Thursday, November 27, 2008

Watch it, Italy

A strange mix of racism and authoritarianism is surfacing in Berlusconi's Italy

As parallels are constantly drawn between the current economic climate and the 1929 crash, we can at least hold on to the certainty that Europe is now a profoundly democratic place.

Italy, however, is a peculiar case. Since Silvio Berlusconi's landslide victory last April, it's as if the country started to passively give the nod to a disturbing series of populistic and semi-authoritarian measures. Whether it's style, rhetoric or actions, whatever the government is doing is increasingly greeted by a collective shrug. The result is that Italy's standards of democracy are lowering fast.

Berlusconi's victory wiped out of Parliament the radical and green left and dropped the decimated centre-left into a morass of petty infighting. That allowed the Government to hit the ground running. Propped up by the type of anti-immigration rhetoric that Britain would only tolerate if the BNP were in power, the new Italian executive agreed to some seriously draconian legislation. Immigrants are now officially b-citizens. One measure, for instance, requires their expulsion the moment they get a criminal record - and the grounds for appeal are strictly limited. In the meantime, reports of immigrant-bashing and racist incidents, in some cases involving the police, are just piling up.

In September, Giancarlo Gentilini, a pro-Berlusconi mayor (famous for his calls for "the right to carry out ethnic cleansing against the faggots") said: "I wanted our streets cleansed of all the ethnics groups that are destroying our country". He taunted the immigrants that "piss in our streets". "Let them go and piss in their own mosques", he barked, adding "I don't want to see any blacks, browns or greys teaching our children"… Only two months ago, members of the ruling Northern League, including MPs, took part in the pan-European far-right gathering in Cologne, the type of event you'd want to pop to if you fancied a picnic with the NF or Combat 18.

Next, the Government proceeded to set up 'special' classes for children of non-Italians at school. And while Berlusconi grabbed the headlines for calling newly elected Obama "suntanned", only muted grumbles met his new ad-hoc law that will grant the Italian Prime Minister (himself, that is) immunity from all criminal courts. What followed was the scandal at the Parliamentary Committee overseeing the state television network RAI. Even though the committee is traditionally chaired by an opposition MP elected on a bipartisan vote, the government rejected the centre-left's official candidate. Instead, they handpicked their own. This too was shunned by the general public as petty political squabbling.

And then came the student strikes. Unhappy with budget cuts proposals as detailed in the White Paper on higher education, undergraduates and college students alike took to the streets in numbers. And this is where it turns sour. After scuffles erupted in Rome when a mob of organised skinheads attacked unarmed teenagers (see pictures here), the hawkish former Home Secretary (and later President) Francesco Cossiga went on record saying that the best way to deal with such protests is to infiltrate them with agent provocateurs and shoot (or beat) at random.

"This is how I dealt with them when I was at the Home Office", he revealed in an interview. Cossiga was speaking of Italy's so-called 'years of lead' in the late 70s, at the height of the country's own terrorist crisis. Between 1977 and 1979, a period of high civil unrest, several demonstrators died in dubious circumstances. Some were shot by random fire during protest rallies. Although the courts were never able to convict anyone in particular, we now officially know that the government was directly behind it. In the words of Cossiga:

"The security forces should massacre the demonstrators without pity, and send them all to hospital. They shouldn't arrest them, because the magistrates would release them immediately, but they should beat them up. And they should also beat up those teachers who stir them up. Especially the teachers. Not the elderly lecturers, of course, but the young women teachers."

No doubt Cossiga is pleased that only in 2001, during Berlusconi's last stint in power, the Italian police pulled off that magnificent mix of Pinochet-style torture, mass-beating and planted evidence that stoked up the infamous riots at the G8 in Genoa. And they really did pull it off because no police officer will ever spend a minute in jail for that.

Yet, what's most disturbing is the Italian's sense of resignation, as well as Berlusconi's enduring popularity in the polls. The temptation is to say that, after all, Italy is the place where fascism was invented. But it wouldn't be fair on all the Italian trade unionists, socialists and liberals who lost their lives fighting for their freedom.


Green Views said...

Brilliant article. I am going to use it my current research--and of course give you full credit with a link to your site.

Again, we need more of you to expose the creeping fascism

Editor Rupee News

Green Views said...

"A strange mix of racism and authoritarianism is surfacing in Berlusconi's Italy"

You call it a "strange mix"...the world calls it pure unadulterated FASCISM.


Robert said...

I spent three years in Itaky myself. I loved the country, they treated me like a king and I made some really good friends. The people wer ewarm and friendly. However, had I been non-white, I know for a fact it's have been a totally differnt story. The amount of racist stuff I heard while in Italy was unbelievable. I admit some 'immigrants' there look hostile, but it's a defense mechanism against the daily hostility they encounter.

Finally, I reckon Berlusconi is so popular because many Italian dread the notion of an honest government. One that would stop them once and for all from dodging the laws. Berlusconi is a guarantee of continuity. Picking on the immigrants is an excellent distraction. And it gives the impression of a 'strong government'. Strange country, Italy.

Robert said...

I just realised there's about 34 typos in my message above. Plz forgive me.

Decmember said...

The Italians elected Mr Berlusconi 2 times. And the last one with a massive parliamentary majority.
Can someone tell me why? I read Robert's post above, but surely there must be more to it than your average Italian dreading honest government.

Roberta Barazza said...

Very interesting article. I am Italian and I live in Italy. I'd like to add one more point as regards Italian problems: male chauvinism.
After 2001 I spent several months abroad also because of this. A frightening majority of Italians think that women do not need to be free; they do not have the right to choose their job and their partners. If a man likes a woman, (too many) Italians think that she has the duty to accept him even if (better: especially if) she does not like him.
In Europe and in USA stalking is a crime. Non in Italy. I worked as a teacher in several countries in the last years. I am in Italy now but I am looking forward to leaving again.
Ciao, Roberta Barazza

darioooo said...

condivido in pieno. Da molti mesi si respira una brutta aria. La novità più rilevante è stata quella degli episodi di razzismo. Per quel che mi ricordo io, non erano mai successi, soprattutto al sud! GUarda, se avessi visto l'incendio del campo rom di napoli...e se ti metti un po' a indagare sui motivi.....una cosa assurda e vergognosa....a parte sulla questione studenti/scuola, ormai questi hanno piena coscienza di poter fare qualunque cosa, di poter dire qualunque cazzata. La gente è ormai così affogata dai propri problemi di sopravvivenza, che Berlusc e company possono infierire senza nessuna reazione. Ovvio, se si pensa al fascismo vero e proprio si è fuori strada. Ma sono le conseguenze dell'agire politico di questi anni a essere molto simili. Io ho sempre più l'impressione che la società - nel senso più relazionale del termine - si stia sfaldando. Si allentano i fili che tengono gli uni legati agli altri. Lo avverto anche nel privato, sì. Come al solito tutto dipende dal lavoro. C'è chi non ce l'ha, e se non ci fossero le famiglie starebbe nella merda, e c'è chi ce l'ha in condizioni ottocentesche. Tu hai ricordato nel finale dell'articolo quelli che sono morti nella lotta. Io personalmente li porto sempre con me. Ma quelli che non sono morti, ma che hanno lottato, come possono accettare la situazione di oggi? Non lo so. Ogni volta che provo a indagare, scopro che sono le stesse persone che oggi ricoprono un qualche ruolo. Il problema sono i vecchi! :D Scherzo a metà: I 20enni dei '60, che poi sono i 30enni dei '70, che poi sono i 40enni degli '80, fino ad arrivare all'oggi, occupano le stanze del potere e contropotere da almeno 40 anni e non hanno nessuna intenzione di cedere. E noi che ci indignavamo per quella scritta ai giardinetti della chiesa russa, te la ricordi? "Vecchi morirete tutti!". Forse qualcuno aveva centrato il problema! :D

Stan Moss said...

I just thought I wanted to show you this.
As this same article was re-posted elsewhere on several other sites, this is what an Italian right-winger commented as a response.

"At the end of the day, the English smell bad and don't wash and their bathrooms are bidet-free...They're such snobs that they see the bidet as some sort of a violin case ?!?!
Certainly the imagination...

Well, they'd answer that they've got the shower. Which means, each time they poo they take a shower. That may be..."

No other comment necessary.

vinz said...

...Scary article...Left me speechless...

I thought French Sarko and Berlusconi were playing in the same league, mainly because of their power seeking compulsive behaviour...

Obviously, they're are not...

Although Sarko came up with famous statements ("cleaning the banlieues with a carsher") and right extremist ideas ("All criminals must have something wrong in their genes"), he, at the moment, does not have any Gentilinis or Cossigas on his side...fortunately...

Carla Bruni, Italian by the way, might has soften him a bit...