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