Sunday, April 28, 2013

Letta’s Government – Unsettled Spring Weather.

True to his promises, Enrico Letta produced his government in three days prompting Beppe Grillo to say that it wasn’t Christ who had risen but Barabbas. The ministers will be sworn in today and tomorrow he will seek (and get) the confidence of the two houses of Parliament.

It is a low profile cabinet, very intentionally. Letta and Napolitano knew that any big name from one side would have produced a veto from the other so, apart from Angelino Alfano, Silvio Berlusconi’s designated successor and secretary of his party, the People of Freedom (PdL), none of the new ministers is very marked politically. And apart from Alfano who has served as Minister of Justice and Anna Maria Cancellieri, the former functionary who was Monti’s Minister of the Interior, none has ministerial experience.

Some are non-party technocrats, like Fabrizio Saccomanni from the Bank of Italy (Economy) or Enrico Giovannini from the national statistics agency ISTAT (Labour), others are newly elected deputies from both the PdL and Democratic Party (PD) and Mario Monti’s Civic Choice (SC). The new Foreign Minister, Emma Bonino is one of the few well-known outside Italy. She has been active in the Radical Party since the ‘70s in the civil rights battles and has served as European Commissioner appointed by both centre right and centre left governments. She is respected and disliked equally by centre-right and centre-left.

The other characteristic is that the new cabinet is young (average age of 53 apparently, eleven years less than the previous one) and has seven women two of whom were not born Italian.

For generational as much as political reasons, only one (Flavio Zanonato - Economic Development) comes from the Communist Party but in contrast the majority is one way or another Catholic and so a throwback to the Christian Democrats. Two (Maurizio Lupi - Infrastructure and Mario Mauro – Defence) are members of the powerful Catholic pressure group, Communione e Liberazione.

Of the two “new Italians”, one is Cécile Kyenge as Minister for Integration. She is an eye surgeon from Emilia Romagna (originally from the DRC) elected by the PD. She had already proposed a bill which will give citizenship to the children of immigrants resident in Italy and will no doubt push for its approval (and, by the way, succeed in her motion to have the monument to the war criminal Rodolfo Graziani rededicated to those killed by fascism in Africa). It is interesting that the Northern League’s Matteo Salvini showed the League’s true colours within hours of her appointment issuing a very xenophobic statement. Kyenge is black but there is another minister who is equally “foreign”, Josefa Idem, an Olympian (five medals in canoeing, four for Italy and the first for Germany) also elected in the PD lists who also took Italian citizenship as an adult and is now Minister for Equal Opportunities.

They are two absolute novelties and along with the generational and gender balance changes show how innovational this government might be.

That is the good news.

The bad, or much less good, news is that it depends on a fragile alliance between PD and PdL who until last week refused to work together (and papers have been having a field day running quotes from everyone, including Letta, saying how despicable and impossible the other is). The PD is seriously divided and those splits could well reappear if there are controversial issues to be voted, which there are. On the other side, the PdL is by now more homogeneous but it would only take another guilty verdict for Berlusconi and he would withdraw PdL support and demand early elections. The Appeal Court verdict on the Mediaset slush fund trial is due at the end of May. A guilty verdict could include Berlusconi being barred from holding public office. This why he was pressing for the key ministries of Justice, Interior and Economy to protect personal and political interests but instead he played the “moderate statesman” because he knows that he can pull the plug whenever he wants (and whenever the opinion polls suggest he will win).

The issues the new government has to face are the same as ever; reform of the electoral law and economic recovery, corruption and the cost of politics. Berlusconi and the PdL have been repeating that they want to abolish the IMU property tax that the Monti government passed last year (and which they voted for) and reimbourse last year’s payments. This could be the first stumbling block for the new government but there are ways of fudging the issue – partial abolition (on houses below a certain value) and partial repayments (in government bonds) which might allow the government survive. They all agree on the broad principles of economic recovery and an end to austerity but it will take all of Letta negotiating skills to work out the detail.

The agreement leaves Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S) as the main opposition and so probably with the chairs of the two key parliamentary oversight committees on the public broadcaster, the RAI and secret services. If the government fails to deliver, and the M5S holds together, Grillo will ride high in opinion and real polls. If the government holds together and addresses the economic issues, then his future is less rosy.

The same principle applies to Matteo Renzi, mayor Florence and potential new PD leader. If Letta succeeds, Renzi’s chances decrease. If not, then the PD is likely to split and Renzi will lead the centrist section. For the moment though, Renzi does not have to stick his neck out.

And for the moment, like the spring weather, the sun is shining but the outlook is far from steady.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Ferramonti Foundation and Memory Policies in Italy

On Wednesday the Pitigliani Centre in Rome hosted a conference “For Ferramonti. Memoria 70x25” organised by the International Network for Ferramonti and Teresa Grande from the University of Calabria.

Ferramonti was a Fascist internment camp in Tarsia in Calabria which operated from 1940 to 1943. Some 5,000 people went through it with an average population around 2,000 at a time. The majority were foreign Jews interned at the beginning of the war – not all were “enemy aliens” as some still had their German or Austrian citizenship but the law was bent in order to intern them “if their own country has racial legislation”. There were some Greeks after the Italian invasion of Greece and some Hongkong Chinese and Nigerian sailors from British ships caught in the wrong place at the outbreak of war. In September 1943, it was the first Fascist concentration camp in continental Europe to be liberated. After the war its very existence was forgotten.

In the ‘80s a young pediatrician working in Cosenza, Spartaco Capogreco came across stories about the camp from older people from Tarsia and became curious about it. So much so that in 1987 he published the first account of Ferramonti and the following year set up a Foundation to look after the memory of the camp and the very little physical remains that were left. Wednesday’s conference was a celebration of the 70 years since Ferramonti’s liberation in September 1943 and of the 25 years of the Foundation.

The conference coincided with the 25 April holiday celebrating the Liberation of Italy in 1945, a holiday which for more than 20 years has been a spur to debate Italy’s memory and vision of itself. Until the early ‘90s almost all of Italy paid lip service to an antifascist ideal and the 25 April was a moment to reaffirm those values. Since then, there has been a slow erosion of Italy’s core antifascist values and a revision of the memory of Mussolini and the 20 years of fascism.

So Capogreco and the Foundation’s patient historical work is an antidote to the attempts at wilful amnesia.

It is memory and the consciousness of the past both individual and social that distinguish us from other species. Only humans can bridge the gaps of generations by leaving written records and unwritten remains that can be interpreted but often that interpretation provokes argument and debate. Orwell addressed the question of state-sponsored amnesia as a fundamental element of 1984. This is underlined when O’Brien proposes a toast to Winston:“’What shall it be this time?’ he said, still with the same faint suggestion of irony. ‘To the confusion of the Thought Police? To the death of Big Brother? To humanity? To the future?’ ‘To the past,’ said Winston. ‘The past is more import¬ant,’ agreed O’Brien gravely .

Today, it is the Chinese who are working hard to forget. As Yan Lianke wrote recently in the New York Times:
In China, memory deletion is turning the younger generation into selective-memory automatons. Memories of history and the present, yesterday and to¬day are all going through this uniform process of deletion and are being lost without trace. … In today’s China, amnesia trumps memory. Lies are surpassing the truth. Fabrications have become the logical link to fill historical gaps. Even memories of events that have only just taken place are being discarded at a dazzling pace, with barely intelligible fragments all that remain for people to hold on to

Archæologists quip that “only the future is unchangeable”. For them and for historians, the past is constantly re-interpreted. It is also learnt or re-learnt through work in archives and the spreading of that knowledge to specialists and then to schools and a broader public.

When I did some work on Ferramonti and the other Fascist camps in the ‘90s, I asked one American class what they knew of the internment of Japanese American after Pearl Harbour. All were from the east coast and of European origin so had no family reasons to know about the internment but all of them did, one had even done a high school project on it. The sample had no scientific validity but I would guess that any reasonably well-educated American, an undergraduate not necessarily in history, knows about that not very positive moment of recent American history. Their Italian peers have no such general knowledge of the Italian concentration camps, hence the importance of Capogreco’s work.

Elie Wiesel wrote in Night “To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” And after a more recent genocide, Simon Norfolk, a photographer working in Ruanda wrote ‘Forgetting is the final instrument of genocide.’

The Italian camps were not a genocide even if Fascist Italy was for the most part a willing partner in the Nazi plan. Some, like Ferramonti, actually saved Jews from deportation and likely death in the German camps. Survivors mostly remember Ferramonti as a haven of tranquillity and security where internees suffered the same heat and cold and malaria as the local population. There was barbed wire, to be sure, and most of them arrived with the regulation chains on their legs and manacles, but inside the camp there were schools and synagogues, a Jewish artist painted an altarpiece for a nearby church, an eye surgeon performed operations which had never been possible before in an isolated part of Calabria.

Capogreco and colleagues have recounted the story of this and other camps in Italy. Something similar to the story of Ferramonti happened in the Italian camp for Jews on the Adriatic island of Rab while a few miles away, in another Italian camp, Yugoslav internees were dying in thousands. They were not being exterminated as in Treblinka, for example, but the lack of food and water, shelter, clothing and medical facilities meant an appalling death rate. On the mainland at Gonars in Friuli, conditions were similar.

But none of this is part of mainstream knowledge here. Official Italy, including the educational system, has an excellent memory of the torts committed by Yugoslav partisans at the end of the war who summarily executed real and imagined opposition in carsic caves called foibe and encouraged or forced up to 300,000 Italian speakers to leave Istria. But there is amnesia about the torts committed by Italians before and during the war in the concentration camps, reprisal killings and forced “Italianisation”.

At the Italian commemoration of the foibe and the exodus from Istria this year, ambassadors from Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro did not attend and the Slovenian ambassador, Iztok Mirosic wrote to Foreign Minister Terzi asking that the results of a bilateral commission be published in Italian. The Italo-Slovenian commission’s report on historical relations has been published in Slovenian and is part of the school curriculum in Slovenia but not in Italy. This, again, is where history and historians can make an important contribution.

Two recent events give cause for just a little optimism. The Mausoleum for war criminal Rodolfo Graziani in the Latial town of Affile was financed with public funds from the Latium regional government. Last week the newly elected president of the region, Nicola Zingaretti suspended the second tranche of funds on both moral grounds and because of the irregularity in the application for funds for the monument (the funds had been allocated for a monument to the Unknown Soldier – Graziani is all too well known). Yesterday, Zingaretti took the opportunity of 25 April to write a letter to the people of Affile explaining the decision. The newly elected deputy Cécile Kyenge has already tabled a motion for the Graziani monument to be re-dedicated to "those killed by Fascism in Africa". She took part in another Ferramonti conference pushing for historical respect.

In Brescia, where the local council would like to re-install a statue entitled “Era Fascista”, protests have forced them to delay the work at least until after the upcoming local elections.
For all these reasons, Capogreco and the Ferramonti Foundation have an essential role in illuminating the past in order to improve the present and the American University of Rome’s Center for the Study of Racism and Migration in Italy looks forward to working with them. We started the Center to analyse racism in 1938 and 2008 and continue in the hope of contributing to the policy debate as well as doing research.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Enrico Letta; Italy’s Prime Minister Designate

These last few days as Enrico Letta became the favourite for prime minister, the question from all but serious political nerds was “Who is Letta? I don’t know anything about him”. That is the point.
President Napolitano made it very clear in his inaugural speech on Monday that the only possible government is a coalition between the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and the centre-right People of Freedom (PdL). The PD has the majority in the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies but needs an ally in the Senate.

These are two parties that have considered each other as an absolute opposite since their foundation in 2007 (and their predecessors felt the same way). From November 2011 to December last year, they were uneasy bedfellows in the Monti-led grand (technocratic) government. But even there, they sniped at each other and prevented the implementation of policies they didn’t like. Since then, both during and after the February elections, the rhetoric and the substance of their antipathy has gone up many notches.

Hence the appointment of Enrico Letta as one of the few people who has the personal and political qualities that just might be able to put together a working government.

First of all, he is a centrist and a Catholic leaning to the left, not a Marxist or ex-Communist or Socialist. He learnt his politics with the leftish Christian Democrat economist, Beniamino Andreatta and then worked with Romano Prodi. In the PD, he has never been closely associated with a single faction. His thinktank VeDrò has annual get-togethers in which politicians and policymakers from both sides discuss issues in convivial surroundings, discussions which continue throughout the year in Rome.

At 46, he will be the third youngest Italian prime minister if he succeeds and so represents a generational renewal. His family connections also bridge gaps; his uncle Gianni Letta has for long been Silvio Berlusconi’s eminence grise.

As the PD deputy secretary, he is the natural successor of Pierluigi Bersani who stepped down after his multiple failures.

Over the next few days, he will talk to party leaders and draw up a list of cabinet and junior ministers.

The jostling has already begun but will be muted until Friday when Berlusconi gets back from Texas, a guest at the inauguration of the George W. Bush library, because in the PdL it is Berlusconi who has the last word (and usually the first too). He wants the key ministries of Justice, Interior and the Economy. The first is essential to have some influence on his trials, the second to influence public order and antimafia policy and the third to condition taxes and overall policy in order to safeguard his family holding company Mediaset and curry favour with the voters in elections which are not far away.

In the PD the everpresent risk is that once again the choice of ministers will render the internal splits very visible. Today there are many grassroots PD branches which are in open revolt with the party’s centre.

But despite these difficulties, the division of the ministerial spoils is the easy part of Letta’s job. In the old days of the so-called First Republic, there was precise tabulation of the worth of different jobs known as the “Manuale Cencelli”. This little virtual handbook measured ministries in terms of prestige, money and vote control (Foreign Affairs prestige but no money or votes, Post and Telecommunications lots of vote gathering but little prestige or funds, Treasury, Budget or Finance all gave control over funds and some prestige but not a lot of votes). The electoral strength between parties and internal party factions determined which prizes you won. Letta and his staff are no doubt working on a new edition of the Cencelli at the moment.

The real obstacle is the programme. For months PD and PdL have been listing their different policies. For the last week, Berlusconi and his people have been repeating the election promise of abolishing Monti property tax, the IMU and re-imbursing last year’s payment. No matter that he and the PdL approved the tax only a year ago.

The PD and Monti’s Civic Choice (SC) see no way of balancing the budget with the IMU and have said so.

On the other hand, the PD would like to see more stringent conflict of interest and anti-corruption laws, something which is anathema to Berlusconi.

Napolitano’s committee of Ten Wise Men produced an agenda which will probably be the basis of Letta’s programme but their issues were shared between left and right and are hardly compatible.

Finally there is the electoral law reform, an issue that Napolitano has been hammering on for more than five year to no effect. All pay lip service to the idea that the law should be changed but no one has an idea of what to put in its place… or rather they all have many ideas, the best recipe for doing nothing.

I had a couple of queries, one from Irene Metropolou of To Vima in Athens and one from Camila Maia of Brazil’s Agência CMA What are the biggest challenges in terms of politics and the economy? The electoral law and the path to growth and recovery (austerity v. spending, liberalisation – the same issues of the last five years). Will it be stable enough to press on with reforms? Highly unlikely, because of the internal contradictions. They were not able to do so under Monti and probably won’t do any better under Letta. And what about the future of the PD? Will it implode and split? Have the changes harmed or strengthened the party? It will (it already has) change physionomy. Fabrizio Barca is trying to re-invent it from the left and Renzi from the right. There is no guarantee that their visions will coincide.

Maia also wants to know if Berlusconi has any chance of returning to power. At the moment the opinion polls give him a substantial lead which he can and is using to his advantage in government formation. He can threaten withdrawing support and bringing about early elections but real elections are a risk as Bersani learnt to his cost. And policital instability would lead to economic instability which would hurt his already weak Mediaset. So he will probably not be back in power this year.

And finally, will Napolitano dissolve parliament? He has two powers; one is dissolution of parliament, the other is his resignation, putting the responsibility firmly at the feet of the parties. He will only use them if Letta fails in his task and even then, he will look for just about any way out to avoid what would be the meltdown of the political system with serious effects on the economic and financial systems.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Equivocal Calm Between Storms

For a brief moment, the helterskelter is in a trough, calm and waiting for the next climb to be followed inevitably by another downward hurtle.

Yesterday Pierluigi Bersani’s Democratic Party (PD) and the other traditional parties did not know where to turn so one by one they went up the Hill (the President’s palace on the Quirinal hill is known as “Il Colle” or “the highest hill in Rome”) to beg the 87 year Giorgio Napolitano to get them out of the mess. Most accounts confirm that it was Bersani who convinced Napolitano by telling him that no one else could guarantee a united PD vote. After the two very loud failures of Thursday and Friday, the party and more importantly, the country could not afford another open wound and inconclusive ballot.

Silvio Berlusconi and the People of Freedom (PdL) added their support along with the centrist Mario Monti (Civic Choice, SC) and even the Northern League’s (LN) Roberto Maroni. The PD’s ally, Nichi Vendola’s Left, Ecology and Freedom (SEL) decided to vote for the Five Star Movement (M5S)’s candidate Stefano Rodotà.

After lunch, Napolitano said that he accepted the candidature and by late afternoon, the count confirmed that Napolitano had won 738 out of 997 votes. This is the first time that an Italian president has been re-elected. There is no constitutional ban on a second term but none of Napolitano’s ten predecessors had used the possibility so that most constitutionalists presumed that there was an unwritten amendment prohibiting a second term.

Tomorrow he will be sworn in and has promised to set his own terms for his second presidency. Most likely he will set a time limit and make it very clear that the condition for him to stay on is that there is a reliable government. But whatever conditions he does put on himself and the politicians, they will be self-imposed. For the moment, he has a 7 year mandate limited only by the constitution.
After the result, there was exultation in the centre-right; Napolitano has been very supportive of Berlusconi both with regard to his prosecutions and to the idea of a PdL-PD coalition. There was quiet satisfaction from Monti and relief from Bersani. The left of the PD, SEL and of course Grillo and the M5S were furious.

Grillo’s immediate reaction was to call the vote a “coup” and say that he was coming to Rome and hoped for a million people on the streets when he arrived. His own supporters were forced to backtrack on the leader and admit that a regular vote in Parliament was hardly a coup d’état and the whisper of the phrase “march on Rome” with its explicit Fascist association forced him to delay his arrival and cancel the nightime demo. Still, there will be one this afternoon. The M5S candidate, Stefano Rodotà is a lawyer, former member of Parliament and former head of a public watchdog agency and a man of the left; not surprisingly he condemned Grillo’s clearly, quickly and forcefully.

The “coup” and “march on Rome” were only slight hiccoughs in Grillo’s continuing success. He could not have hoped for more than an alliance between the centre-right and a terminally fractured centre-left. Depending on what parties come out of the PD left, Grillo and the M5S could take a large portion of very unhappy PD voters. The more the M5S people, the grillini come into the media spotlight, though, the more they advertise their lack of ability and coherence – charming naiveté at first but not a good reason to vote for them. So there is a sort of race between the grillino learning curve and the ability of the PD to reorganise itself. Where these two curves are when the next elections take place will determine the result.

The other winner is of course Berlusconi.

He has kept his cool most of the time – it was curious though that while Grillo cried foul yesterday, Berlusconi said on Friday that if Prodi were to be elected it would have been “undemocratic” and he and the PdL would have taken to the streets; a bit rich coming from the man who had designed the present electoral system which should have led to a Prodi victory. In the event the PD was more than capable of shooting itself in the foot and Berlusconi did not have to take to the streets. A fortnight ago, a satirical paper had the cartoon of Berlusconi sitting on a river bank, waiting. It was a prescient drawing; the corpses of Bersani, Prodi and the PD have already floated past. More will follow. He has been assured of a friendly presence in the Quirinale and in all probability, a government in which the PdL plays a major part. If there are early elections, polls suggest that the PdL would be the first party. No wonder he was smiling yesterday.

The government will most likely be a “political” one, led by a party person, not a technocrat. Its likely platform will be the report produced by Napolitano’s committee of “ten wise men”, a composite of contradictory issues put together by PD, PdL and SC. The names that are being put forward are Giuliano Amato, the eternal bridgebuilder, part politician, part technocrat or Bersani’s deputy, Enrico Letta, sufficiently anodyne not to offend the PdL. Whoever it is he will have to deal with the same economic issues as before and the growing rejection of the political system. The 74% of grand electors who voted for Napolitano are very far from showing that three quarters of Italy supports a PD-PdL coalition.

The helterskelter ride is beginning again.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Chaos Squared

It would be difficult to imagine a more disastrous way of running a party or a country. The Italian Parliament yesterday was petty spite elevated to party policy under the banner of “let’s cut off our noses to spite our faces”.

The story of the numbers is easy to tell. The Italian president is elected by the two houses of parliament plus representatives of the regions.

For the first three votes, the winning candidate needs a two thirds majority (672/1007). If no one is elected, at the fourth ballot, a simple majority (504/1007) suffices.

The Democratic Party (PD) with its left-wing allies Left, Ecology and Freedom (SEL) on paper have 496 votes so they had the responsibility of proposing candidates.

For almost two months since the 25 February general election, the PD secretary, Pierluigi Bersani made it clear that he was not going to form a government with Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL). He tried to work out some sort of alliance with Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S), failing that, he was trying to at least create a non-aggression pact which would have allowed a PD led government to carry out some necessary reforms – the electoral system, cutting the costs and subsidies in politics (today yet another spending and corruption scandal exploded in the Piedmont regional government), and initiating a recovery package for the economy.

Then on Wednesday evening, 14 hours before voting for the president was due to begin, Bersani announced that he had come to an agreement with his archenemy Berlusconi for a presidential candidate. The day before Grillo had announced that the M5S candidate was Stefano Rodotà, an academic lawyer respected by all, a man of the left but not tied to any single party… a plausible candidate for the PD. Grillo had also said that they could consider Romano Prodi as a potential candidate, if Rodotà and other failed. Instead, Bersani came to a deal with Berlusconi to the fury of a good number of PD voters and parliamentarians. It allowed Grillo to say that this was Berlusconi’s candidate which was partially true.

The Bersani-Berlusconi candidate was Franco Marini, a Catholic (important in the old logic of alternating secular and Catholic presidents, but no longer relevant in the changing architecture of Italian politics). He was a union leader, a senator and speaker of the Senate and, essential for Berlusconi, had never expressed strong antipathy for Berlusconi. In theory, PD and PdL should have polled 761 together. That would have allowed for a hundred defections in the secret ballot. In the event, Marini took an insulting 521. He was burnt instantly. Rodotà, who should have had 163 M5S votes, actually polled 240, all presumably from SEL and the PD. A picture of Bersani with his arm around the shoulder of Angelino Alfano, the PdL secretary became the symbol of the misplaced alliance; an embrace that did not augur well for Bersani.

In the second ballot on Thursday and third on Friday morning, the majority put in blank votes, holding their fire before the fourth ballot.

Yesterday morning, the PD electors met and agreed on Prodi as their candidate for the fourth ballot, intending to pick up the missing 8 votes from Mario Monti’s Civic Choice (SC) or Grillo.

As the votes were counted, PD voters grew ever more ashenfaced and the centre right exulted. The final result was 395 votes for Prodi meaning 101 PD or SEL voters had welched on the agreement. Nichi Vendola’s SEL had renounced the secret ballot by promising to write “R.Prodi” on their ballots (rather than just “Prodi” or “Romano Prodi”) and the number of votes for “R.Prodi” matched the SEL voters. So the 101 were all PD voters.

What had happened was that the PD had used the elections for the president as if it were a party conference. There were settling old and new scores and readjusting internal party balance all of it covered by a secret ballot and with the effect of not only destroying their own party but leaving the country rudderless once again.

The most likely culprits are almost certainly Massimo D’Alema and his supporters who have a personal antipathy towards both Prodi and Bersani and would prefer to see some sort of arrangement with Berlusconi for both the presidency and the government. The other possible culprit could be the mayor Florence, Matteo Renzi. He was runner up in the PD primaries in November and since the PD’s non-victory in February has been closing in on Bersani as the next party leader. He is not one of the voters but he has substantial support in the party and many could have voted against Prodi as a way of hitting Bersani. But the result is the likely disintegration of the whole party.

Yesterday evening, the party president, Rosy Bindi had resigned followed soon afterwards by Bersani who promised to step down as soon as the president has been elected.

This is not only the end of a party which five months ago was presumed to be the dead cert for the next government (they were already arguing over who should take which cabinet post) but it is yet another blow the country’s credibility at a time when Italy needs confidence and credibility more than ever.

A new president will not mean that a new government will follow automatically, even less that the government will be effective. But without a president, there can be no government.

The effects are likely to be dire for Italy which will be unable to get out the economic mess it is in and also dire for the rest of Europe which watches aghast as petty personal squabbles put the whole continent at risk.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Italy’s body or soul? The choice for president.

Tomorrow, voting will start for President Napolitano’s successor, a crucial figure given the political stalemate. For most of the 65 year old Italian republic, the president has been a largely symbolic figure, cutting ribbons, attending funerals and welcoming victorious athletes. But his powers are like a concertina; they expand and contract depending on how well the political and judicial powers are working.

Over the last two years, they have expanded enormously. Most recently, a fortnight ago, Napolitano commissioned “ten wise men” to draw up proposals for a future government. Quite apart from the substance of their proposals, this was a major innovation – the President attempted to set the agenda for a government and condition it as Andrea Vannucci clearly pointed out in his recent contribution to the blog.

Napolitano has also intervened heavily in the judiciary, asking for and getting the guarantee from the Constitutional Court that any presidential conversation may not be recorded, far less cited, even if a person under investigation calls him. That was last year; two weeks ago he successfully pressured the Milan courts to change their schedules so that Silvio Berlusconi’s trial hearings would be postponed until after the presidential election.
All of these are much more than the constitution’s general mandate for the President to be the final guarantor of the constitution. On top of this, the new president will have to either encourage the parties to come to a deal and form a government or call early elections, a very real and immediate power.

The president is elected by an electoral college made up of both houses of parliament plus representatives of the regions for a total of 1,007. In the first three ballots a two thirds majority is necessary (672) from the fourth, a simple majority (508).

There are some who argue that the President should have three qualities apart from being an Italian over 50 (a constitutional requirement) not barred from holding public office. He or she should have a good grasp and working knowledge of the Constitution, be respected abroad and hold any prejudices towards any part of Italy (and vice versa). The last requirement is a not very veiled way of saying that the new president should not consider Berlusconi as the devil (or be considered as an enemy by Berlusconi).

The alternative is to think that the President should indeed be reasonably authorative on the constitution and respected abroad but that s/he should actually lead – ethically and politically. He or she should not be a distillate of Italian virtues and vices, an Everyman or woman, someone who fudges issues in order to maintain a semblance of unity but someone who has the personal moral stature to defend the ethical values of the constitution first of all by the example of what he or she has done in their previous life and then by reminding today’s actors of what the Republic of Italy stands for… at least according to its constitution and its politicians’ rhetoric.

This is not a pious hope – most presidents were elected as a muddled compromise of incompetence but there have been “moral” presidents, men who were elected as real figures and then acted on principle even if they came from the Establishment, especially at moments of crisis: Einaudi at the beginning, Pertini in the midst of terrorism, Scalfaro and Ciampi in very different way more recently.
Instead, after negotiating on points of principle for two months, Pierluigi Bersani and the Democratic Party has put forward a collection traditional compromise candidates. Not what Italy needs to get it out of the swamp it is in.

With just over 12 hours to go before the electors meet to vote, Bersani’s PD plumped for Franco Marini… former president of the senate and once head of the mainly Christian Democrat union, the CISL. Worthy and unsullied by scandal but never having taken his distance from it. Their second strings are Massimo D’Alema, who tried to cut deals and compromise with Berlusconi and always lost (so is acceptable to Berlusconi), Giuliano Amato, defined by most at a “man for all seasons” who piloted Italy through political and economic storms 20 years ago, an expert constitutionalist and respected academically and politically abroad but also a man of compromise. There are many in the PD who have already said that none of these alternatives is acceptable so as well as proposing dodgy candidates, Bersani is splitting the party as well. They know as does Bersani, that an alliance with Berlusconi will mean death at the next elections whenever they are.

Berlusconi himself has so far not committed himself or his followers but he has endorsed Marini so if all the PdL and PD voted together, Marini might just make in the first round.

This might not happen as Grillo has played a very canny game. He proclaims transparency and total rejection of the political establishment and instead made a complete mess of the primary vote for the M5S’s presidential candidate (first round annulled, no figures for the second round) and put forward some hardly radical candidates. There was Romano Prodi, twice prime minister and former president of the EU, Gustavo Zagrebelsky, former Constitutional Court judge and Stefano Rodotà, academic lawyer, former deputy in the PCI (without being a member) and its successors and former president of the Privacy Oversight Agency. (there were others but even if not members of old political parties, they were also part of the establishment). The three are very worthy but not outsiders. Rodotà has now accepted to become the M5S candidate and is very well-regarded in much of the PD so tomorrow they will have to choose.

Tomorrow (and mostly likely the day after and maybe Monday) will be a battle for the soul of Italy. It’s result will condition which way the body moves.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Riflessioni sulle proposte dei saggi

I'm happy to welcome Andrea Vannucci back to the blog with a very perceptive (and depressing) analysis of the work of the "ten wise men" written on 13 April.

Le osservazioni e le proposte contenute nei documenti conclusivi diffusi ieri dai gruppi di lavoro istituiti dal Presidente della Repubblica meritano di essere lette. Esse appaiono chiaramente - a chiunque abbia anche solo una modestissima conoscenza dei fatti politici, sociali ed economici - largamente e saldamente fondate nelle argomentazioni, lucide e precise nella diagnosi, ottimamente focalizzate nell’indirizzamento verso le azioni risolutive necessarie.

Su alcuni punti ognuno potrebbe magari trovare qualche spunto di parziale perfettibilità, o divergenza di opinione (io ad esempio avrei sperato di leggervi qualcosa di più in termini di limitazione generale del carico fiscale generale e individuale, e magari qualche indicazione più audace in materia di limitazione della professionalizzazione della politica e regolamentazione dei conflitti di interesse, temi questi appena accennati).

Ma è fuor di dubbio che le circa settanta pagine redatte in dieci giorni dai dieci “saggi” contengono indicazioni concrete, fattive, generalmente e largamente condivisibili. E non sorprende (né sminuisce l’autorevolezza dei dieci “saggi”) riconoscere in queste stesse osservazioni molti spunti già espressi da numerosi eminenti giuristi, economisti, sociologi, politologi, e perfino spesso da tanti, tantissimi ben più modesti e normali cittadini di buon senso e dotati di sensibilità civile (compresi noi stessi), che responsabilmente si interessano della vita delle nostra nazione.

Nell’introduzione di entrambi i documenti, i dieci “saggi” insistono a precisare che il loro contributo non vuole essere un programma politico, né sostituirsi alle funzioni e prerogative delle istituzioni costituzionali competenti per le materie trattate. Ma proprio questa precisazione evidenzia piuttosto il contrario: i due documenti, così meticolosi, precisi ed efficaci, evidentemente colmano una grave carenza di indirizzo programmatico da parte delle istituzioni, sia considerate singolarmente che nella loro collegialità.

Da queste constatazioni deriva quindi una riflessione piuttosto amara e preoccupante: come mai un esercizio così chiaro, ben strutturato, esaustivo e ponderato, di evidente fondamentale indirizzo politico, è stato condotto oggi in una modalità così assolutamente straordinaria? Prodotto da un organo totalmente avulso all’architettura istituzionale, convocato secondo modalità del tutto irrituali da un Presidente alla fine del mandato? Con il contributo di persone selezionate secondo criteri del tutto discrezionali, che hanno lavorato in logica emergenziale, in appena dieci giorni? Perché nulla di neanche appena simile si è prodotto invece come normale e fisologica espressione di quelle istituzioni (camere, governo, organi consultivi, magistrature, autorità, sia da sole che in concorso fra loro) che dovrebbero normalmente e fisiologicamente, garantire il prezioso servizio di guidare la vita nazionale?

Cercare una risposta a questa domanda è inquietante, e ci porta a considerare quanto profonda e diffusa è la malattia che ha pervaso le nostre istituzioni, cristallizzate nelle loro ormai croniche debolezze, capillarmente inquinate dalla presenza di troppe persone mediocri e meschine, e condizionate da organizzazioni corrotte nelle loro funzioni e finalità, che ne hanno progressivamente paralizzato le normali funzioni.

Purtroppo, il buon lavoro fatto dai “saggi” viene consegnato proprio a queste istituzioni, a queste persone, a queste organizzazioni; chiaramente poco capaci di provvedere alla tutela dei nostri diritti di cittadinanza, di assicurare la costruzione del nostro benessere, di costruire responsabilmente il nostro futuro. Come un messaggio in bottiglia lanciato da un naufrago, il documento prodotto oggi al Quirinale ricorda più un disperato appello rivolto ad interlocutori disinteressati e distratti, che non un utile memorandum posto all’attenzione di chi dovrebbe fattivamente dargli adempimento.

Fra pochi giorni il Presidente Giorgio Napolitano terminerà il suo incarico, avendo lasciato alla Nazione quest’ultimo memento. Io guardo ai partiti e ai loro leader, ai burocrati inetti che da decenni raccontano che faranno cose di cui evidentemente non sono capaci, alla schiera di sostenitori ossequienti che alimentano il potere di questi, nella meschina e inane speranza di trarne un vantaggio personale. E non riesco proprio a immaginare chi, fra questi tanti da cui ahinoi dipende il nostro futuro, leggerà il documento redatto dai “saggi” con un qualche sincero interesse e capacità di agire.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Faites vos jeux – if you dare.

One of the plagues afflicting Italy at the moment is a dramatic increase in betting – scratch cards, the lottery and on line Texas Hold’em. But despite the national gambling obsession, no one is putting any money on who is going to form the next government, or when it will be formed. The odds are simply too long and variables too many and uncertain, worse than the lottery.

In a normal sporting accumulator bet, the events take place in succession and independently of each other. In the Italian game, the events take place concurrently and influence each other. One decision (or “win” in gambling terms) sets off a dependence path which conditions the way the game is played out.

This is the short answer to a question which was thrown at me by a Canadian journalist “But it's not clear to me and some colleagues what the deputies are doing without a government!”

The long answer is more complicated.

There are three players in Parliament, two of whom have to work together in order have the numbers for a majority in the Senate, the essential condition for a government.
Up till now, the biggest group, the Democratic Party (PD) and its leader, Pierluigi Bersani put forward a limited programme (8 points) aimed enticing some members of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S) to support him. It didn’t work with Grillo repeating again and again “what part of ‘no alliance’ don’t you understand”.

Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) has been saying that a PD-PdL grand coalition of national unity is the only alternative to early elections but they are aiming at sharing power and positions rather than a clear programme, or at least not a programme that the PD could accept.

That was the scissors-stone-paper stalemate until now – there is less than a week to go till Parliament starts the process of electing the new president on Thursday and who they choose will be one of the “dependence paths” which will change what follows. The 1,007 electors (both houses of parliament and representatives of the regions) or rather their leaders are trying to decide who to support.

In the PD, Bersani’s uncompromising position is beginning to show cracks. With his 8 points, he showed himself to be a politician of principle and policy rather compromising for positions and power. Perhaps if he had published them before the election, the results would have been different. Still, since then, he has stuck to his guns and is prepared to step down or aside rather than get into bed with Berlusconi and the PdL which shows that he has completely freed himself from the shadow of Massimo D’Alema, the former leader of the centre-left for whom Bersani fronted for a long time. D’Alema was always prepared to compromise with Berlusconi, usually with disastrous results for himself and the party. Bersani has refused partly for principle and partly because he thinks the party would lose badly if it went into a PD-PdL coalition.

Earlier this week, Bersani finally met Berlusconi but repeated that he was only prepared to talk about possible presidential candidates and not about a grand coalition. Cautious communiqués came out of the meeting but nothing remotely close to real names or a plan of action on either front. Bersani has held his ground against a grand coalition.

Others in the PD are not so sure, hence the cracks. The runner-up in the primaries, Matteo Renzi, mayor of Florence, is stepping on Bersani’s tail, telling him to get a move-on or get out of the way. Others would like to see some sort of deal at least for the presidency and probably for a government with Berlusconi. There is a growing risk of a split in the PD which would mean a collapse in early elections and severe damage even elections were not until next year. One of the ministers in the present government, Fabrizio Barca has offered his experience as an economist and should strengthen the left of the party.

In the M5S, there are small cracks appearing. There was always going to be some slippage in a new and heterogeneous movement; Grillo himself reckoned on 10-15% which was more or less the number that did not turn up to a secret meeting on Friday. Opinion polls also suggest that some of his support has moved back to both the PD and the PdL. In their primaries to choose their own presidential candidate yesterday, they came out with egg on their face annulling the online vote "because of hackers"; there is no independent monitoring so something was presumed to be fishy.

The third group is the PdL. There are no visible cracks but Berlusconi has two trials coming to judgement over the next few weeks, one for having sex with an under age prostitute (the so-called “Ruby” case) and the other for tax evasion (“Mediaset”). In both he could be found guilty. The “Mediaset” verdict is from the Court of Appeal and if they confirm the sentence at first instance, he could be barred from holding public office. On top of this, a model agent interviewed on television asserted that Berlusconi had had sex with another 17 year old, Noemi Letizia in 2009. And investigations continue in allegations that he paid €3m to a senator in 2008 to vote against the Prodi government.

The centre-right is almost as fragile as the others.

On the PdL’s fringes, the Northern League’s is divided between supporters of the new and the old leaders, Roberto Maroni and Umberto Bossi. They almost came to blows last weekend and there is talk of the party splitting so they are in no state to fight an election.

So three parties could go in at least two directions upping the odds. They have to decide on who to elect at president next week so our reluctant punter would first have to bet on the president, at the moment even more obscure than last month’s conclave. Then will the new president be able to cajole the parties into forming a government? There could be a side bet on the Rome’s mayor, a very open four-way race with first round voting on 26 May

In theory of course, the new president could call early elections as soon as he or she is elected but no one seriously wants elections because of the uncertainty and above all because without changing the electoral system, there is the near certainty of a new stalemate.

This would all be much better illustrated with a Prezi presentation but neither I nor my blog are up to it yet.

But whether with words or slick illustrations, it is clear that all bets are off for the moment.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Fascism in Italy – Old and New.

Like the odour of a stale changing room, the smell of fascism keeps on reappearing. Stale sweat and cheap cigarettes just need some springcleaning but while Italy’s houses tend to be spotless, the political house leaves a lot to be desired.

Two hundred and fifty metres from the spot where a fascist bomb in Brescia killed eight people and injured a hundred 39 years ago, the city council wants to re-install a statue with the disturbing name of Era fascista.

The statue is a 25 foot tall colossus of Carrara marble (above left), a male nude who stood in the central Piazza della Vittoria from 1932 until he was removed in 1945. He was known locally as Bigio and Mussolini thought very highly of him. After Liberation, there were antifascist attacks on him and the new administration along with the British decided to remove him.

The present council is centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) and Northern League (LN) and the idea of returning Bigio to the square comes from the two members of the council with far-right antecendents according to Manuel Colosio of Brescia’s Radio Onda d’Urto, Mario Labolani who started his political career in the neo-Fascist MSI’s youth movement and Andrea Arcai son of the magistrate who led the first, unsuccessful investigation of the 1974 bombing. Their intentions of rehabilitating the Fascist era by erecting a statue with just that name are clear but they were helped by the lack of any serious opposition.

The previous (centre-left) mayor, the PD’s Paolo Corsini, had aired the idea of returning Bigio to Piazza della Vittoria in 2007. Ironically, Corsini is an academic historian of fascism so understands the symbolism of the statue more than most. As a deputy, he was a member of the Parliamentary Commission which examines terrorist bombings so he knows more than most about the 1974 Brescia bombing too. The main opposition is from the partisans’ association ANPI while the PD complains more about the cost €460,000 than the political implications.

The cost certainly adds insult to injury on the day when two pensioners committed suicide because they couldn’t manage on her pension of €500.

Last year there was a similar episode in a town south of Rome when the Fascist war criminal, Rodolfo Graziani was honoured with a mausoleum costing €130,000 of public money.

Both initiatives have been met by a dull silence in the Italian mainstream media. I only heard of the Brescia story when the Guardian’s Lizzy Davis called me about a piece she was writing. Colosio at the Brescia radio reckons that the national papers like Corriere della Sera or La Repubblica are not interested if they can’t have some sort of scoop – if the local papers have already run with it, then it’s old news. And he adds that the antibodies against fascism in Brescia have weakened over time.

And not only in Brescia.

Last week, a Rome high school teacher admonished a Jewish student telling her “in Auschwitz, you’d have been more diligent” when the girl left class because she was feeling sick. When the class accused the teacher of being racist, she made things worse, “I’m not racist – I just meant a place that was well-organised”… eh? To make matters even worse, the headmistress said “the teacher didn’t mean what she said and… she didn’t want to offend anyone and so she wasn’t reprimanded.

On Thursday, the mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno organised a demonstration in front of the Coliseum in favour of the Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen. For a start, he ignored an order from the Superintendent of Fine Arts not to put up a stand (authoritarian if not fascist) and then, alongside the San Marco Brigade pennant (the marines) and the city flag was a banner of the Decima MAS, the brutal special forces which worked alongside the SS in Mussolini’s puppet republic between 1943 and and 1945 murdering partisans and civilians. The mayor did nothing to move the banner-wavers on and he was happy to have Mario Vattani alongside him. Vattani was the Italian diplomat transferred from his post after giving the fascist salute during a nazi-rock gig.

In Britain, when a premier league team employs a self-declared fascist, Paolo Di Canio, who gives the salute and has DUX tattooed on his back, there is a national outcry.

The antibodies are weak in Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S) as well. Their Chamber of Deputies spokeswoman, Roberta Lombardi wrote on her blog that fascism was positive because it had “a strong sense of the state before it degenerated”. That was three months ago when no one knew who she was and she since defended herself saying the remark was taken out of context but it was a surprising interpretation for what was a radical movement. Grillo himself has been accommodating with Casa Pound, the Rome-based “respectable” version of the extreme right and has made disparaging asides about Jews.

For 40 years after the war, almost everyone was at least nominally “anti-fascist”. Public discourse was rigorously anti-fascist. The few nostalgici kept their heads down except in very well-defined parts of certain towns (Prati and the Colle Oppio area in Rome for instance, were neri, black for the fascist shirts). Memorabilia was available but like pornography once upon a time, sold under the counter in brown paper wrappers.

Rehabilitation began in the ‘90s with the presence of four “post-fascist” (nice euphemism invented then) ministers in Berlusconi’s first government. It has continued apace since then.

I became conscious of the change when looking for a CD of “Ciao bella ciao” the iconic partisan song. I had to search through collections in well-stocked stores but at the same time, my local CD stall in the square had various collections of the fascist trademark songs “Giovinezza” and “Faccetta nera”.

The political dirt was swept under the carpet after the war with a very cursory springcleaning and the risk is that along with 80 year old statues, the ideas that created him and which he represents will also come back in their modern versions.