Saturday, 23 May 2009
Why Italy is boring
I admit it. I've been putting this off. Partly because I'm no authority on Italy and don't want to pass myself off as one. I just live here, along with 60 million other people, many of whom have greater claim to be considered Italian experts, if only by blood. Partly because it's so complex and I have only one small, slightly frazzled brain, which just doesn't seem powerful or contorted enough to deal with the full Byzantine horror of it. Partly because no one pays me for my opinions so why should I share them? (OK, this is a sort of joke.) But mostly because the situation in Italy is just so bloody boring I can't be bothered to think about it in any constructive way. It's easier to swear and rant. There's a poster in Fondi at the moment of a man called Something Cardinale (I can't remember his first name; it may even be Something). He's a gloating, pomaded oaf with a big knot in his tie, so he's clearly on the side of SB (Silvio Berlusconi - Slimy Buffoon: take your pick); he's running for the European elections for some made-up party with some cheesy name I also can't remember. His slogan is La Politica del Fare. This means, as you can probably work out, "The Politics of Doing", and is supposed to lend the man some semblance of resolve, the air of someone who gets things done, although it's about as empty as a slogan can be unless the nature of what gets done is made clear elsewhere. It isn't. It can also be flipped on its back to become L'Affare della Politica, which means "The Business of Politics", business in the basic money-making sense. How to make a packet from politics, in other words. His grinning face is staring down from massive mobile hoardings parked all over town, illegally for the most part. He's bound to be elected, which means he'll become one of the most highly paid politicians in Europe. Italian Euro MPs get three times their UK counterparts, even though the average Italian salary has recently slipped behind that in Spain and Greece; it's just over half the UK average although most supermarket prices are higher here than in your local Tesco's. He's bound to be elected because Fondi votes en masse for SB and his cronies and has done for the past ten, fifteen years. The town's part of the feudal fiefdom of a man called Claudio Fazzone, an ex-driver for a Christian Democrat politician, now a senator, under investigation for corruption and association with the Mafia. And all this is boring, because everyone knows it. Everyone knows that Fondi council was supposed to be dissolved because it's been infiltrated by organised crime, and that it won't be until after the elections, if ever, because if something works, why fix it? Everyone knows that the people accused of complicity are up for re-election and that the old idea of politicians being in some way accountable to the electorate or, at least, prepared to defend themselves in public or answer journalists' questions is just so first republic, so last century. Politicians, or politicians like SB, don't answer questions; they insult the questioner. And this is just so boring after a while, because it's actually quite important that certain questions receive some sort of answer. You've heard about SB's latest spot of bother with an under-age girl called Noemi. He refuses to say how and when and in what circumstances he met her and her family. He refuses to explain why he lied about the details of his presence at her 18th birthday party. He refuses to say why she was present at an official dinner last autumn, alongside various luminaries. He refuses to justify his refusal to answer these questions and others, apart from by a vague appeal to his right to privacy. Which is pretty rich from a man who used his own hagiography for electoral purposes a few years ago, sending a copy of his 'life story', at his own expense, to every household in Italy, as glossy a bundle of half-truths and downright lies as anyone could want. And everyone knows this, and no one cares. And this is boring. And it's boring, finally, that the prime minister of a country can be accused of corruption by a public court and not stand down, and not respond to the accusations, and insult the courts and call the judge a radical extremist. And no one cares, except a handful of foolish, snobbish elitists, in the words of SB's lawyers and lackeys, elitists who nonetheless make up a good third of the country, who are currently standing behind a semi-opaque glass wall, screaming and clutching their faces in Munch-like fashion, unable to make themselves heard above the money-rattling, self-congratulatory clatter of the dominant culture. And it's so boring to have to tell them they've lost out, they're old hat, they've missed the boat on 'security' issues and 'what the people want', they've made themselves redundant with their in-fighting and cuddling up to the Vatican and ambiguity. Because this is also true. But I'm no authority on Italy. Italy's bored by politics. The sooner it can all be handed over to the grasp of one strong man the better. SB wants the number of MPs to be reduced to 100, which is a step in the right direction and will no doubt also save him a considerable amount of money, with fewer palms to grease and MPs' wives to find work for in state television until their lovely lingerie-model daughters are old enough to be made into ministers. Which is also boring.