An article by: Alessandro Banfi

The “south of the world” concept or, as they now began to say, “Global South,” does not really indicate a certain geographical location on the globe, but synthesizes a description of civilizations, peoples, and cultures that feel unjustly enslaved and exploited and that are really far from the Group of Seven world countries. Just as at one time the inhabitants of the southern regions of Italy, brilliantly described by Carlo Levi in the book “Christ Stopped at Eboli,” felt so far away from the central metropolitan government of Rome that infringed on their rights.

So what does the expression “Global South” actually mean? What do we mean when we talk not only about the aspirations, hopes, but also about the demands of this very “Global South”? Professor Stefano Zamagni, one of the most influential Italian economists, Honorary Member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, has already authoritatively written on this subject, and on this very Internet resource, by the way. Zamagni briefly and accurately outlined what is happening in relations between peoples and countries. He delves into the structural vision of modern geopolitics. Here, however, I would like to add a kind of “vertical analysis” of the meaning of these two words. Let me explain right away, what I mean.


Here, the category “South” becomes not only a symbol, but also a conductor of enormous inequality, which today has not only an economic, but also a cultural nature.

As I thought about this term, I was reminded of a great Italian literary work that became famous throughout the world at the end of World War II. I’m talking about the story “Christ Stopped at Eboli” by Italian writer Carlo Levi.

The author, artist and intellectual from a large Jewish family that lived in the city of Turin in northern Italy was sent into exile by the then fascist regime, which convicted him on participating in some kind of “conspiracy.” Levi was exiled “to the very wilderness,” to the village of Aliano, a small place in the south of Italy located in the Basilicata region. This is the southern Italian province of Matera. In this essentially autobiographical novel, Levi described himself under the name Gagliano. The leitmotif of the entire story written by the artist – Levi had already established himself as a strong painter by that time – is a description of the amazing humanity of this forgotten South, so distant back then, and this description, this story passes through the real faces of people, through human stories. An old peasant from Basilicata experiences a sense of brotherly closeness with a Jewish intellectual sent into exile by the regime. It would seem that they have very little in common from a social and cultural standpoint. In fact, they are brought together by a strong feeling of isolation from such a distant Italian state.

Simply by talking about this remote village in Basilicata, Levi describes an anthropological type: a man from the South. The author himself once wrote, “Like a journey to the beginning of time, the story ‘Christ Stopped at Eboli’ tells about the discovery of another civilization. These are the peasants of the deep South: outside of history and outside of the progressive mind, but filled with ancient wisdom and a patient attitude towards pain.” This is the radical and absolute South, alternative and wise, the land of thousand years of pain. Here, the category “South” becomes a symbol and conductor of great inequality, which is not only economic, but also cultural in nature.

Most of the inhabitants of planet Earth feel like these kinds of southerners: severed from the rest of the world by inequality and the levers of economic power.

The gap between southern civilization and Rome, the bureaucratic capital of Italy, where northerners, immigrants from Piedmont, and then the fascists sat in power, is enormous. I don’t know whether those who came up with the expression “Global South” read Carlo Levi’s book, but, of course, the category of the South cannot be attributed to a purely geographical concept. Rather, it is a way of briefly describing those peoples and civilizations that feel unjustly enslaved and exploited, turned into “appendages” and maybe even “unnecessary appendages” by the countries of the so-called G7 – this group of the world’s seven most economically and industrially developed countries. And here we can say that today most people on planet Earth feel either like residents of this very South, or like they belong to this very South: severed from the rest of the world by inequality, as well as by the levers of economic and financial power of the global North, while they are being exploited and shamelessly robbed of their wealth.

Someone may object: heads of state and heads of government are one thing, and peoples are a completely different matter. And this, of course, is true if we think from the viewpoint of diplomacy, or, for example, from the viewpoint of the BRICS countries and various contacts between authorities. But it is also true that the push for cooperation reaches the pinnacle of power, starting in the social base, which puts pressure on the entire society, in the regions, in the cities.

When Levi published his novel, there was harsh criticism from the cultural world of the Italian left. He was accused (similar to the rejection of the work by Ignazio Silone and then Pier Paolo Pasolini) of being too lenient towards peasant culture, which was then considered “backward.” The so-called “positivists” from the Italian Communist Party criticized Levi’s sympathy for the peasantry, which, unlike the working class, seemed to them indifferent to issues of class struggle. Or rather, they were too attached to their ancient civilization and culture.

Even now, 80 years later, we can trace very important parallels between what was then and the realities of the modern world. Today, Marxist ideology no longer has the power it once had. Yet distrust, if not contempt, for the Global South is strongly infiltrated with a sense of Western superiority. The civilization of these G7 countries sometimes requires bringing the culture of the “Global South” to its concepts. Here is the message: the rest of the world can develop if it agrees to erase its history, abandon its cultural identity, and even religion. Through “international imperialism of money,” as Pope Pius XI called this ugly phenomenon, the West (not in everything and not always successfully) aims to cover the entire Earth with its dominance. Thus, recurring phenomena and criticisms force us to question what the expression “Global South” actually means and what is hidden in the depths of this expression.



Alessandro Banfi