Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Troppo sapeva

I've just finished my usual round-up of the day's English language papers, sitting here at my desk in a small provincial Italian town, without even having left the house. I've read the Guardian, the New York Times, the Independent. I've glanced at the front pages of the Times in both London and Los Angeles, and even, god help me, the Daily Mail. I've checked out headlines in Australia and South Africa (OK; I'm exaggerating now - I do have work to do). All this would have been impossible only a few years ago, and I'd be tempted to write something rather dull, but positive, about the availability of information, the shrinking world, and so on, if it weren't for the fact that not a single paper thinks it worth reporting the latest developments in the Berlusconi-Mafia saga.

Of course, there are reasons for this. The indignation fatigue I mentioned in my previous post, which has spread beyond the national borders to sprinkle its sleepy dust over foreign news desks elsewhere. The 'what's new?' feel about so much of the information. The irreducible italianità of it all, with all those legal terms that have no equivalent in other 'normal' countries. The notion that Italy, despite the great 'organic' food and Andrea Bocelli and all those little men who can't wait to help us restore casali in Tuscany, shouldn't really be taken seriously, particularly right now with the tin-pot Casanova at its head. It's as though a whole country, one of the leading world economies and a member of all the most exclusive G clubs (7, 8, 20...), with forces in all the imperial outposts, had somehow been replaced by its comic equivalent, gurning and wiggling its hips in a corner of the room, only to be ignored despite its antics.

Which is more than a pity. Because Berlusconi's game is becoming wilder and more desperate by the day and shouldn't be ignored by anyone who cares one jot about Europe or, for that matter, the nature of populism and democracy, if only because it's the kind of game that could, as my mother used to say, end in tears. Two days ago he was in Sardinia, where he told his audience of young supporters that, if he had the chance, he would 'throttle' the people who made a popular television series about the Mafia (La Piovra) and all those authors who defamed Italy by writing about the Mafia. The last person to inveigh against La Piovra like this was Zeffirelli, a man whose career arc has plummeted from Visconti to the payroll of the Great Buffoon. The fact that Roberto Saviano, author of Gomorrah, has written a public letter denouncing the latest plot to rewrite the legal code in Berlusconi's favour is obviously neither here nor there, though Saviano would be wise to hang onto his police protection yet awhile. Berlusconi used the verb 'strozzare', inelegant at the best of times and, in this context, deeply tainted by the lexical dye of Cosa Nostra. He also told a joke about Einstein, who died because 'he knew too much' (see title of post). Nobody expects the language of statesmanship from the man, but it would be nice if he could raise his game to the level of, say, someone selling silver-plated bracelets on a shopping channel.


McKenna Donovan said...

Articulate as always, Charles! You help me make sense of what little there is available to read about Italian politics. Thank you!

Durando said...

After eight years in my provincial French city I have real trouble giving a jot about French politics. Perhaps this apathy is particular to France and my recognition that nothing that could improve my life will come about via political means. Like many French people I concentrate (to the extent I can) on subverting the system to my advantage--even though I have yet to succeed in doing so. The only ideological position I'm willing to listen to is decentralization and the destruction of marginally useful hierarchies. Which I guess puts me on the center right over here. There's no spokesman for this position.

What if Berlusconi didn't exist? What would you think then?

Charles Lambert said...

Good question, Neal. I like to think that I'd be less interested in the day-to-day manoeuvring of politics than I am now, and I'm pretty sure that would be true. But the real problem is whether the issue with Berlusconi is actually a political one or something else. People in Italy talk a lot about the country being abnormal, implying that normality is the sort of set-up you have in most western democracies where two roughly similar forces take it in turns to keep the whole business ticking over, lining their own pockets as unobtrusively as possible. I'm thinking about the UK, although France doesn't seem that different, and neither does Germany. Then you have phenomena like the apparent paradigm shift of Obama, followed by its gradual re absorption, and, at the other end of the spectrum, the presence of overtly anti-ideological populism like that of Putin, Gadafy, Berlusconi. Like most people on the left in Italy, I'd be happy to see an ordinary right wing, doing the sort of things ordinary right-wing parties do everywhere else, and it wouldn't be the end of the world if it were in government. But it's a different matter - and not even a political one - when a democratic country is taken over by a man with massive criminal interests, no moral apparatus of any kind, hostage to - and complicit with - some of the most retrograde and oppressive elements in society. It isn't a question then of whether he was voted for by a majority or not (although there are serious doubts about the legitimacy of the last two elections), because he was already disqualified for election. The US has had some shady presidents, as has France, but no one has stood for election with the kind of media control B has, not to speak of the numerous criminal investigations in which he's involved.

In other words, my interest in politics has effectively been sidetracked by Berlusconi. If he weren't there, I'd have time to think ideologically again...