Tuesday, February 24, 2004

This week the blog is by Nora Galli de’ Paratesi who has just published “La lingua di Berlusconi” in MicroMega (1-2004) p.85, and who will be speaking at The American University of Rome on Wednesday 25 February (see details at the end of the article).
Silvio’s verbal incontinence; or does he really mean it?

Nora Galli de’ Paratesi

This last week has confirmed Silvio Berlusconi’s reputation as a politician who speaks his mind on all subjects whatever the consequences.

He has accused politicians of being good-for-nothing thieves who have never done an honest day’s work in their lives. Then he said when taxes are more than a third of income, tax evasion is “morally authorised” and then, on Sunday afternoon when most of the country was glued to the television watching the football matches, he monopolised the airwaves with detailed advice to his football team’s coach. Even his friend Vladimir would not dare to hog the limelight so much.

But the attack on politicians, especially opposition ones is an old tune which he has free associated on before, especially when he began as a politician himself. The professional politician is the negative model with which he compares himself. He is “new” and therefore clean and good. It was a club to break the opposition.

The language that Berlusconi uses about politics and politicians is charged with contempt. Not having achieved anything else in life apart from having been a professional politician for him amounts to failure. One’s success, one’s being a winner must be measured against something else. What it takes to work in politics is merely to transfer not very uncommon non political (and therefore real) experiences and get on wih it. The panoply of metaphors that he uses are revealing: politics is like a family, a home which any good pater familias can run; it is like an enterprise, an ordinary one not a giant one, that one can manage with common sense; it is like a condominium, where the property is with all of us and the running with an administrative “light” state at our service, with the magistrates as mere “staff” (do they clean the stairs?). Inequality of resources and opportunities can be dealt with by solidarity, the pious, Catholic unilateral remedy that can be dispensed by the privileged if and when they feel like it, but it is not a right that can be exercised or a problem that presents complex functionl relationships between social benefits and expenses, workers’ rights and public moral duties. The dimensions suggested by these metaphors are diminutive, domestic, derogative and unworthy of “big” and unpleasant words like ethics, social strife, incompatibility. They evoke reassuring and anesthesised domains, like home, shop or nursery or some kind of fairyland in which cakes can be eaten and had on a shelf with lots of toys by greedy children.

If denigrating professional politicians is original from one who has spent 10 years in Parliament, a prime minister who encourages tax evasion is decidedly curious: “if you ask a citizen to pay a third in taxes, he’ll pay; if it’s half his income, he feels he’s morally authorised to evade.

This is an old friend; it appeared in his early speeches; in 1988 he was even stronger when he said 50% was “theft”. The justification? “Our minds and our hearts”.
Then on Sunday, 22 February, he used the public broadcaster to give tactical instructions to the football team he owns, Milan.

Berlusconi’s relationship with football is a key point in his private and political persona. The football game metaphor, that existed before him in journalistic language, has flourished and prospered in his language as a huge totem, a magic fable. The reasons are more than one: sport has always been a political metaphor because it is a sublimation af war and war is an image close to the heart of politicians (it will be interesting to see what happens when more women join the game); it is also in his case a domain in which he is a winner (not a loser like left-wing politicians) and therefore it smacks of machismo as well as power, his own power; football is the national sport. But above all it is a game and, as such, an anasthetised world in which only enjoyment is at stake. When one reads his speeches, the image that is evoked of his voters, his accolytes and himself is the one of spotty, podgy preadolescents with knobbly, cold, red knees running around screeching in the school playground. An encouragement to regression, amusement and superficiality, and therefore a special communicative channel between him and “my voters”. That, he thinks, allows a prime minister to use public television time and resources to be close to “his people” in the domain of Neverland, rather than use his image and energy for the domain of politics as a dignified, serious realm of ideas to which his actual role should confine him.

The Department of International Relations
The American University of Rome
Via P. Roselli 4, 00158 Rome
25 Feb 18.30 – 20.00 B204 Seminar “Berlusconispeak – Italy’s new political language”

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