December 14, 2009

Where democracy ends and non-democracy begins

He was just leaving a political rally in Milan when his assailant got through security and hit him in the face. Then he was seen looking dazed and bloodied with what appeared to be a number of cuts. The attacker—a 42-year-old man who has received treatment for mental health issues for the last ten years—was holding a small statue of the Duomo, the city’s world-famous cathedral, in his hand.

One would think that the above incident was bad enough for our democracy, but it actually got worse. In fact, Antonio Di Pietro, the former judge turned politician—the man “who ensured that many corrupt politicians and businessmen were brought to justice in the 1990s,” as he himself described himself—let out things he should not have said, such as this: “I never want violence, but with his behavior and his couldn’t-care-less attitude Berlusconi instigates violence.”

Now, if it’s true that Berlusconi is a divisive figure who attracts intense loyalty from some and utter disdain from others, it’s also true that there’s nothing that can justify violence. And that’s exactly what Di Pietro did. And to think that the man who uttered those words is the leader of a party whose name is Italy of Values! By the way, a propos of “values,” Di Pietro had his own troubles one year ago, but this is not what matters most at the moment.

Perhaps, that’s also why the vast majority of Italians trust Silvio Berlusconi (I mean, if this is the opposition…). “What I can tell you is that there has been such a buildup of hatred toward the premier, and this is not good,” Berlusconi spokesman Paolo Buonaiuti told CNN. “This campaign of hatred has been building quite rapidly recently, and I am not surprised that what happened tonight took place,” he added. And Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League (an ally of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party) is absolutely right when he says that “This was an act of terrorism. We have had a heavy climate for some time now and this is the first worrying sign. After what has happened today we need to raise our guard.”

However it’s almost certain that the bleeding face of Berlusconi and the words uttered by Di Pietro will be a real eye-opener for those who still have doubts about where democracy ends and non-democracy begins.


  1. It hasn't been a good year for the Italian Prime Minister, to say the least. But the adding of injury to insult, to end 2009, might make the campagners of hate reflect a little more.

    It brings to mind the behaviour of jealous, frustrated, school children when they gang up and target an outspoken but popular member of their school, when things get out of hand. When words become violent actions. There follows a silence. The realisation of having gone way beyond the line.

    If democracy totally rejects any form of anarchy, it should also reject those who condone it.

  2. I'm with you, rob, when you say that nothing can justify violence, and while I think that sometimes Di Pietro says something worth listening, this is one of the other times (the same goes for Bossi).

    I disagree when you say "this is the opposition": both the center opposition (Casini) and center-left one (Bersani) condemned the assault without reservations.

    Even the assaulter himself was not, according to friends and relatives, much interested in politics. Perhaps he was simply looking for media attention, like that crazy man who shot President Reagan.

    This is not to say that there is nothing to be worried about. Political confrontation is getting harsher and louder, and I think the most sensible people on both sides should try to cool down the hot-headed ones.

  3. @stefanoC:

    ...But I said "if" ("if this is the opposition").

    However, it's true that both Casini and Bersani condemned the assault without "ifs" and "buts." They are both good men, and sincere men. And I deeply respect them.

    This doesn't apply to Di Pietro and Rosi Bindi, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party, who in an interview suggested that "while these (violent) acts should always be condemned, sometimes they can be explained. [...] The fact remains that one of the architects of this (political) climate is Berlusconi ... he cannot play the victim."