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Italian report Italian report
by Euro Reporter
2010-12-16 10:00:49
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Berlusconi seeks fresh start after bitter Italy vote

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi sought to woo rebel deputies on Wednesday, a day after surviving a vote that saw tumultuous scenes in parliament and set off some of the worst violence in Rome in years. "The wall between politics and the country" said an editorial in Turin daily La Stampa, which headlined its front page "Berlusconi wins, guerrilla warfare in Rome." Tuesday's no-confidence motion, which left the government clinging on by just three votes, was widely seen as a humiliation for Gianfranco Fini, Berlusconi's estranged former ally, who failed to bring down the 74-year-old premier. "I'm not looking at an agreement with political groups but I'm looking at individual deputies who feel betrayed by Fini, who took them into opposition with the left," Berlusconi told Canale 5, part of his own Mediaset Empire.

But the vote was also seen as a sign of deep-seated weakness in Italy's institutions and a warning of more trouble ahead unless Berlusconi, mired in scandals over his personal life and tax affairs, can put his struggling government on a secure footing. "The last chance to guide the country," said Stefano Folli, an editorialist in financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore. "Either there is a serious move to widen the government, on the basis of negotiations conducted in the full light of day and based on a joint commitment, or we will be slipping towards early elections," he said. There was widespread shock at the violent protests which broke out in Rome after the vote, which echoed an ill-tempered debate in parliament punctuated by shouts and insults and briefly interrupted by scuffles.

Maintenance crews moved through the historic city centre into the early hours of Wednesday, cleaning up after street battles between police and demonstrators who threw smoke bombs, pulled up paving stones and torched several cars. "I think people are fed up, it's as simple as that," said Rome student Giulia Marinari. "Yesterday the fact that the government won by only three votes shows indecision even within the government." Berlusconi has made clear that his offer to include moderates from other parties in his centre-right government does not include Fini, after an irrevocable break down in relations following their bitter split this year. The UDC, heirs to the old Christian Democratic Party, have so far rejected Berlusconi's offer and said that if there were an early election, they would join forces with Fini's new Future and Freedom (FLI) group and the smaller API. Fini, UDC leader Pier Ferdinando Casini and Francesco Rutelli, the former mayor of Rome who heads the API are due to meet later on Wednesday to discuss their position.


Italy’s great survivor clings to power

Silvio Berlusconi must have strong fingernails. Amid violence on Rome’s streets and fisticuffs in its parliament, Italy’s prime minister has clung on to power by the narrowest of margins. On Tuesday, he defeated a no-confidence motion by 314 votes to 311. This is a bad result for all concerned. Mr Berlusconi may strive to portray himself as the winner of this week’s intrigue. But he has won nothing more than a Pyrrhic victory. He has lost his absolute majority in the lower house of parliament; a substantial number of his former colleagues now sit in opposition. This will make governing all but impossible. With European debt markets on edge, Italy could do without an impaired political decision-making process. Mr Berlusconi has two options. He could resign in an attempt to force early elections. Or he can try to expand his coalition. His preference is for the latter: on Tuesday he indicated that he was open to an alliance with the centrist UDC, led by Pier Ferdinando Casini.

The UDC rebuffed his overtures. So Mr Berlusconi will have to pick off individual politicians and persuade them to back him. His performance this week suggests he may succeed. But this is hardly a recipe for effective or stable government.  In fact, the wrangling will merely put off Mr Berlusconi’s reckoning until the next crisis. That may not be too far away. Sandro Bondi, the culture minister, and one of Mr Berlusconi’s main party managers, has a no-confidence vote of his own hanging over him. A defeat could sink the government. Yet although the government is in the mire, its opponents have little to celebrate. Their failure to take advantage of its floundering serves only to highlight their own disarray. Despite pushing hard for a no-vote, Gianfranco Fini, the speaker, and Mr Berlusconi’s ally-turned-foe, saw four of his own grouping vote to save the government. Mr Fini now faces calls for his resignation as speaker.

But the biggest loser, as so often during Mr Berlusconi’s farcical premierships, is Italy. The violence that accompanied Tuesday’s vote was the worst since the 1970s. Just as damaging, though, is the political paralysis the vote will prolong. The world’s seventh-largest economy needs reform. One in four youths is unemployed; growth is less than anaemic; national debt has hit €1,800bn. Mr Berlusconi has proven beyond all doubt that he is incapable of dealing with these challenges. Italy’s tragedy is that no one more capable has emerged to dislodge him.


Collapse of ancient Roman city of Pompeii raises questions

The embarrassing collapse of buildings at the ancient Roman city of Pompeii has reignited debate in Italy over conservation, amid warnings that budget cuts could trigger fresh degradation of key sites. “Italian cultural heritage is at risk of falling apart,” said Pier Giovanni Guzzo, the former head of the archaeological site of Pompeii. Pompeii, which was entombed by the massive eruption of the nearby Mount Vesuvius volcano in AD 79, is one of the most visited sites in the world, receiving around three million tourists each year. But according to Mr Guzzo: “There hasn’t been the necessary conservation carried out.”

Late last month a 12-metre-long wall collapsed, with experts blaming persistent heavy rain. It was the second collapse in the month, after the House of the Gladiators crumbled on November 6. Cuts in Italy’s cultural budget are having a devastating impact on the country’s heritage, putting many monuments and archaeological digs at risk, said Mr Guzzo. Nor is Pompeii the only site affected: Last March, part of the roof of the Domus Aurea – the Golden House – in Rome collapsed. The huge villa, built by Emperor Nero in 64 AD after the great fire of Rome, lies just a few feet away from the Colosseum, which is also showing signs of wear and tear. The culture budget has been shrinking for several years as Italy continues to struggle with laggard economic growth and mounting debt. This year the budget dropped to €5 billion, down from €7 billion two years ago. “The cuts have a real impact. Staff who retires aren’t replaced, leading to a dwindling number of specialised staff with the skills necessary for conserving the site,” he said.

Mr Guzzo said the lack of funds had directly contributed to the poor condition of walls and ancient buildings in Pompeii. Archaeologists and tourism industry professionals say a greater priority should be placed on preserving the country’s heritage. “Our heritage is vast and very fragile,” said Marcella Bagnasco, head of Italy’s national Tourist Guide Association. “We’re not only talking about 16th century paintings but also about objects, about monuments that are thousands of years old. Italy should be doing much more to take care of them,” she added. Maurizio Quagliuolo from Herity, an association which campaigns for quality maintenance of Italy’s cultural heritage, said the government has yet to realise the significance in terms of the country’s economy. “The problem today is that Italy has still not understood that its cultural assets should not be considered a luxury when the economy is in crisis, but rather as a fundamental part of recovery,” he said. While a recent attempt by Italian authorities to rise private sponsorship to restore the Colosseum flopped, heritage experts are still hoping to find extra sources of funding from somewhere. “We have no problem with where the money comes from: as the Emperor Vespasien said: Pecunia non olet, money has no smell,” said Mr Guzzo. “The problem with private sponsors is that there isn’t a policy of tax optimisation for private investments, which works well in the United States,” he said. The Colosseum may yet be saved from Pompeii’s fate however.

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Emanuel Paparella2010-12-16 15:03:19
What happened to Pompei lately and may soon happen to the Coliseum is ominous for our allegedly “superior” civilization. In reality, the Romans and Greeks built buildings and roads that have lasted for millennia. We moderns are incapable of simply preserving them and keeping them standing, never mind restoring them to their original splendor. Will any of our current buildings and roads be around in two thousand years? Doubtful! Look at Venice: one thousand people leave it every year; it is slowly becoming a museum where only tourists are seen; and when it does become a museum there will be no money to preserve it as such, nor will there be any anguish over it, for by then modern man will not be able to distinguish beauty from ugliness. Fortunately the Pantheon is still standing just as the Romans built it, as an abject lesson to us self complacent moderns, so in love with our comforts, technology and push-button gadgets, that only what is built well and on solid foundations (and that includes cultural identity and institutions) has a chance at passing the harsh test of time; for a house built on sand will not long endure. The angry protests all over Europe ought to hint at that much. Vico must be turning in his grave.

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