Italy: The Unstoppable Cavaliere
Alessandro Di Rienzo - 05/05/2008
The straw that broke the camel’s back and caused anticipated elections only two years from the victory of the centre left wing in 2006, can be ascribed to a woman of little intelligence. It all happened one morning when Sandra Leonardo Mastella, President of the Campania Regional Assembly and wife of the then Minister of Justice, was put in house arrest due to her (bad) vice of recommending doctors. Her husband, Clemente Mastella from Ceppaloni, vexed by this mishap, made the parliamentary majority of the government run short of votes. This resulted into anticipated elections. One day a Neapolitan journalist who only follows the actions of the camorra (Naple’s mafia) told me these words: “Around here the camorra is more efficient than the State. If a boss has to place someone in an important position he places a competent person, if a politician has to place someone in an important position he places his wife or a friend, even when everyone knows they’re incompetent”. In the past centuries of Rome this practice was defined nepotism and was widely used in the papal court: some popes, especially in the 15th and 16th century, tended to grant favours and protection to their own relatives, regardless of their merits and moral qualities. This practice in 21st century Italy is very common for wives and lovers. “Wifism” sees some parliamentary women as the wives of political leaders.
The pursuit of Walter Veltroni
“We run alone. That is we run free!” These were the most significant words of the left wing candidate Walter Veltroni. Free from the pernicious alliances that undermine governing, free from right or left slopes that out of spite or little practical sense halt reforms. Mayor of Rome during seven years, he treated the capital like François Mitterand liked to represent France. With a semi-royal demeanour, like an illuminated prince, he inaugurated museums and music parks, created cinema festivals, gave tribute and condolences to the victims of right and left wing terrorism alike, was present at basketball matches and celebrated the championship of the Roma football team as Italian winner in 2001. As premier candidate he discovered that Italy is not only Rome, that the fame he conquered in administering Italy’s most beautiful city and the respect he gained (not only from the left) wasn’t enough. Veltroni was aware of this and for two months he practically lived on a green bus which crossed 110 provinces of Italy to show his face to the electors, not only on TV. 110 squares full of celebrating people, created the illusion that a comeback was possible, contradicting the forecasts that raved on a defeat of 22 points percentage. Socialist Pietro Nenni during the elections of the aftermath of WWII dreaded “full squares, empty polls”. This prediction proved true for the left also in 2008. What remains is the massive effort of creating a new party for only one governing group. If we consider that during the forty years that followed fascism, Italy witnessed an alliance of 5 parties and with the advent of Berlusconi - after the judicial storm that erased the political class that ruled up to then - alliances of 6 to 11 parties were sealed, the effort of Veltroni is pure utopia. This resoluteness also earned him the name of “Little Prince” of Italian politics, but behind this apparent goody-goody look hides a man who can be terribly cynical. Blinded by the need to give out an image of novelty: new politics, new ruling class, new modalities, Veltroni also nominated several under 30’s youngsters, children of renowned entrepreneurs, Bobo candidate graduates ( BOurgeois BOhémien ), as well as a worker who survived a terrible fire in a steel plant. During this electoral campaign some of these candidates, too sure of themselves, though hesitant due to their lack of exercise in facing microphones and notepads, let out contrasting opinions on the programme of their own party. For example, on the right of women to abortion, they gave out a highly distorted and confused image to the electorate. Inspired by Zapatero and Obama alike, after Americanizing his propagandistic communication, he tried to give voice to women and youngsters in the intent of intercepting those brackets of the population too often barred from political life in Italy.
The unstoppable Cavaliere
Aged 72, Berlusconi has decided to undertake his fifth crusade for the Presidency of the Italian government. Strong of the fact that in Italy, those who rule in government are never re-elected, he has ensured his third victory. Berlusconi has led a contained electoral campaign, certain of the strong advantage he could begin with. He let his opponent Veltroni ride around Italy and watched him through newscasts recommending him, from time to time, not to get too tired. Then he decided that he needed to meet the people. He did it his own way: a bit through TV, that old tool that built him so much power, then he showed up in some squares - only a few. If his opponent aged twenty years less, covered 110 cities, Berlusconi didn’t do more than 10. No plunges into a sea of admirers apart in the deep South. Like a football coach winning 10 to 0 he told all his men to stay on the defence and save energy. Any action from his team could have had repercussions. He also tried to score an own goal by himself. He suggested to a young unemployed woman, who asked him on TV how young people should relate with the working world, that she marry a rich man, and that even his son would do. He prohibited the sale to Air France of the National airline company who is on the brink of bankruptcy. By using chauvinistic terms such as “the foreigner won’t pass”, he made up the story that there was a patriotic network led, probably, by his own son. At 72 Berlusconi has decided that he couldn’t sell miracles to his electorate anymore, that a Rossellini like realism would have paid off much better. “These won’t be easy times, we’ll have to work and make big sacrifices” he said in every debate. This gloominess was welcomed dearly. His political formation, the Popolo della Libertà (the People of Freedom), a coalition of his past party Forza Italia with the right wing Alleanza Nazionale , has had two iron allies: the Lega Nord of Umberto Bossi and the Movimento per l’autonomia of Raffaele Lombardo. Umberto Bossi is a force of nature. Quite disabled by a heart attack which struck him while he was Minister of Reforms in the past Berlusconi government, he manages to utter a few mumbled words. Bossi tends to a strong federalism and screams for independence; every year he gathers his followers in Pontida, a tiny county of the deep North where on 7 April 1167 the solemn oath of all the counties that formed the Lombard League was taken to fight the Suevian Emperor Frederick Redbeard. Today, the parades of the current Northern League are often held in medieval dress. In a State like Italy which still has trouble in elaborating the feelings of national unity, localism is easy game. Bossi’s League has snatched all the votes from the radical left wing in the North, representing an autarchic bulwark against the dismantling of the social state and of the few certainties of the working world. Its policy aims at demonising immigrants, often Arabs and Rumanians, accused of stealing work and creating crime, but also guilty of debasing the conservative values of Catholic Italy. The battles of the League against the building of Islamic places of worship are famous. In the South, Berlusconi has tied a strong alliance with a sort of Sicilian League, the Mpa of Lombardo. The terms of this association were made clear and publicly sanctioned: votes in exchange of tax advantages for the Island and the South of the country. Thanks to these alliances, Berlusconi will now rule for 5 years. He will keep his tie on only when protocol requires it and the rest of the time he will dress in blue to always look young. He will open his arms to his American and Israeli friends whomever they may be, and will treat all the visiting heads of state informally, and instead of receiving them in the Republic’s institutional sites, he will host them in his villas during the next five years.
The desaparecido left
For the first time in the history of the Republic, in parliament there will be no political formations referring to the socialist and communist culture. The latter contributed, together with the catholic culture, to draft the Constitutional Chart which sanctioned the fundamental values of Italy in the post-fascist era. If the left wing formations of the Pd only two years ago counted for 13%, today they barely gathered 3.1%. This electoral catastrophe can be ascribed to those who where too busy in saving their seats instead of representing their social classes. Consequently, the fight for the rights of de facto unions - i.e. for couples that want to live together without being married and have their rights recognised – stay out of Parliament, as well as those who repudiate war, any war, those who see immigrants as people having the right to live where they want, without excessive restrictions and new forms of detention. A ruling class that was too old has been deposed; now communist and environmentalist leftists must choose whether they want to play an active role like Germany’s Die Linke or if they prefer to be a marginal memorial of the political life lithe France’s Pcf .