Italian Election

You have no doubt heard that the Italian election has left the country, and possibly the European Union, in a state of confusion. The left has won in the Lower House, and the right in the Senate. Hardly anyone is interested in the two winning coalitions, however, since all attention is focussed on the Five Star Movement of the standup comedian Beppe Grillo, which got about 25% of the vote in the lower house, making it the largest single party, (though behind when votes are counted for coalitions, instead of for single parties) and on the party of the outgoing “President of the Council” or prime minister Mario Monti, which trailed a poor fourth with around 10% of votes.

What a mess, or cock-up. The Italians have two words for such a situation, which translate as “whorehouse” and “abattoir”. Take your choice, but beware of the horsemeat.

Italy has a system of proportional representation with minimum scores for entry which are different for parties and for coalitions of parties, different for the two houses, and different for the regions and for the country as a whole. Two percent of the votes here and you exist; nine percent there and you’re dead.

I’ve been living in Europe and out of Britain for thirty years, and one of the things that has convinced me that the European Union is rubbish, a myth, a fantasy, is the fact that no country is the slightest bit interested in the internal politics of the others. This is my modest attempt to rectify this situation.

For a start, no one is interested in the losers in a foreign election. I feel an instinctive sympathy for losers. Here are some of the losers in Italy:

The Moderates                                                     0.0%

The Revolutionary Moderates                              0.2%

Liberals for a Just Italy                                         0.0%

The Italian Marxist-Leninist Communist Party      0.0%

The Alternative Communist Party                         0.0%

Italian Reformists                                                 0.0%

All Together for Italy                                                –

(I’m not sure what “-” means, but it seems to be less than 0.0%)

Note that the 59,000 Revolutionary Moderates are allied with Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition, while the 11,000 Moderates are allied with the left. Also allied with Berlusconi was the the Pop-Singers Party, which gathered a rather disturbing 18,000 votes, or 0.1% of the electorate.

The Socialist Party, which was running Italy when Berlusconi took over, didn’t figure on the lists for the lower house, but scored  0.2% in the Senate. Not bad for a party whose leader died in voluntary exile in Tunisia, a country which didn’t have an extradition treaty with Italy.

Whenever I’ve tried to talk politics with Italians, they’ve hung their heads in shame and changed the subject. They’re wrong. Italy is an example to all of us who  believe in democracy as a dynamic force, the lifeblood of our society.

[This is a point I’ve tried to make to my offspring. One was an (unsuccessful) parliamentary candidate for “Stand Up the Republic” (the French equivalent of UKIP). The other is affiliated with the Scottish Federation of Anarchists – alas with little success].

OK, Italy is a country where relatively few read the serious press, and most people get their information from the Berlusconi-owned independent TV or the Berlusconi-influenced public TV. Which is why the minority that are interested in politics are so well informed; why millions tune in to AnnoZero, the one independent public TV discussion programme, to hear journalist Marco Travaglio castigate the politicians of all stripes who have criminal records or outstanding problems with the law (about a third of the members of the lower house, the last time I looked).

Marco Travaglio  is a long-time friend of Beppe Grillo, the anarchist comedian who is now in the position of kingmaker in the Italian parliament. Travaglio defines himself as a conservative. Week after week he reveals to Italian viewers the truth about Berlusconi’s links with the Mafia, the corruption which lies at the heart of all parties of left or right… He was awarded the annual prize for investigative journalism awarded by the German press corps – as if Rome was Moscow or Harare. Did you hear about that? Of course not. Nor did the Italians.

*           *           *

Among the losers in the election was “Civil Revolution”, a party formed recently by a magistrate from Palermo, Sicily – Antonio Ingroia, whose party got less than the 2% required to be considered as part of a coalition, despite the fact that it was supported by:

The Communist Renewal Party

The Italian Communist Party

The Green Federation

Italy of Values

The Orange Movement

Change if We Can

The Red Agenda

The People Raped.

Ingroia was the magistrate who revealed the links between Berlusconi and the Mafia back in 2004. He retired as a magistrate and went into politics  last year after the Supreme Court refused to let him investigate a telephone call between an arrested Mafia boss and the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. Four of the groups named above were formed by magistrates, or the relatives of murdered magistrates, who had similarly been obstructed in their investigations into the links between politicians and organised crime.

There is a tenuous link between this and my  obsessive interest in climate change. 99.9% of my censored comments at the Guardian’s “Comment is Free”  have been about climate change. But I’ve also been censored by the Guardian  for pointing out that an obscure Milan property developer called Silvio Berlusconi once employed a Mafia boss on the run as his stable boy. This fact is well-known in Italy, but not in Great Britain. In Italy people risk their lives to get these facts known. In Britain, newspapers employ lawyers to keep these facts secret.

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23 Responses to Italian Election

  1. omnologos says:

    Mostly right and funny but some important details wrong. Berlusconi was fabulously rich before having Mangano as employee for example.

  2. Thanks for the correction. Your input is most welcome, since I stopped following Italian politics when Monti took over, and there are no doubt other inaccuracies.

  3. Dodgy Geezer says:

    …Thanks for the correction. Your input is most welcome…

    Umm… if the correction is a valid one, would it not be prudent to alter the original item?

    Just a thought…

  4. Dodgy Geezer
    Corrected. For more information on this complex story, see the entry for Marcello dell’Utri on Wikipedia (in English). Dell’Utri, Berlusconi’s longtime friend and business asssociate, has been found guilty of tax fraud, false accounting, and complicity in conspiracy with the Sicilian Mafia, in a number of trials dating back to 1999. He is still appealing against these convictions, and hasn’t yet started serving his 10 year jail sentence.
    My interest is not in exposing Berlusconi, but in the way that Italian politics (and foreign politics in general) are treated in our media. Take Beppe Grillo. There’s lots of coverage of him in the press (though less than for Benedict XVI of course) but how much of what he actually says gets quoted? In his screaming rant at his big Rome meeting last week in front of a half a million supporters, I heard him twice cite Britain as an example of the kind of “normal” country he wants Italy to be. Is that interesting or not?

  5. j ferguson says:

    Geoff, Alternative Communist Party is certainly a concept to conjure with. i wonder if we might launch a “Not so Green Party?”

  6. alexjc38 says:

    A “Not so Green Party” – I like it! The Revolutionary Moderates also sound interesting – how would a moderate revolution play out? Can we have one here?

  7. omnologos says:

    I’ve lost track of all those parties. I think it’s Communist Alternative not Alternative Communism and Revolutioning Moderates not Revolutionary Moderates.

  8. steveta_uk says:

    Reminds me of the street fights between the “Tooting Popular Front” and the “Popular Front of Tooting”.

  9. Our ignorance of what’s going on in other European countries is both understandable and unforgiveable. Take Beppe Grillo, for example, whose success is threatening the very existence of the European Union, according to many commentators.
    You can go to http://www.beppegrillo.it/ click on the Union Jack, and find out all about him in English. So is he a dangerous left wing extremist, as many say, or the equivalent of UKIP, as Simon Jenkins claims in the Guardian? It’s impossible to say, without putting his movement into context, which means understanding the past 50 years of Italian history, which I can’t claim to do.
    One of the five stars of his Five Star Movement is opposition to water privatisation. That would be an extreme left position in Britain, I suppose, or even in socialist France, where the municipal water utilities were privatised by a process of mass political corruption, resulting in companies like Veolia becoming rich and powerful enough to take over water companies in Britain and in 76 other countries. In the capitalist USA water utilities are still run by local authorities, I believe.
    On translating the names of political parties etc. I choose something that sounds coherent in English, which is often not word-for-word. So in the article on “An Inconvenient Truth -the Opera”, “L’inno di Mameli” becomes “the italian National Anthem” and “l’omaggio del Piermarini” becomes simply “la Scala”.
    It’s a funny thing that the fission which affects leftwing groupuscules (the Judean Liberation Front versus the Front for the Liberation of Judea etc) doesn’t affect Green groups, which seem rather to work in symbiosis and combine together so you get some obscure blog with no readers claiming to have 20 million supporters.
    It’s probably to do with the internet. Grillo’s 5 Star Movement was 100% internet, created in part by an obscure IT whizzkid hippy entrepreneur Roberto Casaleggio. See
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/03/italy-five-star-movement-internet
    (The Guardian, bless it, has done a good job of covering the Italian election, whereas the Telegraph and Independent seem to see it as uniquely a problem for the financial markets)
    Now the movement is 163 elected politicians, independent of Grillo, and of the internet. So it’s more like Athenian democracy or the French Convention of 1792. This could get interesting.

  10. omnologos says:

    They are not independent from Grillo and Casaleggio. Not one of them is there because of their good looks or superior brains or electoral prowess: their entire political history depends on Grillo. Those who will rebel will be quickly isolated and the rest made even more sectarian and quasi-religious in the Adoration of the Grillo.

  11. Omnologos
    You may well be right. I’ve no illusions about this movement. But observers of the European Union have been waiting for a popular reaction against the economic insanity which is crippling half Europe. We’ve seen suicides in Spain, arson attacks in Greece, trashing of factories in France. Grillo’s (and Berlusconi’s!) success suggest the possibility of a successful democratic reaction, however confused.
    We don’t know how it will turn out, but 163 people in Parliament won’t act like 4 million on the internet, or one guy with a microphone on stage in the Piazza San Giovanni.
    Ecology and Sustainability run through the 5 Star Movement like Class Struggle through the Marxist stick of rock. The same is true in France, where the leader of the far left (which will no doubt gain in strength as Hollande leads the country into recession) calls himself an “eco-socialist”. Miliband will almost certainly be the next prime minister. Climate sceptics who think “we’ve won” need to read the papers.

  12. dearieme says:

    “I heard him twice cite Britain as an example of the kind of “normal” country he wants Italy to be.”
    Ah yes I remember it well.

    “… opposition to water privatisation. That would be an extreme left position in Britain”: I remember a colleague ranting about the evil intrinsic to water privatisation. I pointed out to him that he’d lived for decades in a city with a perfectly satisfactory private water company. He ranted on regardless – as good an example as I’ve witnessed of the divorce between The Left and reality.

  13. j ferguson says:

    Geoff,
    We do have private water systems in the US serving some communities, not many though. I used to own securities in one such provider which owned non-contiguous systems in various locales on our eastern seaboard.

  14. Another day in italian politics. Berlusconi is facing a new trial, this time for paying a senator three million euros to change sides and thus bring down the previous social democrat government of Romano Prodi.
    One of Beppe Grillo’s elected “little crickets” (“grillo” means cricket, and the elected members of his party are known as “grillini”) 24-year old Viola Tesi (degree in political science, working in an icecream parlour) launched a petition on the internet calling for Grillo to co-operate with the Democrat Party in parliament, gaining a suspiciously large number of signatures in a few hours. She’s already been denounced as an infiltrator by spokespeople of Grillo’s Five Star Movement.
    Another worker killed in a steelmaking plant. it happens all the time in Italy. The Italian TV showed images of a site that looked as if it had been abandoned to rust 50 years ago. Italian industry is continually being praised in pro-European centre-left journals like the Guardian for its ability to stay competitive, unlike British industry, with its trade unions, safety rules etc.
    Italian media are showing Grillo’s interview with the BBC, and commenting the editorial in the New York Times about Italy. It’s touching, but at the same time rather disturbing, that Italians should pay so much attention to what foreigners think of them.

    jferguson
    What would Americans think about their local water company (municipal or private) being taken over by a foreign multinational? Is it the kind of thing the Tea Party would oppose?

  15. j ferguson says:

    Geoff, do you think the reaction would be any different from the reaction when Anheuser-Busch was taken over by a foreign outfit? As far as i could tell, there was no reaction.

    The federal government might see it differently.

  16. j ferguson says:

    Whoops, I should have remembered that there was a very noisy reaction to the idea that a foreign outfit might operate the Port of Miami (the freight longshore operation). i think the thing didn’t fly, but cannot remember what the non xenophobic reasons were.

    Funny thing, if you spent any time in the port, you might think it already was a foreign operation, at least linguistically.

    By the way, i have no idea why you chose to live in France. It couldn’t have been the weather, the food, or the congeniality of the locals, or believing all you read in Peter Mayle? Maybe you made your choice before Peter allowed himself to be bewitched by the place.

    The great thing about Miami is it offers the opportunity to live like an expatriot without leaving the US.

  17. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Geoff, sorry to be OT (again) but I couldn’t find a painless way to contact you privately. I’ve had several e-mails from LinkedIn that were purportedly (and probably) from you – ‘join my network, stay in touch’ sorta thang. I clicked on one of them and was invited to create a LinkedIn account. I don’t want to do that, so alas I can’t join your network, so can’t contact you privately to let you know that the reason I can’t contact you privately is that I can’t join your network, which joining would have allowed me to contact you privately. Hence this message.

  18. ryelands says:

    “Climate sceptics who think ‘we’ve won’ need to read the papers.”

    Quite. It was never an issue of rationality; it is going to get a deal worse before it gets better.

    John Dickie’s “Cosa Nostra” is a well-written history of the Sicilian Mafia that I found helpful in trying to understand the Italian polity (which I never did get to understand but it’s still a fine book). Sadly, it doesn’t cover persistent rumours of links between the wind-power sector and organised crime but I was struck by the parallel between the Mafia’s mid-twentieth century “Sack of Palermo” and the current destruction of the Scottish Highlands.

    Plus ça change and all that: my all-time favourite small political party has to be Jaroslav Hašek’s “The Party of Moderate Progress Within the Bounds Of the Law”, a front that was popular mainly because it was active only in the taverns of the time.

    Hašek of course wrote “The Good Soldier Švejk” and “The Red Commissar”, the latter based on his brief collaboration with the Bolsheviks. He is, to my knowledge, the only anarchist to have an asteroid named after him.

    Not even Dario Fo can match that though Wiki notes that “In 2006, Fo made an attempt to run for mayor of Milan . . . finishing second in the primary election held by the centre-left The Union. Fo, who received more than 20% of the vote, was supported by the Communist Refoundation Party”.

    So how does the CRP fit into your account? Abstentionist? Whatever next?

    ++++

    On the issue of foreign ownership of US corporations, recall the fury in conservative circles at Al Gore’s sale of TV assets to Al Jazeera/Qatar despite the latter’s siding with the Atlantic Powers over key mid-East issues. The move was denounced as “treachery” and worse.

    Mind you, if you describe anything Gore does as “treacherous”, you’re probably not far off the mark.

  19. omnologos says:

    A good starting point to understand something is by appropriately translating names of Italian political parties. Common rule: use antonyms.

    Partito Democratico: Undemocratic Party

    Popolo della Libertà: An Individual’s Effort

    Rifondazione Comunista: Final Destruction of Communism

    Movimento 5 Stelle: Party of Third Class Paupers

    Lists Civica: Centralized Party

    And so on and so forth

  20. ryelands
    I read Dickie’s book too, and thoroughly recommend it. As usual with massive fact-packed tomes, I only remember the odd irrelevant factoid: the British input into the rise of Cosa Nostra. There were a lot of British landowners in Sicily in the nineteenth century, growing lemons to stave off scurvy among sailors in the Mediterranean fleet, and bergamot to flavour Earl Grey tea, and some of them were happy to co-operate with the kind of bottom-up direct-democracy type organisations which were emerging in this desperately poor corner of a newly formed country. Apparently the early Cosa Nostra leaders were more open to co-operating with outsiders than the Five Star Movement.
    How do you do that s with a twiddle on it in “Hasek”? When I try to copy and paste it comes out as a question mark. I could do with that for transcribing Chinese.

    omnologos
    I like your antonyms, though “An Individual’s Effort” for “Popolo della Libertà” might be considered a bit of a euphemism.
    Has anyone noted the similarity between the rise of Berlusconi and of Beppe Grillo? Both were one-man-shows, using what were considered the latest media gadgets – TV and marketing in Berlusconi’s case, versus the internet for Beppe Grillo.

  21. ryelands says:

    “How do you do that s with a twiddle on it in “Hasek?”
    Somewhere I have a list of those Alt+numeric thingies but, being lazy, I mostly Google the word while omitting the accent, find a reference with it and copy that into whatever I’m writing in. Seems to work.

  22. j ferguson says:

    ryelands,
    I had thought that the fuss over the Gore sale to al Jazeera was more about selling to REALLY BIG oil than to foreigners.

  23. A quick note on the first day of Grillo’s 5 Star Movement in parliament. Grillo’s refusal to speak to Italian journalists means that the future of the country is being interpreted from Italian mistranslations of articles in German magazines and interviews with the BBC. The Movement’s spokesman in the Senate said they might consider supporting a government of technocrats à la Monti. Grillo said “no way”, so the spokesman quickly corrected himself. Their spokeswoman in the Lower House, having said that there were good things in fascism, has replied to critics saying “let’s talk about the present. Fascism, like communism has been dead for thirty years.”
    A couple more weeks of this and the 5 Star Movement will fade away in the almost inevitable elections in a couple of months’ time. It’ll be back to politics as usual, with the European Union singing “There is no Alternative” to the tune of the Hymn to Joy.

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