|AN ITALIAN DILEMMA
November 9, 2011 - The greatest asset of Italians is their optimism, closely followed by their love for radical changes. This fosters their belief that by removing their scandal–scarred prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, la bella Italia will be saved from economic disaster and a menacing default on its debts.
| Like in Greece tens of thousands have been out in the streets in Rome clamoring for the prime minister’s resignation as if his withdrawing from the rudder of State, by sheer magic, would free Italy of its problems.
At the same time however the protesters and intellectual groups are posing profound questions like: Is Western democracy as practiced today redundant? Can peaceful protests still achieve results? And why should nations not default on their debts?
Europe has already decided Italy is too big an economy to rescue with Union funds which means Italians must suffer deprivations in order to put their accounts in order, a decision volatile in a country whose citizen in the past have rarely taken adversity quietly or accepted austerity.
This week, one of the country’s most outspoken and influential political commentators, Franco Berardi Bifo, encouraged the impoverished to go to supermarkets and shop for their needs then give the cashier a piece of signed paper with their name and address stating “I will pay when I have an income that allows me to pay.”
Bifo also wrote that anyone hungry should eat to their hearts content in luxury restaurants then present a similar promissory note when the waiter comes with the bill. He also encouraged the homeless and those evicted for their failure to pay rent to occupy one of the hundreds of vacant Vatican-owned apartments around Rome.
In recent history Italians have often been in the vanguard of revolts, political movements and new ideas. They are notorious for civil disobedience and have scant respect for authority. In recent months Italian protests against intended austerity measures imposed by the European Union have become increasingly violent with many rebellious leaders arguing that peaceful protests have not and will not achieve results.
The danger signals are ubiquitous.
When Standard and Poor downgraded the Italian economy recently the country had already downgraded itself to a nation run by a media tycoon glorified daily in his own dailies and on his own TV channels, a man surrounded by a team of sycophants who selects his parliamentary candidates at whim. Berlusconi handed out seats and cabinet posts to favorites, male and female, to repay favors, some of them apparently in bed. His constant ambition was to push through legislation making him and his parliamentary cronies immune from prosecution on a myriad of pending charges, from corruption to bribery, tax evasion and links to the Mafia.
Today any Italian traveling abroad is greeted by market criers and shopkeepers with the inevitable: ‘You Italian? Bunga-Bunga!” a euphemism for the sex parties with young starlets and escorts held in the prime ministers’ private and official residences.
Brainwashed by the Berlusconi-owned media that he was the man to make Italy great and rich (a Mussolini-like propaganda trick) Italians kept voting for the prime minister’s political parties even though he changed their names constantly until, in a moment of cynical self-criticism he threatened recently to face the next election with a party called ‘Go Pussy.’
Berlusconi made a joke of politics. He and his minions reduced debates to shouting matches, denying the obvious, inventing fake statistics and using blatant lies to make their points. Over the years this had a detrimental effect on civil behavior. At the same time his government operated with periodic amnesties for tax evaders and illegal constructions.
Indoctrinated with false figures and constant assurances by their feisty Prime Minister of a rock solid economy Italians, quick learners, adopted the same illicit subterfuges as ‘the big boys’. After all everyone knew they would be exonerated in the next tax or building amnesty.
And so, when the time came, they kept voting for ‘Silvio’ who made it all possible – until, suddenly, almost overnight, the mask of national welfare dropped and the emperor stood naked.
Like Mussolini, who was vilified and strung up on a lamppost in Milan after two decades of popular adulation, suddenly everyone in Italy seems to be calling for the media tycoon to resign, even his own loyalists.
But is the opposition any better?
Their only contribution to Italy’s growing economic woes in recent months has been their monotonous clamor for Berlusconi to ‘resign’ - so they could have their turn at the rudder. Even more ridiculous the left of center opposition parties, once closely associated to the socialist and communist parties, are supporting the draconian austerity measures the European Union imposes on Italy, including the humiliating measure to open the country’s account books to the IMF. Austerity as planned will not hurt the wealthy, the tax evaders or those who have parked their money abroad. But the measures will cause rampant unemployment (already running at 13 per cent) and dramatic wage and pension cuts among the working class, once the main supporters of these leftwing parties who have now adopted the profits-at-any-cost doctrines of our rapacious capitalist system.
Who is this opposition?
Some are members of the mini parties, among them a former neo-fascist party, that thrived as Berlusconi’s coalition partners but are now seeking a mandate in new elections as members of an opposition that brought him down. The majority are reinvented ‘lefties.’ None of them have offered any viable program to sanitize Italian society, stem tax evasion and stop the laundering of public funds with billion dollar scam-projects like the phantom barriers to stop high water flooding Venice.
At the same time Italian democracy is in tatters. Most Italian parliamentarians seem to have no loyalty except to maintain their parliamentary seat with its privileges and immunities. A good portion of the “Honorable Members” have been convicted of misdemeanors or have associates jailed for their links to organized crime.
Berluscani, at times brutally frank and uncouth, recently called the Italy he has been running for twelve years ‘un paese di merda’ (a shit country). If this is true his three governments and his sycophantic media empire must bear the bulk of responsibility.
Uli Schmetzer is a former foreign correspondent with Reuters and the Chicago Tribune. He is the author of ‘Times of Terror’ ‘Gaza’ and “The Chinese Juggernaut’ all available in print or e-book on Amazon.com.