November 17, 2010

Kali Yuga

And when the end of the Yuga comes, the right hand will deceive the left; and the left, the right. And men with false reputation of learning will contract Truth and the old will betray the senselessness of the young, and the young will betray the dotage of the old. And cowards will have the reputation of bravery and the brave will be cheerless like cowards. (…) And the inhabited regions of the earth will be afflicted with dearth and famine, and the highways will be filled with lustful men and women of evil repute.
~ The Mahabharata, “Vana Parva,” Section CLXXXIX, translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli.

Don’t be deceived by the title, nor by the above quotation—this is just a political post about Italy…

But first of all, let’s say that Kali Yuga (literally “Age of Darkness”) is the last of the four stages of development (Yugas) that the world goes through as part of the cycle of eras, as described in Hindu scriptures. This age is characterized by degeneration, violence, ignorance, sorrow, materialism, waning religion, chaos and evil.

What has that to do with Italy? Well, apart from the fact that most interpreters believe that, unfortunately, earth—not just Italy—is currently in Kali Yuga, I think it may actually have more than something to do with today’s Italian politics, if not with Italy tout court. And believe me, I’m not kidding at all, rather I sometimes suspect that someone else does—e.g., Italian politicians (most of them, at least). But then again, what’s going on down here, seen from the inside, is more a nightmare, though a burlesque one, than anything else—please, see here, here, here, and here to learn more about the whole thing, I ask to be relieved from the task of reminding you (and me!) the not-so-uplifting series of events and situations that led to the current political crisis.

Gianfranco Fini
And there is no doubt that this is a very serious crisis. “This is an important moment, […] there’s a sense that Berlusconi’s reign is ending,” said Giuliano Ferrara, editor of the conservative and pro-Berlusconi newspaper Il Foglio. Nor is there any doubt that, as Ferrara again put it, Berlusconi himself is the source of practically all of his troubles. But notwithstanding this, his fiercest rival Gianfranco Fini, the co-founder (with Berlusconi) of the center-right People of Liberty  party (PDL), who in July split with the prime minister accusing him of running an anti-democratic party, is no less to blame. In fact, if Berlusconi made a terrible mistake when he expelled Fini from the party, his opponent, in turn, made an even worse mistake when he withdrew four members from the cabinet on Monday, deepening a political crisis that is expected to bring down the government in a matter of weeks and likely lead to early elections. This—apart from any consideration about Fini’s concept of loyalty, honor and coherence (well, I must confess that I harbor few illusions on these matters, given the times—or the Yuga—we live in…)—is the most irresponsible action anyone could take in this period of economic and financial crisis. And nothing and nobody will ever convince me that he acted on behalf of the Country and without consideration of personal political ambitions.

That being said, however, Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party  has proved to be a huge failure and perhaps Fini isn’t entirely wrong when he criticizes it for being “anti-democratic.” As columnist Ernesto Galli della Loggia wrote in the Corriere della Sera newspaper,

the PDL, like Forza Italia before it, may or may not be made of plastic but it is not a real party. At best, it is a bunch of sightless, voiceless followers chosen irrevocably by the boss and at worst, it is a court of jesters, dwarfs, deal-makers, dancers and holders of miscellaneous offices. Of course, the PDL is also a party for which many highly respectable Italians voted, but we all know that those votes were actually for Silvio Berlusconi, not the PDL.

If that’s the way things stand, he continues,

it means that the Berlusconi’s epoch-making operation of legitimizing the Right within the Italian political system – it is epoch-making and the Left would do well to acknowledge the fact in deference to objectivity – is only half complete, and it is his fault. Mr Berlusconi has re-established the Right electorally and in government, but has failed to restore its social or cultural legitimacy. He has failed in the only way this is ever accomplished, by creating and establishing at grass roots a real party, organized and structured as such, a vehicle for demands, a hub for relations with various circles and people, a formulator of proposals and a collector of ideas. Above all, to some extent, an effective centre for decisions that are binding for all, even its leaders.
Mr Berlusconi has failed because of course he didn’t want such a party. And he didn’t want it for three reasons: fear that it would diminish his power; the knee-jerk reaction of a man who for decades ran a company, where “if I’m paying (and getting the votes), I call the shots”; and finally because of a lack, monumental in his case, of any genuine political culture.

But it is also to be said that nearly all of the issues that seem to be at stake here, if we credit what Berlusconi’s fiercest opponents—led by his former ally Gianfranco Fini—claim, or pretend to claim, are not what is actually at stake. In fact, as another Corriere della Sera columnist, Piero Ostellino, wrote yesterday,

[a] social issue burns beneath the ashes. When the South discovers that under fiscal federalism, it will have to get by on its own, and then can’t, it could become for Italy what Algeria was for France’s Fourth Republic: the spark that lit the flame of crisis. If the North realizes that the federal solidarity equalization fund is merely the continuation of welfarism for the South, it will regress into secessionism, which will be compounded by the crisis-igniting spark of the South.

Needless to say Fini’s new Future and Liberty party, as well as Pier Ferdinando Casini’s Christian Democrat UDC party, has its electoral basis in the South. This explains almost everything you need to know about the real issue at stake. The rest is propaganda: particular interests masked as universal interests, national unity, public ethics, and “morality.” That’s politics, of course. Or, better still, that’s politics in the present (Italian) Kali Yuga phase.


UPDATE: November 17, 2010, 9:00 am

“(Reuters) - Italy's parliament will decide the future of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's struggling center-right government on December 14 in two confidence votes that may trigger early elections, a political source said Tuesday.” Read the rest.