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Empire of the clowns returns
by Thanos Kalamidas
2008-01-26 10:00:39
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Frankly I find it difficult following Italian politics most of the time, there is somehow always something that confuses me and the consociations between parties and politicians seem so fragile and changing all the time that totally confuses me. At the same time I do understand how passionate my Italian friends can be in this labyrinth that has a bit of everything, conspiracy, crime, ideas, sex, corruption, Cosa Nostra and even the Vatican.

For the last decade all these things looked like an iceberg with Berlusconi on the top and somehow Romano Prodi looked like the only hope to get away from all that, after the dark times of the billionaire TV mogul Berlusconi looked like the only way to transparency and finally the last chance to get some credibility and perhaps some of the old glory inside the European community.

Romano Prodi was the President of the EU commission and he was there when the EU expanded, a historical moment for Europe. He didn’t do miracles and in a lot of cases he compromised without good reason but he managed to keep a good balance between a union with a lot of differences that tried to come so close that in the end to have a common foreign policy and common finance; not an easy job. Perhaps what helps us to see better Prodi's achievements, while president of the EU Commission, is the controversial policy of Jose Manuel Barosso.

The least the Italians were expecting from Romano Prodi on his return to Italian politics was the experience he earned in balancing between sensitive alliances and led the country out of the deadlock Berlusconi was leading the country with his acts. I haven’t said that Prodi did a fantastic job in Brussels, on the contrary he did w few mistakes and I think his worst was the increasing bureaucracy and his fear to discontent any of the main forces inside EU led him often to compromises beyond understanding. But I have to admit that the difficult work to transmit the Europe of the 200 million to Europe of nearly half a billion is mainly his work apart of the increasing good relations and open market with major African and Asian countries. However on his return it was proved to be easier standing and negotiating between Blair and Chirac than between the parties that constituted his government.

I find difficult to believe that Prodi’s government had to resign and Berlusconi is getting ready for the big return, the man who has been charged with a series of criminal acts and the only thing that saved him was that as Prime Minister he changed one law after the other to help him get out of all these prosecutions. An Italian friend with good knowledge into Italian politics said that if it is Berlusconi to return then it is much better if Prodi stays exactly where he is.

The odd thing is that the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano seems to have the same opinion and is trying to avoid a new election that might lead the country into a new economic crisis asked Mr. Prodi to favour an interim government that will push the needed electoral reforms. The present electoral law that was voted the last period of Berlusconi’s governing gives power to smaller parties that hold only few seats in the parliament and that were because of the position most of the members inside Berlusconi’s coalition had. Naturally Berlusconi disagrees with that demanding elections straight away and planning his return to the Prime Minister’s office and his pushing to this direction even leading his supporters in the streets of Rome.

Somehow these are scary news not only for Italy but for all Europe since Nicolas Sarkozy was not enough for Europe’s clown now we have the great return of his mentor; it is like a part of the Star Wars trilogy, the empire of the clowns return!

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Emanuel Paparella2008-01-26 12:03:03
Indeed Thanos, I once expressed to a colleague the same perplexity on the difficulty of understanding the Byzantine byways of Italian politics. He suggested that the remedy was to reflect on the nexus between the poetics of Fellini’s movies and Pirandello’s plays. I was puzzled at first, but in retrospect it makes sense. Practically all of Fellini’s movies have scenes of circus and clowns and even those who are not clowns wear Pirandellian masks. They have worn them for so long that they no longer know the difference between their selves and their masks. Moreover, you’re quite right, the existential predicament one can discern in Fellini’s movies and Pirandello’s plays presently belongs to the whole of the EU. Fellini, had he been alive, would not have hesitated to expand his camera’s scope beyond Rome.

Emanuel Paparella2008-01-26 12:23:05
P.S. I forgot to mention that one of the insights of the above mentioned colleague was that humor is nothing else but taking what is absurd and try to prove it logically. Sort of Charlie Chaplin's portrayal of Hitler, or Mussolini, or Berlusconi or Sarkozy for that matter.

Thanos2008-01-26 12:56:57
I was reading an article lately in the ‘Repubblica’ and I was quite surprised to find out that are people, families but especially older people who face serious financial problems nowadays in Italy, there are even cases when they cannot be sure if they will actually have food the next day. I know that sometimes newspapers exaggerate things but still this is a very worrying sign especially if it is building up the last decade. I’ve been critical to Romano Prodi while he was in EU, but unfortunately the return of Berlusconi scares more and Italy needs equanimity after so long in scandals. The pictures from the Italian parliament we saw in all the media were not the best either.

Eva2008-01-26 13:21:07
While I lived in Italy I found that people I asked about it never admitted voting for Berlusconi, yet somehow they secretly seemed to admire him.
I don't know if you know the Italian word 'furbo', it doesn't translate very well, but it's something like 'cunning'.
It fascinated me at the time that in Italy, this word - which is often used when describing a "semi crook" (I heard it often in discussions about Berlusconi) - is something positive. I got the feeling that many Italians admired Berlusconi for the fact that he got away with things and couldn't be caught.
This was my opinion, anyway - no Italian admitted to me they thought that. "Others" thought that, but certainly not them...

Emanuel Paparella2008-01-26 14:02:08
Indeed Eva, bull's eye! There is a book by Carlo Sgorlon title Il Paese dei Furbi (the country of the shrewds) where he makes the ironic point that if Italians put all that energy that they put in being "furbi" into being honest they would use 50% less of it and accomplish much more. The myth of Mussolini is certainly misplaced: as Guicciardini pointed out to Machiavelli, calling Italians descendants of the Romans is like calling a donkey a noble horse. So the question then is: if the Italians are not Romans, who are they?

Were somebody to ask me how do I beging to understand Italian politics I would recommend Sgorlon's book. Also that wonderful movie by Francesco Rosi called The Three Brothers wherein three brothers come together to bury their mother: one is a communist, the other a Christian Democrat, and the other a Liberal. Not many critics, included those who nominated it for an Oscar, realized that the mother, whose coffin the brothers carry at the end of the movie, is a metaphor for Italy. Musings!

Emanuel Paparella2008-01-26 14:15:34
Indeed, Thanos, I just received a manuscript for consultation by a Roman author (Stefano Giusti)which you may soon see in print, who interviews seven unemployed Italians, titled Non ho l'età (I don't have the right age). The first interviewee Patrizia (in her early fifties) in describing the sad vicissitudes of her being laid off and not being unable to find another job and having difficulties even feeding hersel, at one point says this: I wish I was living in a less prosperous country, then poverty would be a little easier to take since it would be shared. That's mouthful of food for thought, you'd probably agree.

Eva2008-01-26 14:21:23
Paparella, I read "The Dark Heart of Italy", by Tobias Jones, which I found enlightning as a foreigner in Italy. I've heard of Sgorlon's book but not read it, maybe one day..

Emanuel Paparella2008-01-26 23:23:48
Another informative book on the Italians is Lugi Barzini's The Italians which came out some forty years ago but still relevant in my opinion. Everything helps, I suppose, to decipher the enigma that are the Italians. In my opinion, the question Who are the Italians has not been adequately answered yet, not to speak of the Europeans.

I might add that the only thing that remains unhelpful are the ridiculously shallow stereotypizations and caricatures (such as that of all Italians eating pizza and spaghetti, and carrying knives which they use at soccer games,that they all belong to the mafia and all sing O sole mio on a mandolin. Unfortunately that phenomenon persists in America; it reveals an abysmal and boorish ignorance of anything Italian which often even a trip to Italy does not cure. There has been a wiff of it even in the pages of Ovi recently. Judging from your response to Thanos article the Ovi reader is a bit more sophisticated than that and that is inceed reassuring.

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