Italy opens Expo 2015 amid doubts and protests

Italy opens Expo 2015 amid doubts and protests

MILAN - Reuters
Italy opens Expo 2015 amid doubts and protests

Italian aerobatic team Frecce Tricolori (Tricolour arrows) performs during the opening ceremony of Expo 2015 in Milan, Italy, May 1, 2015. Reuters Photo

Italy opened the Milan Expo on May 1, torn between hopes that the showcase of global food, technology and culture will lift a gloomy national mood and fears that it will be overshadowed by scandal, delays and protests. 

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is counting on the Expo to reinforce fragile signs of economic recovery after years of stagnation and recession. 

“Today it is as though Italy is embracing the world,” he said at a glitzy opening ceremony that featured a fly-past by jets trailing the colours of the Italian flag. “All you experts who kept saying ‘We’ll never do it’ -- this is your answer,” he said. “I like to think that tomorrow begins today.” 

With 10 million tickets already sold, officials are counting on some 20 million people attending, and hope overall revenues will top 10 billion euros ($10.75 billion), half from foreign visitors drawn to Milan. 

But the event, on the theme of sustainable food production, has already faced a corruption investigation that saw several top officials arrested, cost overruns, and construction hold-ups that meant large parts of the site were not ready for opening day. Fears of security incidents have dampened the mood. 

The fair, which follows the 2010 Expo in Shanghai, has also rallied a diffuse range of left-wing protesters, from anti-globalisation and environmentalist activists to students and anti-austerity campaigners, who see it as a symbol of waste and corruption. 

Pope Francis, who spoke via a televised link-up to the opening ceremony, referred to the irony of a global mega spectacle dependent on corporate sponsorship deals being devoted to sustainable development and feeding the poor. 

“In certain ways, the Expo itself is part of this paradox of abundance, it obeys the culture of waste and does not contribute to a model of equitable and sustainable development,” he said. 

The real protagonists of the event should be “the faces of the men and women who are hungry, who fall ill and even die because of an insufficient or harmful diet,” he said. 

As thousands of demonstrators marched through the centre of Milan behind a banner reading “No Expo, Eat the Rich”, a heavy police presence reflected the fears of authorities that small groups of radicals could cause violence. 

Expo 2015 will feature interactive technological displays on the theme of “Feeding the Planet”, with national pavilions from 54 countries presenting educational exhibitions and local cuisine.