Sunday, 9 August 2009

Digging into the Mud of Italian Politics

(Photo: Sogni dall'esilio - 26, by rinoplatania)

The European Elections, which took place on June 6th and June 7th 2009, determined a stop in Mr Silvio Berlusconi's plan to strenghten his grasp over the country and enforce his power once and for all (, and

During the days before the elections, Mr Berlusconi declared several times that his party - the People of Freedom - was to reach at least 40%, while some polls showed a possible result between 43% and 45% ( In the history of the Italian Republic, the still unbeaten record of political consensus at the European Elections was set by the Christian Democracy, which in 1979 gained 36.45% (

In spite of controlling almost five out of seven of the main national broadcasting TV channels, a large part of the press and the advertising industry (, Mr Berlusconi was actually unable to confirm his prediction. For the first time since 1994, when he first became Prime Minister heading a large and divided coalition (, Mr Berlusconi had indeed to face troubles coming more from his own field than from a weak and uncertain opposition.

While showing himself walking through the ruins of the earthquaked city of L'Aquila (, and, where he then decided to move the July 2009 G8 meeting formerly scheduled in La Maddelena island ( and, Mr Berlusconi was heavily attacked by la Repubblica, one of the most popular Italian newspapers, held by his former business rival Mr Carlo De Benedetti.

Having made his private life a model of success (Mingioni, 2004) and private lives the essence of its television empire (, and, Mr Berlusconi was indeed struck by a journalistic inquiry asking him first ten tough questions about his acquaintance with Miss Noemi Letizia, an eighteen-year-old girl from Casoria and - later on after the elections - other ten questions about the apparent abuse of political power and the presumed use of public means to provide himself with call girls (see also Guy Dinmore on

As a result, the People of Freedom got only 35.26% (29 seats) at the European Elections, while its xenophobic and anti-immigration ally ( and, the Northern League, rose to 10.2% (9 seats).

It is actually hard to say whether Mr Berlusconi, aged 72, is at the end of his political career. What is clear is that the Center-Left opposition led by the Democratic Party is far from taking advantage of his difficulties.

After theorizing that Italy was ready for a two-party-American-like political system, made by the People of Freedom and the Democratic Party itself (, and, the Democratic Party helped the Center-Right in passing a law which rose to 4% the threshold to get seats at the European Parliament ( At the elections the Democratic Party - now led by Mr Dario Franceschini - fell to a dramatic 26.13% (21 seats). In spite of any effort to minimize (, the actual defeat (, the Democratic Party is indeed victim of a chronic crisis of identity which had brought his former secretary, Mr Walter Veltroni, to hand in his resignation on last February (, and

Mr Antonio Di Pietro's Italy of Values party, which made a lonely parliamentary opposition to the regime, was able to get 8% (7 seats), doubling the votes it gained at the general elections of 2008.

The Union of the Centre, representing the view of the Catholic Church and led by one of Mr Berlusconi's former allies, Mr Pier Ferdinando Casini, decided to run alone and got a remarkable 6.51% (5 seats).

The remnants of the Left were divided into two lists collected almost at random. The first one, an Anticapitalist List putting together the Communist Refoundation Party, the Party of Italian Communists, the Socialism 2000 movement and the United Consumers movement, gained 3.38% (0 seats). The second one - the list Left and Freedom putting together the Democratic Left, the losing faction at the 2008 Congress of the Communist Refoundation Party, a secessionist minority of the Party of Italian Communists, the Federation of the Greens and the Italian Socialist Party, gained 3.12% (0 seats).

To underline the divisions within the former Center-Left coalition, which had won the general elections in 2006 bringing Mr Romano Prodi back to the position of Prime Minister before he fell again in January 2008, the Radical Party decided to end his alliance with the Democratic Party, running alone and gaining 2.42% (0 seats).

If we want to understand the reasons of such a deep political crisis within the Center-Left field, we should ask ourselves what really happened during the last fifteen years. Even though Mr Berlusconi is now weaker - as the editor-in-chief of la Repubblica Mr Ezio Mauro explained ( - his power seems indeed still far from falling. The rise of the Northern League shows that Italians are more likely to face their problems looking for an enemy in immigrants rather than criticizing their own lifestyles and re-establishing a context of private and public morality. As Mr Geoff Andrews wittily pointed out recently: "Italy's problems do not end with Berlusconi" (

The problem with Italy is actually more cultural than political. The Italian society is stratified and divided. During the 'First Republic' era (1946-1994), three main parties were able to catayze the different layers of society: the Christian Democracy, the Italian Communist Party and the Italian Socialist Party.
The system was locked for about fifty years, because owing to the cold war the Italian Communist Party was prevented from taking part in any government coalition, and corruption spread more and more among the ruling Pentapartito, a coalition adding to the Christian Democracy and the Italian Socialist Party three little parties: the Italian Liberal Party, the Italian Republican Party and the Italian Democratric Socialist Party.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in november 1989, the Italian Communist Party decided turn into the Democratic Party of the Left (later on Democrats of the Left).
Between 1992 and 1994, when the Tangentopoli scandal showed how deep and wide corruption had spread amongst the government, almost the whole Pentapartito disappeared.
Mr Silvio Berlusconi, a close friend of Mr Bettino Craxi, the former leader of the Italian Socialist Party, took advantage of this political turnmoil founding his Forza Italia party and taking to power the post-fascist Italian Social Movement, the Northern League and later on the Right wing of the former Christian Democracy.
The Democrats of the Left party, on the other hand, lost its chance to evolve into a modern Left party able to represent workers as well as the different plural laic minorities it should have defended.
The Italian Communist Party had been a wonderful democratic laboratory. During Mr Enrico Berlinguer's era (1973-1984), indeed, the party had proposed a political alliance - the so called 'historic compromise' - with the Christian Democracy, in order to protect the country from any Chilean solution and from the growing strokes of Right and Left terrorism. At the general election in 1976 the party reached its record of consensus with 34.4%. In 1978 the party was ready to support a coalition government when his main interlocutor, the President of the Christian Democracy Mr Aldo Moro, was kidnapped and then killed by the Red Brigades. After having publicly criticized in Moscow, in 1969, the invasion of Prague by the Warsaw Pact, in 1980 Mr Enrico Berlinguer broke with the Soviet Union. Mr Belinguer, who had reapetedly reported the issue of morality - the so called 'questione morale' - as the key problem of Italian democracy, died for a brain haemorrage in 1984.
Instead of going ahead along this way, the Democrats of the Left anxiously decided to gain credit among the business community, the Catholic Church, and the different elites controlling the national institutions. As a result, the more the party came to power the more it lost its touch with its political base. It was in this context - a worthless debate lasting several years concerning the alchemy of political alliances and absolutely speechless about the things to do in order to benefit the country - that the Democrats of the Left gave birth to the Democratic Party in 2007, merging with the heir of the Left wing of the former Christian Democracy, the Daisy Party.

Unfortunately, the Democratic party had actually lost its way well before being born, denying that democracy concerns regulating conflicts. For fifteen years we have been witnessing the idea that every citizen bears the same interests. Claiming to represent at the same time workers and businessmen, laics and catholics, reformers and traditionalists, the Democratic Party has become representative of nothing but its own interest to hold what is left of its power. This uncertain and useless attitude has brought the comic artist Maurizio Crozza to coin a new word, 'maanchismo' - meaning "the attitude to express at the same time an idea and its contrary" - in order to represent the rhethoric style of Mr Walter Veltroni, the former secretary of the Democratic Party (, and

Secondly, the Democratic Party - as well as its founding parties, the Democrats of the Left and the Daisy party - did not face clearly and openly the inquiries which shook the political debate during the last years: mainly, the Bancopoli scandal whose preliminary judge Ms Clementina Forleo was then transferred from Milan to Cremona; and the inquiries Poseidon, Why Not and Toghe Lucane, led by the magistrate Luigi De Magistris, who was then transferred from Catanzaro and thus decided to run for the European Elections (Luigi De Magistris is now MEP for the Italy of Values party).
The same weakness was shown by the Democratic Party in dealing with the inquiries involving the former President of the Abruzzo region, Ottaviano Del Turco, and the current President of the Campania region, Mr Antonio Bassolino.

This passive attitude towards the action of the judiciary clearly prevented the Democratic Party from confronting the Centre-Right coalition on matters of morality and in the name of the sacred principles of the Italian Constitution.

The strenght of the Right began with the weakness of the Left governments which ruled the country from 1996 to 2001 and from 2006 to 2008. Five effective questions made on il Venerdì di Republica by Mr Curzio Maltese are thus worth to remember (

  • "Can our leaders point at a European reformist party which in such an emergency and having five years at its disposal would not have passed a bill regulating the conflict of interest?".
  • "What other opposition in Europe has ever criticized public gatherings against the government run by its political rivals?".
  • "Is there another European case which can be compared with these two political suicides?".
  • "Is there somewhere in Europe a reformist party which a politician like Ms Binetti could think to join?" [Ms Paola Binetti is a member of the Democratic Party who claims that omosexuality is an illness].
  • "What must we - the electors - do, in order to get rid of a failing leading group, given that in contrast with your European collegues, you are not able to step aside?".
Mr Ilvo Diamanti outlined that the once instable and now almost forgotten alliance between the Democratic Party and the Italy of Values is hopeless (, because Mr Antonio Di Pietro's party is at the same time a "bus of social and political discomfort" and a "democracy watchdog", while Mr Dario Franceschini's party has proven unfit to take the chance to become a majority force. Moreover, as Mr Ilvo Diamanti explains, at the local elections which took place toghether with the European Elections, the movement led by Beppe Grillo and the Left lists were often able to get 3% to 4% to the prejudice of the Italy of Values itself.
We have good reasons to think that in the mid term there is no other way but to put together the Italy of Values party, the Beppe Grillo movement, some intransigent leftist indipendents seeking to leave the Democratic Party and the remnants of the Left. But in order to make this new alliance possible, the dwarf-like-leaders of the ten and more micro-parties of the Left have first to step back. If they do it, it will be possible to launch a bottom-up Constituent Assembly for a New Left. If they don't, the game is over, now and forever.
Who will rule the country after the collapse of the current regime? The Right will be surely ready to replace Mr Silvio Berlusconi. Will the Left survive his fall?
"La questione morale non si esaurisce nel fatto che, essendoci dei ladri, dei corrotti, dei concussori in alte sfere della politica e dell'amministrazione, bisogna scovarli, bisogna denunciarli e bisogna metterli in galera. La questione morale, nell'Italia d'oggi, fa tutt'uno con l'occupazione dello stato da parte dei partiti governativi e delle loro correnti, fa tutt'uno con la guerra per bande, fa tutt'uno con la concezione della politica e con i metodi di governo di costoro, che vanno semplicemente abbandonati e superati. Ecco perché dico che la questione morale è il centro del problema italiano. Ecco perché gli altri partiti possono provare d'essere forze di serio rinnovamento soltanto se aggrediscono in pieno la questione morale andando alle sue cause politiche. [...] Quel che deve interessare veramente è la sorte del paese. Se si continua in questo modo, in Italia la democrazia rischia di restringersi, non di allargarsi e svilupparsi; rischia di soffocare in una palude."
["The issue of morality does not end with the fact that, there being thieves, corrupt men, extortioners at the high ranks of politics and the administration, it is necessary to find them out, to accuse them and to put them into prison. The issue of morality, in nowadays Italy, makes no difference with the occupation of the State by the ruling parties and their different wings; it makes no difference with the war of gangs; it makes no difference with the idea of politics and with the ruling methods of those people, which simply have to be abandoned and got over with. Here is why I say that the issue of morality is the center of the Italian problem. Here is why the other parties can prove to be forces of renovation only if they let fly at the issue of morality by going to its political causes. [...] The destiny of the country must be the real concern. If it goes on as it does, democracy in Italy is at risk of tightening, not of widening and growing; it is at risk of suffocating into a marsh."]
(Enrico Berlinguer, interview with Eugenio Scalfari, la Repubblica, July 28th, 1981).