TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

Revolutionary Italy

It is not an exaggeration to say that this past election marked a true revolution in Italian politics. The New York Times or The Economist will quickly dismiss it as the same old story with the same old TV tycoon, Silvio Berlusconi, who, for the third time, will serve as the Prime Minister of the Bel Paese. And they will be critical of this outcome, blaming it on Berlusconi’s subliminal abilities, as well as on the short-sighted Italians who voted for him. Blind as we are to the fact that he is rich, that he has a lot of power already, and that most of what he will do as Prime Minister will—so they claim in advance—border on conflict of interest. It is the same (alleged) conflict of interests, by the way, that the Left has been harshly criticizing for years without ever doing anything about it. They have preferred to keep things as they are in order to have what they deemed to be a powerful political weapon against Berlusconi. And they were wrong.

But who cares what the New York Times or The Economist will write? The most important thing is that this election was a true revolution, indeed. Not that its result was unpredictable. It was rather clear from the start of the campaign that Berlusconi would win. It was equally obvious that the whole country (including many of those who had voted two years ago for the Center-Left coalition) was very unhappy and utterly dissatisfied with the awful performance of the last—thank God!—Prodi government. It was also evident that the noble attempt on the part of the former mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni, at founding the Italian Partito Democratico, however good an idea, was an idea that would not have enabled him to win the elections. Veltroni, a former Communist and an old-time politician, led a campaign that was doomed to fail. He hid a lot of the old faces (that had made up the Prodi government) behind Obama-esque slogans in the desperate hope to pass them off as new. And he even tried for an Italian translation of “Yes, we can!”—the same line that might get Obama the nomination, but which brought Veltroni down to what looks like, at the moment, a mere 33% of the vote. Italians may be short-sighted at times, but we are not stupid; and we quickly recognized that behind the Partito Democratico (whose President is Prodi himself) was the same potential government that brought the country to its knees, raised taxes, stood in silence when a handful of supposed scientists (unknown internationally) wrote a letter opposing the Pope’s delivering a speech at the Università La Sapienza in Rome, and opened all the doors and the windows of our country to illegal and out-of-control immigration.

The historical revolution brought about by the last elections has to do with the fact that for the first time ever, the Italian Parliament will include only six political forces. And this, believe me, is no small change for Italy. The six political parties are: the Partito delle Libertà, the Lega Nord and the small Movimento per l’Autonomia (which is the coalition that won the elections), the Partito Democratico and Italia dei Valori (which badly lost the elections), and, in between, a very, very small party, UDC, which tried to re-create the Christian Democrats and which got a mere 5.6–5.7% of the vote. Formerly allied with Berlusconi, UDC was termed by our new Prime Minister as a “thorn in the flesh,” to underscore how difficult it was to have had them in the same coalition and how big a relief it is to have won the elections, and with very large margins in both Houses, without them. Italy for the first time is moving toward a two-party system, and this is a revolution indeed for which a lot of the merit goes to Veltroni, Berlusconi and Fini themselves.

But that’s not all. This past election also swept away a plethora of moody and small political parties, which in the past had often ended up ruling the game, notwithstanding their representing only an extraordinarily small fraction of the electorate. For the first time ever, in the Italian Parliament there will no longer be the Communists or the extreme right-wing parties. For the Communists, this was a true debacle. It was so major a defeat that their historical leader, Fausto Bertinotti (an otherwise intelligent man and a man of class), resigned last night when the first election results were announced. With no representatives in the Parliament, a party is, technically speaking, not a party. What will come of this remains to be seen. Will the Communists join the Partito Democratico? Or will we be faced with a season of internal socio-political turmoil, as in the 1970s with the Red Brigades? Luckily, there is time to address these questions. At the moment, we have every right to enjoy the revolutionary outcome of the election.

What makes this election revolutionary is also the fact that Berlusconi, whose former government was the first in the history of the Republic to have lasted through its term of five years, has another full term ahead of himself. Indeed, unlike Veltroni, Berlusconi did not go for the new. On the contrary, he declared that he is going to turn to a lot of the same men and women who had served in his last government, as he wants to capitalize on their experience; he does not want to waste any time on the so-called learning curve and wants everybody to get to work as soon as possible, aware as he is that plenty of work awaits him and his government.

Berlusconi did not conduct a campaign of too many (and unrealistic) promises, but he did make a few. He promised that the first meeting of the new government will take place in Naples. The choice of the location has a powerful symbolic meaning, as Naples is the site of one of the many pressing problems that Italy is facing, and Prodi was not able to resolve. Berlusconi promised to solve once and for all the embarrassing problem of the “emergenza rifiuti” (the garbage emergency) in Naples. He then said he will turn to Alitalia, our glorious airline, which loses millions of Euros by the day and which Prodi was ready to sell cheaply to Air France. The Borsa di Milano, our stock exchange, reacted so positively to Berlusconi’s election and to his promise about Alitalia that its stocks went up by 20% this morning. Finally, another short-term but important promise has to do with an infamous tax on property (ICI), which Berlusconi said he would cancel. He reiterated the same thing this morning, adding that this will be the first measure his government will take. More and more substantial are the long-term plans of the Berlusconi government, but since there is never a second chance to make a first impression, it will be crucial that he keep, as he most likely will, these first short-term promises.

Veltroni, in his newly adopted American-style, called Berlusconi last night to concede the election. And Berlusconi this morning said that he would like to open a frank and direct conversation with the Partito Democratico on many of the institutional and political changes his government is going to implement. This is the opposite of what Prodi did in 2006, after having won the elections with a very slim margin. Prodi, so self-assured, did not think it the case to listen to, or even enlist the support of, the opposition in trying to address some of Italy’s pressing problems. Prodi would not even consider a Grosse Koalition in the manner of Chancellor Merkel of Germany. Had he done so, considering that only twenty thousand votes separated him from the coalition led by Berlusconi, he might still be sitting in the Prime Minister’s chair today. But, no, that has never been the style of Prodi.

In addition to Veltroni, Prime Minister Olmert and President Bush also called Berlusconi to congratulate him, while a number of Al Qaeda websites published all kinds of nasty threats towards Berlusconi and Italy. One of them went so far as to publish a blog and an article in broken Italian, while another stated “May Allah curse and unleash his anger against him [Berlusconi] and the evil Pope.” Nobody would have expected otherwise, but had there been a different kind of reaction on the part of these extremists, we could have called the revolution complete—and probably would have spelled it with a capital “R,” too.

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