October 5, 2010

What Is Wrong With Italian Politics

“Can you write a little more about what is happening in Italy? I would greatly value your opinion.” It was about a couple of weeks ago when Alex, a British blogger living in Milan, sent me this kind appeal not to overlook Italian politics—actually this is not the first time I get asked why I don’t write more about this subject, and I must admit that there is some fairness to the implicit meaning that I have recently been a little bit reluctant to write about what’s going on in Italian politics …

What can I say for myself? Well, the truth is that I’m pretty much fed up with the state of Italian politics these days, or better still, I am almost as fed up with the “thing-in-itself” as I am with the way the Italian and, consequently, the mainstream international media is portraying it. What I dislike most about current Italian politics is that both the main opposition party and the main government party seem to be allergic to dissent within their own ranks. I mean, I can expect that from the Democratic Party (made up mostly of former Communists), whose totalitarian tendencies are well known and, so to speak, encoded in its DNA, but I cannot accept it when it comes from a party whose name is People of Freedom (PDL). I’m talking about both the way the “Democrats” have treated the founder of the new Democratic Movement, Walter Veltroni, though he is not trying to bring about a split but only to change his party from within, and the ejection of Gianfranco Fini—a former neo-fascist who has moved to the mainstream—from Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party last July. In fact, the Prime minister was furious about Fini’s strong opposition to the PDL’s concessions to the federalist Northern League, and to the government’s attempt to push through the controversial “gag law” restricting police and media use of wiretaps. Hence Fini’s ejection for conspiring to administer a “slow death” to the party. Fini, in turn, accused Berlusconi of promoting self-serving legislation to block corruption charges. And the story is still far from over.

Now, to be clear and straightforward, there are very few doubts about what Fini wants to do: he most likely wants to do exactly what he is accused of doing …, but this cannot, by any means, justify his ejection from the party. Even when there are good reasons to be suspicious, and frankly Fini seems not to be a man above all suspicion in the light of his past political experiences…, if we confuse dissent with disloyalty—but it’s nearly impossible to define where dissent ends and where disloyalty begins—then there is no true freedom. It’s a matter of principle, and Berlusconi should be aware of it. In other words, he made a huge mistake, no matter whether Fini is a “hero” or a “traitor.” After all, has Berlusconi ever heard of the strong rivalry between Jaques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy in France? Both men disliked each other. Chirac, in particular, considered Sarkozy as an opportunist and a traitor (e.g. Sarkozy supported Edouard Balladur, a strong rival of Jacques Chirac, in the presidential election of 1995), and nevertheless they both were active members of the RPR party for decades. (Does this say something to you, Silvio?)

However, to complete the picture, it is also to be said that Fini is indeed an extravagant man: he proclaims to be a man of the Right, but on many issues (immigration, bioethics, justice, etc.) he frequently sides with the Left, and his entourage are big fans of Barack Obama, whom they consider—without ifs and buts—a ray of hope for all humanity, the realization of a dream that comes from far away, etc. And to think that most of them were members of the far-right National Alliance party, the post-fascist heir of the neo-fascist Movimento Sociale Italiano. Not that I’m saying that Fini and his followers are turncoats, but …

As it was not enough, despite his being a huge moralist, last July it turned out that he, along with another ultra-moralist such as Antonio Di Pietro, the head of the small opposition Italy of Values party (see here), might not be as immaculate as one might expect. Yet, it is not my problem. As you should have already guessed, I have never been tempted to take him seriously (he never worked a day in his life, can you believe it?), unlike the rules of the democratic game, that apply to all players, Berlusconi and Fini included.

Can you understand now why I don’t look forward to writing about current Italian politics? As the saying goes, “Enough is enough!” But never mind, I’m not going to change my mind—I’m not going to cross the Rubicon. Seriously, there is no alternative to Berlusconi—may Silvio save us all from Obama’s fans and supporters!


  1. Rob, in your analysis are curiously missing the "third pole" parties, such as Casini's UDC.

    I'd expected that, to a Catholic, Casini would be a better political leader than the womanizing, blasphemus, divorced Berlusconi.

    What's wrong with him, in your opinion ?

  2. I fear you could well be right, Rob - thanks for sharing your opinion. Very interesting.

    Basically, there are no credible alternatives to Silvio, but I worry about Mr B's motives and am not sure his ideas for Italy's future are really what Italy needs.

    I suppose he could be given immunity from prosecution, if only to see what he would do.

    I don't think you are alone in being sick of Italian politics.



  3. @StefanoC:

    I simply didn’t want to write a mile and a half long post! But your point is basically right. Yet, Casini wasn’t the only oversight. I also overlooked Beppe Grillo (at least), who is in many ways an emblematic figure and an interesting character on stage (though I cannot take him too seriously). One day or another I must take the time to write something about him.

    Yes, Casini is a decent, respectable person, and a shrewd politician. What’s wrong with him? Nothing is really wrong with him, IMHO, but I’d prefer to ask a different question: What’s wrong with the “third pole?” I may be wrong, but I don’t think there can be such a thing as a third pole in today’s Italian politics …, and in any case I don’t think that this would be a good thing.

    P.S. Welcome back!

  4. Meanwhile Mr B is under fire....

    (Great post, Rob)

  5. You cannot take Beppe Grillo too seriously? See here instead:

  6. I don't know enough about Italian politics, but surely if Fini disagrees with his chief, he is morally obliged to quit the party, even if he was a co-founder. Re Chirac and Sarkozy, being aware of the potential of Sarkozy, Chirac (and Dominique de Villepin) did all they could to discredit him, even resorting to fraud (falsely listing him to have an illicit, foreign bank account, an affair that since seems to have been muffled). This was before Sarkozy even ran for the presidency.

    Re. such slander campaigns, Berlusconi only has himself to blame by allowing the opposition virtual access to his 'private', flamboyant life style. Yet ironically it's probable that the opposition, if there is one, did more harm in the process to itself, than it did to Berlusconi.

    I agree that in view of the economic crisis and Berlusconi's handling of it in Italy, there doesn't yet seem to be any one else capable of replacing him. Perhaps it's not as bad as many Italians seem to want to believe, especially for those who have a sense of humour. In this respect it looks like Sarkozy, who is not usually so devoid of humour, now needs some of Silvio's lessons on the merits of being able to laugh at adversity, as well at his adversaries- when they merit it.