a certain history…. Prince Carlo seems to resist to the provocation: “It is not my duty to engage in this political path. I think I should remain more free to act in several other fields, specially culture and arts at this time.”
Princess Camilla does not resist, and states “Look, I really believe you know if you can be a politician since birth.”
Maybe it is Princess Camilla who would like to enter the politic arena: “I would certainly like it. Even if I am certain it would be extremely complicated. But I surely would love politics, since I believe that one person can actually change things, make a difference. Being a politician would allow you to do so. You will need a lot of courage, of strength, a strong spirit, and to be tough.”
“You need to have a lot of presence and time to dedicate to your political life…” says Prince Carlo. Princess Camilla explains : “You cannot have any limit to hold you back. And when you have a certain education, made of traditions, respect for your history, it becomes much more complicated.”
Let’s talk about history, the revisionist one. Let’s keep in mind Pino Aprile’s book, that was very successful. The book is about the Unitary Army’s crimes in the South. Prince Carlo talks about it now: “Over 20 years ago, we initiated a dialogue to reinstate the historical truth. Progresses have been made, but there still is a long way to go. Just think that in the Italian dictionary there is nothing positive describing the word ‘Borbonico’. Now, we do not want to be nostalgic, but little by little, some people came to realize that at a certain point in time things were going a certain way and that since the unification of Italy, things started changing.”
Naples, till the end of the 1800’s was a major European capital, an industrial city, with the biggest shipyards in the world. “There is a list of primacies” says Princess Camilla. “Just think of the first rail road!”. “The historical truth” replies Prince Carlo… “is necessary to give back to the people its identity that they feel to have lost. And this would give the necessary strength and courage to get better. But if there is no political will to make things better, then there is no way for it to happen. I understand how difficult it is, it has been a long time, but the more time passes the harder it will be to fix this situation”.
What to do? New school programs that teach Southern Italy’s history even in the northern schools? “It’s the least to be done, to start with.” Says Princess Camilla, “but not only, we need more conferences, more books, and certainly new and improved history courses in schools”.
We still have to talk about history: until 1860, there was no immigration from the south, from Sicily. At least not a massive one. Then, millions of people left and it was the beginning of diaspora that went on for years. Would that have happened with the Kingdom of Two Sicilies as well? “No, people were happier in the south” can’t help but saying Princess Camilla, and then she laughs. We cannot define the line between the joke and the genuine thought. Obviously not everybody was happy back then, those were hard times even when the Bourbons were reigning. But even so, people from Sicily, Calabria, Campagna, Puglia, Abruzzi, and so long and so forth were not leaving their land. And there is also the Mafia. Make no mistake, the Mafia was already there during the Bourbon’s kingdom of course, but nothing comparable to what it became after the unification of Italy. “I probably should not say it, but…”says Prince Carlo at this point, but Princess Camilla insists “go ahead, say it!”
Prince Carlo to continue: “There was, during the Bourbon’s Kingdom, an administrative environment way more regulated, more fair, more balanced”.
So the southern question, what does it mean to you? Prince Carlo deepens his thoughts as follow: “Our Royal House has its roots in the south. It represents an important cultural heritage, large parts of history, and the Royal House has often been synonymous of hood reign, efficient administration, art and cultural funding, innovation, and charity. The southern problem exists within a configuration that is not the Bourbon’s, but the unified Italy and some other dynamics that would be too long to examine right now. It is undeniable that there is an inequality of redistribution of the wealth between northerners and southerners, which does not benefit the south. It also is obvious that without helping the south, it is the whole country that will be at risk of never getting back on track. The southern people has all the necessary moral and intellectual resources to make it. We must create the appropriate environment so as the assets of the south will produce their own fruits, as it was not so long ago. We must give back to the south the ability to express its own talent and excellency. That’s what the southern question is about: the Government’s burocracy should not be less intrusive in the southern administration as it should be more efficient and working for the collective benefit of all. We need an investment plan, a dynamic strategy for the south, specially for the industries that once were our pride.”
Princess Camilla: “Mass immigration is a very bad sign. Not to mention that the south lost some of its most valuable intellectual assets. Persons that would have enriched the south with their work. It really is a shame. An Italian should really live and work in Italy, and contribute to the growth of his/her country. I cannot believe that immigrating was an easy thing. I don’t think anyone could leave Naples or Palermo without a tear. But for those people their future was abroad and at some point they had to leave. It must have been an awful experience.”
What is the moment in history that you believe to be the one to be the most ashamed of? The biggest mistake? The unification of Italy would probably have happened, but in 1860, what happened that later brought the country to important mistakes? Such as fascism for example? “The unification could have started a little later, and could have as well be initiated from the other side” says Prince Carlo. “It is a certainty that my Family would never have gone against the Holy Church as the Savoia did. It has been an invasion without even a declaration of war. This is what brought south all the problems we are suffering from now. This for me has been a terrible…”
An original sin? “A terrible thing, and a huge guilt. Annihilate an entire territory, and its own identity. I believe it’s a very serious matter.”
Here Princess Camilla jumps in: “Tradition, values, life. In my opinion, this is very bad. Worse than a war. You end up without an identity, having to be ashamed of your southern origins, and you‘re left with no other choice than to flee your country. It really is a terrible thing”.
Unfortunately, it happened. So what is there to do now in order to cure those still open wounds? Talking to the both of them, I ask if they had the opportunity to suggest any thing to do to President Sergio Mattarella, what would that be?
“I do not have any magic wand.” Prince Carlo starts by saying, “but only by considering the geographical position of Italy, center of the Mediterranean Sea, I would ask why isn’t more done for the coasts? We are not building any more ports, no infrastructures that could benefit the people and provide jobs. We do not exploit the cultural heritage, the monuments…just think about the Reggia di Caserta! In France, Versailles has millions of visitors every year. We do not promote our heritage the way it should be…”
Princess Camilla suggests: “We should rent the Reggia to host big events, with the red Cross, NIAF, Italy does not know how to profit from its assets”.
But then, why not to embrace the political adventure? Now, the Cinque Stelle has all the south in their hands, but what if they would not succeed either? Then, Prince Carlo, would you not feel like being the last man standing to attempt to save the south? Prince Carlo looks at me, smiles, and looks at his spouse, but in the end he doesn’t answer me. Then Princess Camilla jumps in and reiterate the question: “Would you not feel the duty, for all the people who count on you?”
Prince Carlo still smiles, and with an almost joke tone : “Now I feel like I am that big! But what would prevent me from stepping in is that the political world is ruled by true evil and meanness. You will be attacked as soon as you start doing things, that’s just the way it is. At the very moment you want to do something in order to make things change, people will go at war with you. For no specific reasons….envy, jealousy, who knows… Being a member of the Family I represent, I don’t feel like entering that kind of fight.”
Then Princess, are You ready ? Princess Camilla to reply “I come from the business world. In Italy like everywhere else in the world, when you manage your business you will have to be confronted to politics, personal egos, jealousies, ambitions, and meanness. Maybe it would be easier for me to adapt to that environment. I am telling you, as an exclusivity, for the very first time, that if I was to think that I could effectively achieve some changes, yes, I would try to. I still am so sad to see the southern situation, and the name of the Borboni like this. I would give it a try, hopping that I could be strong enough to change things.”
And Prince Carlo, would you agree or would you try to temperate the Princess?
He smiles: “We’ll see”.
But what do you think about the Italian crisis, generally speaking? During the past 20 years, Italy does not grow, or so much slower than the other European countries. It seems this crisis started with the growing of the EU. What do you think? Is it the Euro’s fault? What is the root of the problem? Do we have too much Europe? or not enough for Italy?
Prince Carlo answers : “In a group of countries there are always some of them that are, or believe to be stronger than the others. For instance Germany or France. Italy does not have the same leverage when it comes to go against European projects defending its own interests as other more powerful countries would. Europe exists so as we could stand in front of the USA, or China. We should promote more the involvement and the contribution of all European countries, especially when having so much cultural heritage and history”.
In other words, United States of Europe, with equal power for each state?
“That’s how it should be” replies Princess Camilla.
Finally, getting back at the vote’s results interpretation: some US and British media state that there could be a comeback of fascism in Italy. What do you think? “It would be frightening” says Prince Carlo. “Unacceptable. This door should remain closed and never re opened again”.
But do you think those are journalists over reactions? or is the danger real ? Princess Camille replies: “I think that even if it really is an overstatement, the danger always exists”.
But what do the Bourbon Two Sicilies want, from their past, to be recognized? Prince Carlo and Princess Camilla answer: “The stories of The Royal House, its qualities, its problems, its successes and its failures, its contribution to modernity and innovation, the primates that set a way to go (I refer to the Naples-Portici, the very first rail road to be built on Italian soil, in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1839). All of the above, and much more, is part of an history that does not need to be recognized or acknowledged because it already is. But it is important that those values will be not only preserved and protected, but carried on, and that they would be applied nowadays. This is our duty, of preservation and continuity, not only be heirs”.
A final message for the Italians of America? Princess Camilla: “Italy is the most beautiful country in the world! So let’s be proud of being Italians! We all are Italians, with our moral and spiritual values we did conquer the world. We need to carry on, with pride!”
Is the word Pride still accurate for the southerners? “Of course it is! We very much are proud of being southerners. Moreover, the southerners should be even more proud!” says Princess Camilla. And just after, Prince Carlo concludes: “But to everyone who had the misfortune to have to leave, and then the opportunity to realize great things here in America, not to forget Italy and the south. Give something back to help the south to get out of the struggle”.