Rumble: Living in Italy - part 1: Italian Politics

Since I moved here last year, people ask me "So how is it to live in Italy"? This prompts me to a series of blogs I want to start, to describe live in this Mediterranean country.

First let me start with the disclaimer: I love the culture, the climate, its people, its food, and the country. I love Italy. Punto. But it is a country 'with an edge', which makes it fun at times, frustrating in other times. So I might come across as critical (or cynical at times), do bear in mind: I loooove Italy.

As the Italians will vote for parliament tomorrow, maybe we should start this blog series with Italian politics. I can summarize this topic in a oneliner: Italy had 61 governments since World War II. That is an average of about one government per year. That says it all.

Critics say the current electoral law gives disproportionate power to small parties in Parliament, making stable government nearly impossible. Proof of the matter: the recent withdrawal of a tiny centrist party from the governing center-left coalition brought down the already wobbly government of Prime Minister Romano Prodi. In no other democratic country "can a party with 1 percent of the vote topple a government," says Piergiorgio Corbetta, a professor of sociology at the University of Bologna. (Full)

So, Italian politics are an odd kid on the block of democracy. But then we have some of the actual Italian political odd balls.

One I remember well was porn star La Cicciolina, elected to parliament for five years in the late 1980s on a platform of environmentalism and free love. Yes, she was a candidate from the Green party. For her part, the actress offered to sleep with Saddam Hussein in 2002 if he co-operated with the United Nations, saying: "I would do it holding my nose and closing my eyes."

But we do not have to go back that far. Tomorrow's elections are almost certain to favor a return to power by Berlusconi. Yep, THE Silvio Berlusconi. Now 71, the prime minister from 2002 to 2006 and briefly in the mid-1990s, and the country's richest man, will represent the center-right conservatives.
While he does not have the physical impact of La Cicciolina, he does have a way with words. I guess a trio of him, Sarkozy and Bush, and world politics is good hands... Sigh.

Just recently, he hit the news as saying that when he looked round parliament, he found that female politicians from the right were "more beautiful". "The left has no taste, even when it comes to women." I hope that is not the only pilar of his political campaign.(Full)

More of a reference however are some of his historical quotes. A selection, some of which might have even the likes of Sarkozy and all-time-winner Bush Junior roll their eyes (Full list):

  • Promising to put family values at the centre of his campaign: "I will try to meet your expectations, and I promise from now on, two-and-a-half months of absolute sexual abstinence, until [election day on] 9 April."
  • At the Brussels summit, at the end of Italy's EU presidency, in December 2003:
    "Let's talk about football and women." (Turning to four-times-married German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder.) "Gerhard, why don't you start?"
  • At the New York stock exchange: "Italy is now a great country to invest in... today we have fewer communists and those who are still there deny having been one. Another reason to invest in Italy is that we have beautiful secretaries... superb girls."
  • On himself: "I don't need to go into office for the power. I have houses all over the world, stupendous boats... beautiful airplanes, a beautiful wife, a beautiful family... I am making a sacrifice." "I am the Jesus Christ of politics. I am a patient victim, I put up with everyone, I sacrifice myself for everyone."
  • On a proposal to base an EU food standards agency in Finland, rather than the Italian city of Parma: "Parma is synonymous with good cuisine. The Finns don't even know what prosciutto is. I cannot accept this."
Some others are less innocent:
  • In the wake of 11 September: "We must be aware of the superiority of our civilisation, a system that has guaranteed well-being, respect for human rights and - in contrast with Islamic countries - respect for religious and political rights, a system that has as its value understanding of diversity and tolerance... The West will continue to conquer peoples, even if it means a confrontation with another civilisation, Islam, firmly entrenched where it was 1,400 years ago."
  • To German MEP Martin Schulz, at the start of Italy's EU presidency in July 2003:
    "I know that in Italy there is a man producing a film on Nazi concentration camps - I shall put you forward for the role of Kapo (guard chosen from among the prisoners) - you would be perfect."
  • During the controversy raging over the above remark: "I'll try to soften it and become boring, maybe even very boring, but I am not sure I will be able to do it."
I mean in all of it, we can joke and laugh about it, but still... would we put the man this video in charge of our government?

Pictures courtesy wikipedia and With thanks to "E" for the links.


Anonymous,  12 April, 2008 19:17  

would you please start to mind the gouvernament of the country you come from?? ok, the chap is not the best, but you are the last that can judge... and as far as I know in Belgium politics is the same mess as here.. start to pay the taxes yourself, then, maybe you have the right to talk of Italy in Italy.

Anonymous,  12 April, 2008 19:28  

let us guess... in Belgium everything is perfect, is it? expecially in politics...all right, why then don't you stay in your country, pay the taxes there and so on? Ok, the chap is not the best, we have a lot of problems with burocracy and whatelse, however where from do yo feel this authority to judge?
Ps. do you pay the taxes in Italy?
and being part of UN staff how many privileges do you have that are then payed from the Italian people? As mentioned earlier on, firt mind your own country, I bet you have a lot to blog about on it.

Peter 12 April, 2008 19:45  


First: read the disclaimer again: I LOVE Italy, its people, its culture, its history, its food,... Nothing I describe is meant in any way to be disrespectful for the Italian people, by far. Actually, as you will agree with me, many Italians would agree with the contents in this post, no?

Second: all the material in the post is found in the press (BBC actually). So it is not my invention.

Now, where someone pays taxes (and I *do* pay taxes), should not stop anyone from critizing behaviour which is not 'exactly' appropriate for someone of an official status like someone in a country's government.

I don't pay taxes in the US, should that stop me from critizing the current US administration?

Don't get me started on Belgian politics. They might not be as bad off as Italian politics, but they sure have their (large) stream of scandals, bureaucracy and inefficiency! Now that I think of it, maybe I should start a series about Belgian politics after all. You are right, actually. Plenty to talk about that too! Good idea!


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