Monday, May 30, 2011

The tide has turned

A week ago, Berlusconi’s archrival put it very clearly and presciently “Berlusconi was politically born in Milan, and in Milan he has politically died,” says the industrialist Carlo De Benedetti.

The results were better than anyone on the centre left had dared hope for. First of all Milan with 55.1% for Pisapia, and 44.89% Moratti; a double whammy against an unsuccessful mayor and a grossly overbearing Berlusconi who hijacked the campaign to show the world that he was still in control and failed miserably. The Milanese showed both pragmatism along with principle and fair play. They punished parties and individuals who could not solve the city’s and the country’s problems but they also punished a vainglorious and obsessive leader who is way past his best by date. They or at least a majority of them did not accept the insidious and racist scare tactics used over the last fortnight and it looks very much as if humour was a perfect antidote for hate; there is a lovely short showing “The wonderful world of Pisapia” full of drugs, immigrants landing from boats on the canals, and congestion charges in the suburbs . Even Berlusconi’s home base Arcore with his most famous villa went for the centre-left with a huge swing (56.65% compared to just over 50% for the centre right last time).

The other big one was Naples where Luigi De Magistris won a massive victory with 65.38% compared to Gianni Lettieri’s 34.61, 39,000 fewer votes than first round. It is true that Naples has a habit of looking for Messianic saviours and that De Magistris will have a difficult job fulfilling electors’ hopes but even more than in Milan, it is a crushing defeat for Berlusconi’s “can do” miracleworking. They don’t believe him and have had enough.

The centre left won in Cagliari and Trieste and the Northern League’s heartland of Novara.

The blighted former minister of culture, Sandro Bondi has already resigned from his party position and a newly appointed undersecretary, Daniela Melchiorre resigned after Berlusconi’s performance at the Deauville summit. Like an over made up ancient mariner on lifts (but without Coleridge’s language), he buttonholed Obama to tell him how he was being persecuted by left wing judges.

Taken all together, it looks like a rout. It is, but only a minor one, a skirmish when the real battle is yet to come. Berlusconi already said that he would not resign even if they lost Milan and Naples, and he won’t, at least not tomorrow. But Umberto Bossi and the Northern League are already blaming him for the defeat and will certainly make him pay for it.

In two weeks time there will be another test for the government when Italy votes on four referendums. The government is against all of them and wants a low turnout which would make them invalid; if the quorum is reached, then it will be yet another nail in Berlusconi’s coffin and Umberto Bossi will be very tempted to pull the plug on the government. He could do that at the League’s annual beano at Legnano on 19 June in a grand coup de théâtre or he could do it more slowly and calculatedly over the summer and early autumn, pushing for an interim government led by Tremonti and elections in spring.

On the other side, the left and centre left has had an immense boost and shown that they can work together and win elections when there is the right person and the right programme. Now they have to do the same nationally and do it quickly.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bossi’s balance and Berlusconi’s bluster (or toxic propaganda)

Umberto Bossi is no Dorian Gray but somewhere in his attic, he has a locked cupboard. Instead of a portrait, there is a set of scales; one side weighs the advantages that the coalition with Berlusconi brings the Lega Nord (LN, Northern League). The other side measures the cost of that alliance in electoral terms.
Not being privy to Bossi’s inspections, I do not know which side is heavier, but I do know that since last week’s elections in Milan the costs weigh much more heavily than before but not enough to make him break with Berlusconi and his Popolo della Libertà (PdL, People of Freedom). Tomorrow and Monday the Milanese will give the balance another shove when the outgoing PdL mayor, Letizia Moratti, fights for her political life against Giuliano Pisapia, the centre-left candidate who beat her by more then six percentage points in the first round.
To guarantee full support, Bossi demanded that one or maybe two ministries should be transferred to Milan, maybe even the Ministry of Economics “because Milan is the centre of the Italian economy”. One of the LN ministers, Roberto Calderoli claimed that if they were not given ministers, then the north should stop paying taxes “no representation, no taxation”. Most of the PdL said no, the rightwing mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, very loudly. Berlusconi himself has kept very quiet.
Instead, he has raised the ante by introducing what one columnist, Barbara Spinelli, called “toxic propaganda”. Older English readers will remember Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of blood” speech in which he used Virgil’s phrase (“the Tiber will flow with blood”) to threaten Britain with the consequences of immigration. It was a racist speech which cost Powell his career; Berlusconi and his supporters are using far more inflammatory language and few seem to mind. Even Spinelli does not seem to realise the longterm effects of the poison. Whoever wins this weekend, this type of language has been used by the prime minister, not by some neo-fascist maniac on the fringes. It will be difficult to bring Italian political language back to acceptable European levels.
If Pisapia wins in Milan, the city will become a Gypsytown (Zingaropoli) says Berlusconi; it will be a Muslim city and one in which immigrants will take over. And as if that is not enough, it will be Stalingrad (a metaphor for unreformed communism rather than successful resistance to Hitler’s armies) with hammers and sickles taking over as the city symbol. Pisapia is accused of supporting the left-wing “social centres” (centri sociali), stigmatised as hotbeds of anarchist revolution at the same time as supposedly being part of the city’s radical chic, out of touch with reality. He is also accused of wanting to intruduce gay marriage and supporting abortion and euthanasia.
These last are a distortion of reality and are bad enough; the first three are overtly racist and will haunt Italian politics for years to come as the country tries to deal with the real pressures which mass immigration engenders.
Pisapia has indeed said that he is in favour of building a mosque in Milan – Rome already has the largest in Europe together with an Islamic cultural centre since 1995, designed by the distinguished Italian architect, Paolo Portoghesi. The Italian Bishops’ Conference has said that they have nothing against a Milan mosque. Milan has as many as six irregular mosques, one of which in viale Jenner has been accused of encouraging extremisms. All were accepted by Moratti’s administration and her predecessor.
He has also said that legal immigrants should have representation in the city council – in many other cities including Alemanno’s Rome, they already have both the vote and their own councillors. Last year Berlusconi complained that Milan looked like an “African city” and he was not referring to the architecture. He has also said explicitly that he is against “a multiethnic Italy”.
Quite apart from the ethics and legality of this type of racism, Berlusconi and the centre-right are encouraging behaviour which will make integration all the more difficult as his remarks become usable. It is not just Berlusconi who has been playing this tune, but whole sections of the PdL and Lega Nord have been given team orders and they followed them. It is a far cry from forcing Powell to leave politics.
The other remarks are pale in comparison.
Taken all together, they show a desperation which suggests that Berlusconi’s polls (public polls are not permitted in the lead-up to elections) tell him that Moratti will lose the run off. The same is true in Naples except that the centre left is doing its best to show a divided front and allow the centre right to win.
In any case, Berlusconi has said explicitly that he will not resign if the PdL lose Milan and Naples even though he started the campaign staking his future on Moratti’s election and his success as city councillor in Milan.
But in any case, it does not depend on Berlusconi; if those scales in Bossi’s attic weigh much further on the cost side, it will be Bossi who pulls the plug. An opposition victory in Milan and Naples would increase that weight and a government loss in next month’s referendums would probably tip the balance. Bossi could make his move at the League’s summer beano at Legnano on 19 June. That would be spectacular but it’s more likely that they’ll spend the summer negotiating over a possible future government.
In the meantime real political issues are ignored while the politicians play campaign tunes; they are in the doldrums as the constitutionalist Michele Ainis suggested. A correspondent, Yusef Izmirli, pointed out that Italian vessels are supplying Qaddaffi with petrol at the same time as its planes are bombing his facilities. It would be interesting to know how much the government knows about it. Elections are not everything but until Monday evening, we’ll concentrate on them alone.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Humble pie for Berlusconi

The Milan elections were always about much more than who was going to be the next mayor. For more than a month Silvio Berlusconi campaigned as if his premiership and personal reputation depended on it. He stood as a candidate for the council hoping to win more personal preference votes than his 52,000 in the last local elections in 2006. In Italy’s double ballot system (where if no one wins an outright majority in the first round, the two most voted candidates go to a run-off two weeks later), not winning at the first round was to be taken as a slap in the face.
As the votes were counted, it was clear from the beginning that the outgoing mayor, Letizia Moratti had not won a clear majority and that there would be a second round. Much worse for the centre-right, as counting continued, we saw that not only was she second, but she had lost by a large margin. The centre-left’s Giuliano Pisapia had won 48.04% to Moratti’s meagre 41.58% with the same 67.56% turnout as in 2006. As for preference votes, Berlusconi took just over half of the 2006 score; it was a major defeat.
The third blow would be if Pisapia wins the run-off on 29 May. Not quite a knockout for Berlusconi but very serious for the survival of his government. Italy (and Berlusconi) are not like Germany or Britain where the chancellor suffered heavy losses in the March elections in Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden Württemberg, and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats lost the referendum on their plan to change the voting system and took a drubbing in the council elections. There the governments and coalitions in Berlin and London continue but here the sound of creaking timbers is already audible and some might crack under the strain of the loss of Milan.
Berlusconi’s main ally, Umberto Bossi’s Northern League is very unhappy with their alliance with the Popolo della Libertà. Bossi expressed his displeasure after last week’s megabrick. Moratti accused her opponent of having a conviction for car theft (and associating with terrorists) 33 years ago and having been amnestied. In actual fact, he appealed against the amnesty and was given a full aquittal. She made the accusation in the last minute of a live debate so that Pisapia had no time to reply.
If Moratti had been a pitbull politician who delights in savaging friends and foe alike, she might have got away with it. But she is a rather drab upper class Milanese lady who was clearly uncomfortable with her own performance. “To thine own self be true” said Polonius, and she wasn’t and the voters noticed. Berlusconi is certainly true to himself when he berates the judiciary but by now, a lot of conservative Milanese are fed up and either didn’t vote or voted for the centrists who took 5.54%. And then, some were actually voting on Moratti’s lacklustre administration over the last five years.
Whatever happens in a fortnight, yesterday was a triumph for Pisapia, but it is one which will cause the PD some worry. Pisapia was supported in the primaries by Nichi Vendola’s Sinistra Ecologia Libertà against the PD’s candidate. It will be even more difficult now for the PD to refuse primaries to choose the centre-left’s candidate for prime minister.
But however important Milan is, there were another 12 million Italians voting.
The PD can draw some consolation from their victories in Turin and Bologna where their candidates won on the first ballot. Piero Fassino won in Turin, well-known and well-liked senior party leader and former minister (but even he still polled less than the very popular two term mayor Sergio Chiamparino who he will replace 56.66% compared to 66.60%). In Bologna after a very messy selection process and a very strong showing from Beppe Grillo’s Cinque Stelle left wing protest movement (9.40%), the PD candidate scraped in on the first round with 50.46%.
The other big city, Naples, was much more messy. The city has been run by the centre left since 1993 and has been covered in rubbish for most of the last five years. It should have been easy for the centre right to win. But Berlusconi’s triumphalism when he first cleared up the rubbish in 2008 has, like the rubbish itself, come back to haunt him. The buckpassing between central, regional and city governments has reduced confidence in everyone with the result that the centre-right only managed 38.53%. On the other side, once again, there are divisions with the main centre-left candidate from the PD, coming third with 19.15%, beaten by the crusading magistrate, Luigi De Magistris from Di Pietro’s IdV.
In the rest of the country, the message is similar. The centre-right, PdL and LN, have lost but the PD is still not clearly the answer. Grillo has done well as have Di Pietro’s candidates (less the party – it is possible to vote a candidate but not the coalition supporting him). Gianfranco Fini and his Futuro e Libertà faced their first challenge with the polls and did not do well and the other centrists or “Third Poll”, Casini and Rutelli did not do much better.
The only conclusion is that Italians are more and more fed up with politics – turnout was down but only from 72.85% to 71.04, hardly dramatic. They do not like Berlusconi or Bossi, but they don’t love Bersani. Many voted for protest parties, but again, not in dramatic numbers.
The drama will start now as the negotiations for the second round begin; candidates campaigning for themselves but also trying to persuade their former rival candidates support them. Will Grillo declare for the PD? I doubt it. Will the second centre left candidate and the PD in Naples give De Magistris full support? Yes, but grudgingly. Who will Fini and the other centrists support in Milan? They’re already bickering. Most important, what will the Northern League do to the government if they lose Milan…?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Local elections – national repercussions

Local elections are normally fairly tedious affairs, more about street lighting and trams. They become more interesting in Naples where refuse collection (or lack of it) is a major issue but wherever they’re held, they are an indication of what might happen in the next elections, but just an indication, a small blip on the barometer.
But Berlusconi’s Italy is not “normal” as we well know and with 13 million Italians voting on Sunday and Monday there is a lot more at stake than a few city councils. Apart from Milan and Naples, Turin and Bologna will also be electing a new mayor and council along with 1,300 other councils and 11 provinces. Where a candidate does not win an absolute majority, there will be a run-off ballot on 29 May.
As ever, since 1994, the first question is what is Berlusconi’s position; every election since then has in practice been a referendum on one man. The second is how well are the two main coalitions doing (and to a lesser extent, how well is the so-called Third Pole, the centre-right opposition led by Gianfranco Fini). And thirdly, what are the relative strengths of the parties that make up the left and right.
Over the last week, the centre-right has raised the temperature in order to activate their own electorate. Italy is so polarised that there are few floating voters left and one side wins by persuading its sympathisers to go out and vote.
Berlusconi has staked his reputation and position on the Milan election (where he is top of the list for the city council) supporting the outgoing mayor, Letizia Moratti. He has used his court appearances over the last couple of months as an opportunity both to harangue his supporters and schmooze with them, turning his prosecutions into Silvio’s battle with what he calls “the Communist prosecutors”. He has called them a “cancer” and has again attacked the leader of the prosecution team, Ilda Boccassini, a woman who has spent all her working life on mafia, terrorism and corruption cases with considerable success, this time calling her a “metastasis”. This is a month after one of the PdL candidates in Milan had put up posters across the city calling for “The Red Brigades out of the Courts” making the explicit equation of the Milan court with the 1970s terrorists.
As part of the campaign, Berlusconi and his followers have shown a blatant disregard for the truth. Moratti accused her opponent, Giuliano Pisapia of having been convicted of a car theft linked to a terrorist attack 33 years, and then having been amnystied. She did this moments before the end of a live debate on Wednesday, knowing that Pisapia would not have the opportunity to reply. But the broadcast was at 2 pm so that by the evening news and even more by Thursday’s papers, Pisapia was able to show the full extent of the lie. Yesterday, another Milanese PdL representative, Daniela Santanché brandished a newspaper photo on another live talk show saying that Pisapia’s supporters waved Hamas flags. Later it was pointed out that the flag was an Italian NGO.
Berlusconi himself has been saying that “the left” (he never says the “centre-left”) will introduce a wealth tax despite all the PD party literature and leaders explicitly denying the policy.
They are trying to play Don Basilio’s game “La calunnia è un venticello” (“slander is a little breeze” from the Barber of Seville)– a great aria and very convincing but they shouldn’t forget that it is Don Basilio and his louche associate Bartolo who are worsted in the end.
But Berlusconi has once again demonstrated his ability to play to two audiences when he promised Naples an amnesty for illegal building. This might come back to haunt his alliance with the League (Calderoli criticised the move) but not before Sunday. He also became more strident on the immigration issue and has tried to outflank the League on the right.
On the left, the more moderate PD will hope to show that it is the undisputed leader of the centre-left. In Naples, Di Pietro’s IdV is standing against the PD so if as is likely the centre-right does not win on the first round, the two elements of the left will have to come together. In Milan, if Pisapia does well (he was selected as candidate after a primary), then the PD will find it diffucult to refuse a primary for the general elections and there Vendola would give Bersani a good run for his money and quite possibly win.
And there is the “Third Pole”; this is the first elections with Fini, Casini and Rutelli together. If they do well, especially if their vote prevents Moratti winning at the first ballot, then they will look forward happily to the general elections. If they bomb, they will be able to say that after all, these were just local elections and they did not have time to build up a local base and in any case, their star, Fini, was not campaigning.
As ever, whatever the results, there will be solace for all. The figures can be coaxed into demonstrating a victory or at least, not a defeat for just about everyone.
If, as is likely, the League does well with respect to the PdL, we can expect Bossi to up his demands both for policy and positions. For policy, he will want an acceleration of the fiscal devolution to city and regional levels – not just in theory but with laws and policy being genuinely implemented so that he can go to the polls next year or in in 2013 with something concrete to show for his efforts. The other policy move will be anti-immigrant measures, probably more for show that substance as he and his voters actually need immigrant labour to run their factories and look after their families.
He will also be looking for more positions in government; Berlusconi will have to repeat his loaves and fishes act, blessing the undersecretaryships and cabinet posts in order to keep all his supporters happy. Last week he appoint nine new undersecretaries, paying debts for support in December’s vote of confidence and he immediately said that he needed more.
Even if the Moratti were not to win on the first round, or, heaven forbid, actually lose, Berlusconi is unlikely to resign as Massimo D’Alema did when the centre left lost badly in the 2000 regional elections. “I was elected by the Italian people” is the refrain we have often heard “and D’Alema was not”. The most we can expect is perhaps a reshuffle.
Monday afternoon will be interesting for all, not just where they have voted.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Punching below its weight

Tomorrow the Contact Group for Libya meets in Rome. The summit is co-chaired by the Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini and the Qatari prime minister and minister of foreign affairs Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani. Hillary Clinton will be there along with NATO secretary, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the British and French foreign ministers as well as representatives of the Arab League and the Libyan Transitional National Council. In all there will be 23 countries, 7 IGOs and four observer countries.
Italy is a crucial player in the Libyan issue; Italy is Libya’s largest trading partner its first exporter supplying 17.5% and taking 20% of Libya’s exports equivalent to 4.6% of Italy’s imports, almost all oil and gas, fifth after Germany, France, China and the Netherlands. Until the February crisis, Libya supplied Italy with a quarter of its oil and 10% of its gas. Unfreezing Libyan oil and assets is an important item on tomorrow’s agenda, especially for Italy. There are Libyan investments in the engineering giant Finmeccanica, the UniCredit bank, the formerly public energy company ENI and even the Turin football club Juventus. In 2008 Qaddaffi and Berlusconi signed a much trumpeted friendship agreement.
The two countries have historical links as Italy was the colonial power from 1911 to 1943 and they are almost contiguous.
Apart from the close mutual involvement of economic and security interests between the two countries, Italy is still an important player on the world stage. Its economy is seventh or eighth in the world. It is a major contributor to UN agencies both in money and peacekeepers and it is one of the EU’s big four.
By just about any measure, Italy should be at the forefront of international affairs (“the least of the great powers” as it was once called) and should be leading the international community in its attempts to resolve the Libyan crisis.
And yet this is clearly not the case. Since Douglas Hurd declared that Great Britain “punched above its weight” it has been a conceit of UK foreign policy that Britain achieves more than its hard power should give it. This may or may not be true for Britain but Italy undoubtedly punches well below its weight and the present Libyan issue is a perfect illustration.
The eternal problem is Italy’s lack of reliability. As Corriere della Sera commentator and former diplomat, Sergio Romano put it in 1993, Italy is equivocal and marked by “the anxiety to participate and the desire to avoid the rule of participation”. (Or as Bismark put it a century before “Poor Italy, such a big appetite but such poor teeth”).
With Italian planes flying combat missions over Libya, the Northern League first said that Italy should not be fighting and threatened to bring the government down if the Italian air force continued bombing Libya. As we know, this was posturing in view of the local elections on 15 May but it does send out a very peculiar message to Italy’s partners and allies at tomorrow’s summit. There are three League cabinet members and if the League deputies voted against a motion in either house, the government would lose the vote (unless of course the opposition supported them, but that would still mean a minority government).
In the event, a compromise was reached and this morning, the League and the main government party, Berlusconi’s People of Freedom voted a motion which purports to put an end date to the military action and underlines Italy’s constitutional rejection of war. It and the League’s first draft could well have been written by pacifists on the left in the past while today, the centre-left and the centrist opposition support the NATO action against Qaddaffi.
The whole Libyan crisis has been marked by ambiguity in Italy. The 2008 treaty still has not been revoked so, in law at least, Italy is committed “not to interfere in Libya’s internal affairs” and to “not allow its territory to be used for hostile acts against Libya”.
Two months ago, Berlusconi said that Qaddaffi should not be disturbed and then that he was upset at the thought of a friend of his being attacked. Finally, he allowed Italian aircraft to fly combat missions even though it is almost certain that they were already doing so before the official order. Immediately afterwards, the government almost falls because half of them do not want to go to war.
It is easy to criticise the present government but the centre-left has been equally ambiguous or uncertain. In 1999, D’Alema denied that Italian aircraft were attacking Kosovo and Serbia (in order to protect his own left flank) while they were in fact very active. And in 2007, the Prodi government lost a vote on the financing of missions abroad and was only saved when the centre-right came to help. A year later, the government did actually fall, two years into its mandate, showing the world that longterm cooperation was uncertain and difficult.
Then there are the personalities. Leave aside Berlusconi’s endless bricks, when his foreign minister, Frattini appeared on BBC Newshour during the first Libya Contact Group meeting interviewed by Jeremy Paxman, he showed why the US dispatches called him a messenger boy; not a figure to inspire confidence.
Three weeks ago, at an EU meeting in Luxembourg, three Italian ministers gave a hurried statement in a corridor and refused to take press questions, while other countries’ ministers were holding serious press conferences.
Only yesterday, Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa was caught on camera during a talk show asking his gopher “Who is Lukashenko?” That was just for domestic consumption but La Russa is such a caricature of the Fascist bully that his European colleagues must think he was sent by Central Casting.
Other prime ministers, foreign and defence ministers have had better manners and have been better able to deal with the press and foreign colleagues but none have been able to overcome the fundamental unreliability of Italian foreign policy. So even tomorrow, when Italy should be at the centre of the ring, it will still be punching below its weight.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Holy Royal Humbug

Ebenezer Scrooge thought that any festivities were humbug, particularly Christmas and anything else which might stop him making money and which disrupted his normal way of life. I can sympathise – not so much about the money which I’m not very good at but certainly about the disruption. Last week I was in London which was preparing for the Royal Wedding and this weekend I am a fugitive from Rome which has been invaded by a million or so people celebrating the beatification of Pope John Paul II.

There are many similarities in the two gatherings.
Both are massive media and public events calling for organisation, security and media management; both have invited huge commercial exploitation and speculation with huge costs for the two cities and huge benefits for the private sector. Unlike big sporting events or music festivals, both are quintessentially political celebrations as a show of power and influence with a significant presence of heads of state and government with no doubt quite a lot of informal diplomacy going on at both. The beatification is explicitly religious while the wedding (apart from being a religious ceremony) involves the future head of the Church of England. Both are organised by probably today’s two greatest masters of pomp and ceremony, the Vatican and the British Crown.
The two entities are also very expertly reconciling their traditional roots which go back a thousand years for one and 1,500 for the other (as a political power) with the 20th C. need for some popular legitimacy and the 21st C. obligation to exploit all the media available. They are using the web and social media to present the events to widest possible audiences to consolidate their status and prestige in the world.
But there are major differences in the two ceremonies.
The wedding has done much to consolidate the institution of the British monarchy (and for all the other countries which have Queen Elizabeth as their head of state). The institution is solid and reliable at the same time as providing celebrity glamour and material for the gossip columns – but above all, it is a symbol of national identity, culture and life. Someone who leads the mourning in tragic times and the celebration in good times. For the most part, a constitutional monarch puts flesh on the abstraction because most of us need something real rather than imagined.

Along with presidents in parliamentary republics, they have an advantage over executive presidents in that they do not take political decisions. If a prime minister messes up, then he or she leaves without damaging the symbol. The monarchs have the slight edge over presidents because if one of them is a mess, we can blame genes not ourselves for having elected him or her. They have another advantage over presidents in their continuity. We all have families so can identify with them in some distant sort of way.
It is true, they are hardly democratic and reinforce privilege and are expensive (but the Italian presidency costs more than the British monarchy) but for those that still have them, a monarchy is an effective way of filling the symbolic function. Plato spoke of the need for founding myths 2,500 years ago and we can allow ourselves a myth or two when the worst that might come of it is a lot of young women getting married in imitation Kate dresses.
The other ceremony is far from representing a myth. It honours the man who led the Roman Catholic Church for longer than all but one pope and who transformed the Church more than any other pope since the Reformation.
Karol Woytila had been a parish priest and diocesan bishop for most of his ecclesiastical life before becoming pope and as such he worked with ordinary catholics and the Polish authorities rather than with diplomats and the curia like most of his immediate predecessors. After his election, he used his charm not only to engage with Rome and the faithful but to project the Church across the world, both catholic and non-catholic. He developed the timid outreach of John XXIII (another pontiff of enormous charm and carisma but without Woytila’s media skills) and the official visits that Paul VI had begun. And he did it in a big way. For the first time, the spiritual head of the Roman Catholic communion was not just the leader of millions, he was actually a presence in most of their countries.
John Paul II gave moral and financial support to his fellow Poles fighting against Soviet and Communist control and undoubtedly gave an important contribution to the final fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union.
He is being recognised for revitalising the Church and bringing spiritual enthusiasm to millions of young people and for his contribution to ending the Cold War.
But he represents so much more.
As leader of the Church he refused to act when told about the sexual abuse allegations in the US, Ireland and elsewhere. He defended Fr. Maciel, the founder of the Legionnaires of Christ, a brilliant organiser and fundraiser but also a priest with two families and abuser of children, and refused to allow investigations to be completed.
While modernising the medium, he kept his message rigorously mediæval. There was to be no contemplation of relaxing the celibacy rules for clergy; along with his successor, he rejected any other truth outside the one decreed by himself. He spoke with other religions and their leaders but on many occasions he reiterated the absolute truth of the Roman Catholic truth and the error of other Christians not to mention other religions or worse, no religion at all. To emphasise this point of view, he beatified Pius IX, the man who invented the doctrine of papal infallibility. Like Pius IX, but 150 years, John Paul was an enemy of the enlightenment and 19th and 20th C. modernity.
In politics, he was a severe critic of those catholics who wanted a less hierarchical church from Latin American clerics like Boff or Romero who was assassinated for his activities. In Europe he suspended theologians like Hans Küng from his job. At the same time, he welcomed and honoured General Pinochet and then interceded with the British government for him to be released during the extradiction proceedings to Spain for murder.
Finally, he was a man who spoke much about peace and indeed in 2003 used Vatican diplomacy to try and prevent the invasion of Iraq, but on the three occasions during his papacy when it was catholics who were the murderers rather than the victims, he did nothing.
In Ruanda, Bosnia and Northern Ireland, I am not aware of any condemnation and sanction of the killers. His predecessors were quick to excommunicate their enemies from Victor Emmanuel II to the Italian Communists in the ‘40s and Woytila could have threatened Ruandan génocidaire priests, on Bosnian Croats and Irish catholic nationalists. In Northern Ireland, he did issue a joint statement with the primate of the Church of Ireland when he visited, not quite the same as a direct condemnation and excommunication of the Omagh bombers.
By beatifying John Paul II, the Roman Catholic Church sends out a disturbingly fundamentalist image of itself. And, a small point, by disregarding its own rules that beatification processes cannot start until five years after the death of the candidate, the Church tells us that rules do not apply to the popular and powerful – a dangerous precedent.
So today’s ceremony in St. Peter’s Square is very different from Friday’s in Westminster Abbey and not just because of the different faces on the mugs

. Humbug perhaps but with very different messages.