Last night's edition of Anno Zero talked about Fondi, the town I've lived in for the past eight years. Anno Zero is one of the programmes Berlusconi accuses of being fazioso, a holdall term that roughly translates as not being shamefully unbalanced in the speaker's favour. It's taken a while to look at what's been happening here, but it was good to see an entire edition dedicated to a situation that really would be unsustainable anywhere outside Colombia (and I apologise to any Colombian readers I may have immediately - I speak with the sort of ignorance about elsewhere normally exhibited by the current Italian government). People who haven't been to Fondi may have the impression that it's a sleepy market town, not quite on the coast, and that's certainly an attractive picture and, in some ways, true. Fondi has always been predominantly agricultural and remains a market town - it now has the largest wholesale fruit and vegetable market in Italy, and among the largest in Europe, a couple of miles from the old centre. This means that Fondi is also, in economic terms, a very rich town, or one, at least, that sees inordinate amounts of money change hands on a daily basis.
The police chief of Latina, the provincial capital, recently conducted an investigation into exactly what this involved and came to the conclusion that the local administration had been infiltrated by organised crime to such an extent that it was no longer viable, and should be removed. The dossier went to the minister responsible, Roberto Maroni. This isn't that unusual a situation in Italy, where illicit relationships between the Mafia and government are as common as those that take place in Putin's bed at Villa Certosa. The normal procedure is for the ministry to rubber stamp the dossier and dissolve the council, barring the incriminated public servants from future public office.
On this occasion though, thanks to the obstructionism - still unexplained - of three cabinet ministers, the rubber stamp wasn't applied. Maroni, instead, asked for 'clarification' of the accusations. The clarified dossier, which said exactly the same as its predecessor, duly returned to Maroni's desk some months later. Where it sat for as long as it (in)decently could. Finally, when the dirty rotten business was beginning to attract too much unwelcome attention and there was nothing the government could do but give in and send the whole gang home, said whole gang - mayor, councillors, functionaries (those who weren't in jail, that is) - upped and resigned. This not only made it impossible to dissolve the administration en bloc, but meant that all those who resigned could stand again at the next elections, something that will almost certainly happen.
The building you can see in the photograph above - a monument to post-fascist vulgarity with a touch of Luxor thrown in - is the new town hall. I've been meaning to write about it for some time, but one's heart sinks at such ugliness. Still, it was illuminating to discover last night that when its construction was open to tender only one company applied, and that this company was actually a consortium of companies, some of them with extremely dodgy pasts. Companies - and individuals - involved in public works in Italy are obliged to produce a document attesting to their Mafia-free status, a procedure that would have excluded these companies - and the entire consortium - at the outset. Or it would have done if the person responsible for checking hadn't 'forgotten' to ask them for it.
Now anyone who lives here knows that Italian bureaucracy doesn't do oversights - it will drive someone into the grave for a piece of carta protocollata - so this isn't very convincing. Not even Claudio Fazzone seemed convinced last night. Fazzone used to be a driver for a Christian democrat senator years ago. Now he's a senator himself, with hand-tailored suits, more money than he knows what to do with, villas scattered like confetti around the globe, the privatised water of the entire region in his fiefdom and the look of someone used to getting his own way. He's got a mean, tight little face, like something attached to the bladder of his head to scare people off. He's the kind of man who threatens to sue whoever disagrees with him, who waves sheafs of paper around in lieu of argument. Mind you, compared to some of the ex-members of Fondi council he's Isaiah Berlin.
An Anno Zero journalist tried to interview some of them, starting with the mayor, who told him to fuck off and then accused him of being maleducato. Then there was the ex assessore di cultura, a barrel-bellied martial arts instructor who could barely manage a whole phrase in standard Italian and whose CV apparently includes a spell as bodyguard for a Mafioso. Basically, as squalid a bunch of low-life crooks as you could wish to meet... There was a wonderful moment when the journalist was stalking the mayor along the echoing corridors of the new mausoleum to democracy that's been built on what used to be a small but respectable park, asking him dificult questions and being roundly ignored. (This was just before the fuck off moment.) Finally, the mayor seeks refuge in an office and tries to slam the door behind him, and the door doesn't quite fit the door frame. It rattles and shudders, but has to be jammed into place. The grandiose and unnecessary building has been thrown up so shoddily that the bloody doors won't close! Hallelujah!
And a footnote for those who follow Italian politics. It was great fun to see the Berlusconi- Fini conflict mirrored in a small but revelatory way by Fazzone and one of Fini's lieutenants, the unfortunately named Bocchino (don't ask - but if your dictionary gives 'cigarette holder', get a new one). Fazzone - fat, arrogant, litigious, vainglorious, intolerant, smugness and distrust stamped all over his ugly face. Bocchino - reasonable, logical, persuasive, disturbingly plausible. I'm no great lover of Fini or his colleagues, but what a pleasure it was to see Bocchino's distaste as Fazzone blustered beside him, a distaste so evident that even Fazzone must have realised that, perhaps uniquely, he didn't have a single crony there to back him up. Like monkey, like organ-grinder?