by de Gondi
Mon Nov 19th, 2007 at 05:17:48 AM EST
In the aftermath of the Senate debacle, the Italian rightwing has exploded. Berlusconi launched into what he does best by polarizing the situation with baseless accusations against his allies. In his view he's the only one who shouldered the burden of making opposition. Yet his idea of opposition was to demonize the Prodi government as illegitimate. Berlusconi saw himself as invested with a sovereign right to topple the government in the name of the people. He therefore forbid his allies to dialogue with the government as is normal institutional praxis. His approach was entirely destructive without offering an alternative project.
He had fair game with the internal skirmishes of the Prodi coalition. Berlusconi's last minute 2005 electoral law had forced parliamentary bipolarism into a straightjacket. The only possibility to win general elections was to form broad heterogeneous coalitions subject to the blackmail of every possible local phenomena hastily turned into a political party or a power broker. Further the law was so construed as to make it impossible to have a clear majority in the Senate. The result is the largest government in Italian history in terms of ministers and vice-ministers. In the end the government itself has become a parliament of opposing factions and protagonisms in which the Council President and his staff must mediate and negotiate policy and bills before presenting them to parliament. But unlike parliament the government is not bound by majority rule. In short, a Clemente Mastella, Minister of Justice, who garnered 1,4% of the popular vote can take down the government if he alone doesn't like an article in a bill. To hell with collegiate decisions.
The Center of the Prodi coalition has been the most vociferous in its attacks on the Leftist parties within the coalition. My impression is that the Left has stuck to its principles yet has been very realist in negotiating its aims. It has swallowed many a bitter pill despite being the electoral backbone of the coalition. It's the Left that has the most to loss if it pulls out of the coalition, which may partially explain why it is so heavily attacked or scapegoated by both the Center and Berlusconi. The Center is always up for grabs, the Left not.
Because Berlusconi had radicalized the political setting, the annual budget law passed the Senate with the opposition in disarray, incapable of proposing meaningful debate. It was the first time in six years that a spending bill had passed the Senate without resorting to a confidence vote. Despite Berlusconi's very large margin in the Senate in the previous legislature he always resorted to confidence voting (essentially because his bills were an offence to civilization.)
Berlusconi's neo-ex-allies (Allianza Nazionale, UDC and Lega Nord) have launched an ultimatum that Berlusconi should backtrack by Monday (November 19th) from his sterile war-like behaviour and engage in constructive opposition to the Prodi government. His major allies, Fini and Casini, bluntly lay the blame at his door for the defeat and refuse to accept Berlusconi's insulting remarks against them as political hacks and lazy ne'er-do-wells. Berlusconi had after all insisted on taking on the Philistines all by himself. "'Ghe pensi mi"- "I'll handle it"- like any enterprising boss.
But Berlusconi's tactics were strange as often they were aimed at his own allies. Perhaps because Gianfranco Fini is the only palatable rightwing candidate who would stand a chance against the designated future Left candidate, Walter Veltroni, he opened a front within his own coalition to weaken Fini. Just as he had previously fired Marco Follini as Secretary of the UDC in 2005, he encouraged the break-off of the hard fascist core within Fini's Allianza Nazionale. (He may in the end have done Fini an enormous favour.)
For the past months we've been witness to a crass, obscene campaign against the Senators-for-life, especially Rita Levi Montalcini, Nobel Prize in Medicine, by Francesco Storace. Storace has made a name for himself as a pure, tough fascist implicated in or indicted for political espionage, unlawful intrusion into public archives, falsification of voter lists, corruption and kickbacks in Regional and State Health services and more. Whereas in many nations his curriculum would be a sufficient motivation to induce one to retire from political activity and possibly spend some time in the slammer, in Italy it's a prerequisite to get elected to parliament or to found a party. Which is exactly what Senator Storace did. With Berlusconi once again at the baptismal fount.
It comes as no surprise that Berlusconi would once again bless a fledging fascist party. During the 2006 national elections the extreme right wing was part of his coalition and when Alessandra Mussolini invited him to the first convention of her fascist-chic Social Action Party in March, he was greeted with chants of "Duce! Fuehrer!" He has declared that he shares their values and principles, that his heart vibrates with theirs. (Repubblica 28.03.2007, page 12; 01.04.2007, page 9) During his five years in office he never attended a Liberation Day Commemoration (April 25th). Sort of like Sarkozy refusing to honour July 14th or Bush July 4th.
It's no wonder Mike Stern organized his speech to the American Congress at the height of the 2006 electoral campaign. Or recently remarked in an interview that Prodi would never have access as Berlusconi did to the America that counts.
Since the Senate debacle Berlusconi has embarked on a highly publicized and anti-institutional crusade against the government and now claims to have garnered over seven million signatures within a matter of hours petitioning for new elections. He has defied his allies and has just launched a new party temporarily known as "il Partito del popolo delle libertà," the Party of the People of Freedoms. His natural allies would be the new fascist party put together by Francesco Storace, "La Destra," that broke away from Fini's Allianza Nazionale last week in a triumph of anti-Semitism, as well as the galaxy of extreme rightwing parties that gravitate around Alessandra Mussolini. The Lega Nord under Bossi would also be an ally. (While Bossi signed the petition, Roberto Maroni will go to see the major leftist political broker, Walter Veltroni, to open discussions on electoral reform.)
Berlusconi's blitzkrieg actions in direct opposition to the institutions seem more in tune with the revolutionary behaviour of D'Annunzio in Fiume or Mussolini's March on Rome. So while D'Annunzio flew his little plane around Dalmatia and Mussolini walked a few yards, Berlusconi has put on an inch of guck, his tummy corset, and captained a boat Saturday on the Roman Tiber.
Just a few weeks ago I lined up to vote in the Democratic Party primaries along with three and a half million Italians. It was a real, tangible event in which each person showed a voter certificate and an identity card after patiently waiting in line. Voting booths were visible and crowded. I have not seen Berlusconi's famous gazebos nor lines of people anywhere. Apparently they are as virtual as Berlusconi's youthful appearance. Evidently, Berlusconi's seven million Italians live on Thule.
What appears to be underrated by commentators on Italian affairs are the symbolic gestures of Berlusconi. It may be profitable to look at him in another light as an extreme rightwing revolutionary.
And that is precisely how institutions are undone. By an incapacity to confront or metabolize rhetoric and actions that negate institutional legitimacy and authority.
Prodi has won once again against Berlusconi and with the sort of eloquent understatement that is more common on Northern shores than Mediterranean. His government however remains at the mercy of centrist micro-parties (the so-called "prefix" parties whose electoral take begins with a zero like Italian telephone prefix numbers, e.g. 0,6%) who have all to loss with an electoral reform. Lamberto Dini, who like all the Senators has no direct popular mandate, is seeking to invent himself a new virtual party to represent the virtual ideals of his non-existent electors. Mastella immediately launched into his tried and weary routine calling for a new government in January. The transition of Italy to a modern dynamic state with stable institutions hangs on the irresponsibility of petty Centrist big shots.