Ahi serva Italia, di dolore ostello, nave sanza nocchiero in gran tempesta, non donna di province, ma bordello!
Quoting Dante (or Shakespeare, Wilde, Shaw) is, I admit the last resort of a scoundrel or at least the indolent scribe. But this one is too apposite not to use. Roughly translated, it reads “Alas enslaved Italy, inn of sorrow, a ship without a helmsman in a great storm, not a queen of her provinces, but a whorehouse”. It was the title of a book by Paolo Sylos Labini published posthumously in 2006; Sylos Labini was not only one of Italy’s most distinguished economists but a man of absolute integrity who consistently and very openly refused to compromise with Power (even “power” with a small ‘p’). His last work described, analysed and criticised the Italy of five years ago. Today’s Italy has been battered by even more internal storms as well as the obvious international economic ones; since then the Prime Minister’s residences have become brothels literally and not just metaphorically. Above all, the ship of state is near to being rudderless. So I am not the only person quoting Dante.
There has been a lack of clear leadership since the end of July as anyone who follows these blogs will know but over the last fortnight the lack of direction has become paroxystic. For most of August, Berlusconi threatened elections in order to bring the rebellious Fini and his followers to heel. Then as the polls showed that the only real winner in an early vote would be Umberto Bossi with the Northern League and, worse, that there was a good chance that he would not win a majority in the Senate, he started backpedalling. These last few days, his public statements once again refer to “three more years in order to carry out the Great Reforms”.
He spoke at the Kremlin organised Global Policy Forum in Yaroslavl last week about the details of Italian politics, with a swipe at Fini (without naming him) saying there were some who had created “little political businesses” (aziendine); then he made the nth complaint that “communist judges” were stopping him and his people from governing and finally, to cap his effusive welcome to Ghedaffi a week ago, came the remarkable statement that his hosts Putin and Medvedev were “god’s gift to democracy” (pity that The Economist’s KAL had beat him to it with a cartoon showing Vladimir Putin’s real love of democracy and the press.
Even the editor of one of his own papers, Vittorio Feltri in Il Giornale criticised him for wavering this morning. Worse, his approval ratings are down to 37% with the PdL below 30%.
We will know if the “three more years” proposal has any chance whatsover at the end of the month when the Chamber will debate Berlusconi’s five-point plan (justice, federalism, security, the south, the economy) and vote on it. In the meantime, it seems that he is on the expected shopping spree hoping to pick up independents so as to make up the loss of Fini’s deputies - he needs 19 to have a secure majority.
He has experience in convincing parliamentarians to come over to his side as revelations about the so-called P3 are showing. In late 2007, in another shopping spree, there was a lot of movement to bring Prodi’s government down and in January 2008 Prodi’s government duly fell. But the revelations themselves are proof of the change since then. It seems that most of the accused are singing as if they were in La Scala – and suggests rodents leaving the nave sanza nocchiero.
The storm buffetting comes from real winds. Some come from a long way off; Italy’s relative decline began almost 20 years ago but every year production figures go down with respect to Europe, and of course China and the other emerging economies. Last week the OECD reckoned that Italy’s GDP would decline by 0.3% in the third quarter, the only G7 country with negative growth and grow by a miserable 0.1% in the fourth quarter. The World Economic Forum reckons that a real recovery has not begun and puts Italy in 48th place for global competiveness. Economics minister Tremonti preferred the ISTAT figures which are slightly better but not much. Youth unemployment continues to grow. The Minister for Economic Development resigned four months ago and still has not been replaced. As the school year begins, teachers are on the warpath over cuts as are the police. There are plenty of real issues but they are not being faced.
So is Italy once again “enslaved” as Dante lamented 700 years ago? And is Italy a brothel instead of queen of her own provinces?
A new book by a Princeton scholar argues that Italy is very much the brothel. In La libertà dei servi (Anticorpi, Laterza 2010), Maurizio Viroli says that Italy has succeeded “… in the political experiment of transforming, without violence, a democratic republic into a court which has at the centre a feudal lord surrounded by a plethora of courtesans admired and envied by a multitude of people with a servile spirit”.
Rigoletto cursed the courtesans with his wonderful aria “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata!” but today it is the courtesans who are in control. Even Fedele Confaloniere, probably Berlusconi’s best friend and closest associate described him in 2004 as “an enlightened despot… a good Ceausescu, but decidedly anomalous as a democratic politician”.
Last week a centre right deputy in Fini’s group accused some of her fellow deputies of having prostituted themselves to get into Parliament. She withdrew the statement immediately but Veronica Lario, Mrs. Berlusconi, and the Fini thinktank “FareFuturo” had made the same point in April last year. The real point though is that the problem is not that some women got into Parliament through a bedroom; it is that men and women, journalists and professionals, have given up their minds and principles rather than their bodies.
So Dante is oft-quoted for good reason.