April 11, 2008

Do you remember the Conflict of Interests?

Just a few days ago I was talking about how complicated—even for us Italians—Italy’s political life might be. I was saying that it requires some particular attitude of mind, midway between Kafka and Pirandello. So, here (in today’s online edition of Il Foglio newspaper) is a concrete example:

So whatever happened to the famous Berlusconi “conflict of interests” issue? For what has for a good fifteen years been the lynchpin of all the finger-pointing by the Left at the Centre Right, as well as one of the main platforms of the “Olive Tree” coalition’s manifesto, has now all but disappeared off the radar. Centre-Left leader and Aspiring Prime Minister Walter Veltroni struck it off the slate of “urgent things to do” once in power, and when a few weeks ago Antonio Di Pietro (electoral ally of Veltroni’s and a former self-style “campaigning” magistrate) brought it up again, nobody in the “Loft” (as The Partito Democratico’s HQ is ironically known by some) seemed to take any notice. The general impression is that on the Left, there are only a handful of politicians who still consider it a major issue. When asked why they have suddenly gone all quiet, practically all those politicians on the Left who have spent the last decade or so homing in obsessively on the conflict of interest, now acknowledge its disappearance as a major issue, although not conceding that all hostilities with the Centre Right have ceased. (Transaltion by William Ward)

By the way, do you remember the title (at least) of one of the most well-known works by Luigi Pirandello, So It Is (If You Think So)? Well, I found a review—appeared in a December 1922 issue of The New York Times—of one of the first English translations of plays by Pirandello. Alice Rohe summarises the story and shows what the “message” of Pirandello is all about (a good read, in my humble opinion, for those who enjoy “intellectual adventures”):

A new secretary of the Prefect has come into a provincial town. He has installed his mother-in-law in one apartment and his wife and himself in another. The two women are never permitted to meet. The curiousity-whetted gossips finally lure from the son-in-law the disclosure that his mother-in-law is insane or on one subject. She believes his second wife is her daughter, his first wife, who was really killed in an earthquake. Later the mother-in-law reveals that her poor soon-in-law is insane upon one subject. He believes that her daughter, his wife, is really his second wife and that his first wife was klled in an earthquake. And so—which is insane is the question.

Against the background of petty bickering and prying the tenderly human quality of these three characters, obviously, through love, trying to save each other, is dragged to sacrifice: The wife is forced to appear before the mother-in-law in the presence of the Prefect. And as mother-in-law and son both cry out in anguish, different names, when the back-veiled figure appears, she says:

“You want what?—The Truth! The Truth is simply this, that I am the daughter of Signora Frola and I am the second wife of Signor Ponza. Yes, and for myself, I am nobody, I am nobody.” To the Prefect, protesting that she must be one or the other, she replies: “Not at all, sir! No, for myself, I am whoever you believe me.”

Isn’t that terribly exciting? Just realize that this is also what Italian politics is all about!


  1. Berlusconi's conflict of interest has not disappeared. It has only become a toxic issue for the Left, since every time some (however bland) regulation has been proposed, Berlusconi succeded in portaying himself as the victim and the would-be regulators as "communists" who want to expropriate him of either his hard-gained enterprises or his civil rights.

  2. Ah, I forgot about adding Machiavelli to the list ...