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Italy: the North rules again
by Newropeans-Magazine
2008-04-16 09:10:13
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Berlusconi is back at Government, as all foreign media already noticed and underlined, with some not-really-hidden sarcasm about that political figure and the country's destiny: but that's not the point.

I can understand that, seen from abroad, it appears a collective delirium: but, more than for other countries, in Italy it's true that you have to live inside, in order to understand. To have born and grown into that context, not only a national one, but even in a regional one: southern Italians can understand Berlusconi, but cannot understand the Northern League; and the citizens living in the North cannot understand some southern political phenomena.

As I already explained last week, Berlusconi's main rival, Veltroni, wasn't actually anything new, he didn't represent any new political line, any really new political party: he wasn't a real alternative.

Someone who has been elected the first time when he was 20, and since then made an uninterrupted career in the Communist party (later moving closer to the center, with new names: PDS, DS, now Democrats after the merge with a centrist party) is not really new. His proposals were not really new, his communication was not really new. But the heaviest for him was Prodi's heritage: Italy was coming out of a center-left disastrous pot-pourri, a non-government which has lasted just 18 months: difficult to imagine a country choosing the same people.

On the other side, Berlusconi is anagraphically older, but politically younger: he has a huge conflict of interests (but Italians seem to accept it, if in exchange they can hope in some concrete political decision), his government was far from perfection, but at least he has been the first to last an entire legislature (Italy had more or less 60 governments, since World War II).

There would be much more to say, on both of them: but let's put them apart and consider already clear that the choice made by the Italians is maybe cinical, but anyway not as absurd as it could seem.

Let's talk about the title I gave to the article: a Northern rule on Italy. What was actually new in the first Berlusconi's government was the comeback of the North into politics: most of the ministers came from the northern, dynamic regions – and this created some tensions with a part of the coalition, more rooted in the South -.

Now, this effect is even stronger, as Northern League becomes the third party in Italy, with more than 8% in average (which means far more than 20% in most of the North-Eastern regions).

The reaction abroad was horrified, from what I saw on some newspapers, and some superficial analysts already said that Berlusconi will have huge problems with that party, comparing them to the French Front National – which is quite absurd: one asks for federalism, the others are nationalists -. But if you ignore some words, and you go into the facts, you can remark that this movement has actually been until now the only reformist one in Italy (and its ministers were the only ones completing the promised reforms, in the last Berlusconi's government). Northern League unites floklore and populism, muscled words, with some more pragmatic attitudes when stepping into the government's palaces. It's in some way appreciated, but it's still not the main reason for so many votes. The point is: Italy has a huge problem in the South, and a huge question in the North. Lombardy is the second most industrialized region in Europe, Veneto is also one of the richest: the most of this economic power comes from a network of small and medium-sized firms, and what did they ask to the political world until now? Nothing, just to not care too much on them. But Rome did the contrary: they have been massacred, with bureacracy and taxes. And all this not to help a development in the South, but just to pay someone's political friends, to give some money to the organized crime, to finance Rome parties and to pay for every crisis of the big public, para-public or semi-private firms like Alitalia, Fiat or Olivetti.

Italy has been dominated, until 1861, by several powers: Savoy in the north-west (Piedmont), Bourbon in the South, the Vatican in the Center, and the Austrians in the North-East: Savoy, Bourbon and Vatican put the State above everything; in the North-East, under the Absburg, it was quite different, and there was a certain sense of economic dynamism, an embrio of freedom, and a sense of political responsability (partly heritage of the venitian domination).

Take an historical map of Italy, take the map of the distribution of votes in all occasions in the last years, and super-pose them: you'll easily remark that the zones which were dominated by the Austrians always vote for Berlusconi and Bossi, as they always said they want less State; and where there were a statalist-minded domination you still have another political tendence.

Recently, a constitutional reform, trying to impose a federal system, was rejected in the country, but massively approved in the north-eastern regions: beginning of a secession? No, just continuing the historical separation: actually, Italy never has been completely united.

Let's see how it will work in the new government: personally, I don't think Berlusconi will have an easy life in the coming five years, but the main problems will not come from the Northern League, but from parts of the National Alliance, which have been zeroed into the new conglomeration, PDL, with Berlusconi as a leader. Still not a unique party, the PDL coalition risks to implode because of the tensions inside that party, which doesn't have anymore a defined identity.

Berlusconi's majority, this time, is stronger than ever before: he has a huge margin. Still, it will not be easy for him to rule the country, especially in a bad economic situation like now and with some electoral campaigns (local and european) coming very, very soon.

Diego Malcangi
Milano - Italia

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Emanuel Paparella2008-04-16 11:42:14
Intriguing article, written obviously by a Northern Italian who seems to long for the good old days of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and the Venetian Republic (alas, subjugated by that Italian Napoleon). He does have a point however in his statement that Italy has never been unified. How could it, given that at the very point of its unification in 1961 its chief architect Benso de Cavour said "now that we have made Italy we need to make the Italians. The Northern Lega may suggest to Berlusconi a solution and Berlusconi may actually propose it to the Italian people: why don't we cut Italy in two drawing a line from Rome to Pescara and let the Southern half join the African continent so that they will no longer belong to the EU and everybody will be happy? Could it be that now that we have made Europe we need to make the Europeans and that soccer games will not do the trick? As Manzoni quipped in his poem dedicated to the death of Napoleon The Fifth of May: to posterity the hard answer.

Emanuel Paparella2008-04-16 11:43:25
Errata above: Italian unification happened in 1861.

Emanuel Paparella2008-04-16 11:49:37
P.S. The rhetorical question Manzoni asked in the above mentioned poem was this: was it true glory?

Emanuel Paparella2008-04-16 12:23:32
As far as Berlusconi returning to power is concerned, what can one say? It's groundhog day again and since Berlusconi may live to 180 we'll have him around for another 100 years returning regularly on groundhog day. By that time the war in Iraq will be over and he and McCain may die in peace.

Eva2008-04-16 21:57:04
Malcangi: "Italy was coming out of a center-left disastrous pot-pourri, a non-government which has lasted just 18 months: difficult to imagine a country choosing the same people."

Hm. So what exactly are they doing now...? Choosing new people? Choosing a new route? New strategies? New ideas? Yeah, right.

But never mind me, I'm sure everything will be fine, it will all be plain sailing now, all the way to Nirvana...

Sorry for my sarcasm, but I just find it quite unbelievable, this spell that Berlusconi seems to have over the Italians. Unbelieveable, yet somehow the result didn't surprise me.

Anyway, I agree 100% with the fact that Italy has never been unified. The question is, will it ever?

Emanuel Paparella2008-04-17 06:08:14
Indeed, Mr. Malcangi has not understood that Berlusconi has understood quite well the injunction of the Prince of Salina to his nephe in Tomasi di Lampedusa's Il Gattopardo: "dobbiamo cambiare tutto così che tutto rimanga lo stesso" (we must change everything so that everything will remain the same). Or perhaps he has not understood it because he has never read the novel; he is merely repeating history because he knows not the history of the whole of Italy. Groundhog day! To know that much one need not have to live in Italy; reading Il Gattopardo will do.

Malcangi2008-05-08 02:04:07
In fact no, it's not going to be better with Berlusconi, I never said that. But the outgoing one was now Prodi, and his government has in fact been a disaster. In an older article on Newropeans Magazine, I foresaw the 50-50 result in the 2006 elections, and I expressed the hope that the need of a grand coalition - impossible with the two fighting leaders - could free Italy from both. But Prodi insisted trying to govern a country with such a slight and fragmented majority...
Anyway, in this article (which is not an encyclopaedia, but just an article) I'm not saying that you have to live in Italy in order to understand Berlusconi (I don't), but that you have to be there in order to understand why they voted for him. Otherwise, we could just think that the electors are poor imbecils...
About Northern League: I didn't say that their reforms were good, but just that they completed them, and they were the only ones. If Italy had any more serious parties able to do that job, the Northern League would have no reason to exist and it would probably be better for everyone.
Il Gattopardo: unfortunately, it works for every Italian party. When they'll stop to act in a conservative way, just to keep power, Italian unification will be closer.

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