Italy sliding into fascism.


In a seminar that I attended last year, there was a lecture on the problem of corruption in Serbia. When we got to questions and awnsers, an Italian professor made the following comment: “Well, at least you manage to get your garbage collected”. Far from dismissing my worries about the seriousness of the problem of corruption in Serbia, this comment made me reflect on how weak is the italian state and how fragile is italian democracy.

I think the political situation in Italy is not having the attention it requires. Italy is a fascinating country, and if I had to briefly define its main features, creativity would come on top. The italian society shows an extraordinary tendency for inovation, while being able to also keep its more traditional features. This caracteristic explains why Italy is such an attractive country, having a privileged image in the imaginary of western societies as a place where tradition and modernity stand side by side. This romantic image of Italy, with its fantastic monuments, cities like Florence and Venice, fashion, Ferrari, nice food, beautiful women and handsome men makes it easier to downplay the worrying signs that are coming about the erosion of democratic values.

Politically too, Italy has been on the vanguard of inovation. It was in Italy that fascism was invented. Although Mussolini never managed to have the degree of control over society that Hitler enjoyed in Germany, his defeat did not mean the erradication of the fascist ideology. The post-war political system was caracterized by a significant degree of disfuntionality, which led to the collapse of its party sistem, under the weight of corruption and the penetration of organized crime at all levels of society. The void gave the fascist forces a golden opportunity to emerge, and, since the appearence in italian politics of of Silvio Berlusconi in 1993, the pattern of italian politics is one of polarization between the radical right (with the moderate right having practically disapeared) and the left forces, which only manage to win by forming fragile negative coalitions, but seem to be powerless to respond to the challenged posed by the populist appeal of the radical right.

This became particularly clear with the victory of  the neo-fascist polititian Gianni Alemanno, member of Alleanza Nazionale in the local elections for Rome’s city council, who vowed to expell from the city 20 000 roma immigrants. The problem of immigration is being used to exploit fear within the population and to make it less resistant to the erosion of key features of democracy. As usual, gipsies appear as a point of minor resistance, due to the prevailing prejudices among the population and their marginal existence. Blamed on the increasing levels of violence, they are now the target of extremist violence. The fact that Italy faces a serious problem with immigration is not at stake here. That problem is indeed being welcomed by extreme-right politicians whose power is built largely upon their ability to expoit fear and prejudices. Thus, it is not surprising that incidents like burning alive a homeless immigrant from India, to which my friend Max Spencer Dohner raised my attention.

From last year, the signs of how Italy is increasingly sliding into fascism are becoming more and more visible:

At the level of foreign policy, in Berlusconi fascination towards Vladimir Putin and Russia;

Internally, the recent emergency laws allowing the creation of citizen street patrols, after three episodes of rape that outraged italian society. Please note that, dramatic as these crimes are, they are not representative of a rise in crime, as it happens that the number of sexual assaults fell last year. Here, the fears associated with the crime of rape converge with xenophobia, as the alledged authors of this crime were immigrants.

The technique  is to make use of a climate of sentimentalism and tension, induced, in great extent by the media, which Berlusconi as a media tycoon and Prime-Minister has largely under his grip. The right moment is seized, thanks to the disregard for the normal legislative procedures, to which I have already pointed out in the case of Eluana Englaro, where, through an emergency decree, the government tried to defy the sovereign decision of Italy’s highest court, thus also the principle of separation between legislative, executive and judicial power.

Berlusconi’s contempt towards democratic principles is also clearly patent in the aproval of laws granting the President, leaders of the upper and lower chambers, and Prime Minister (the four highest offices of the state) immunity from investigation whilst in office, just in time to avoid investigations to his own activities.

Now, it’s the right to strike that comes under attack, with the approval draft law to restrict strikes in the transport sector.

To this we could add Berlusconi racist and sexist comments, which reveal a deep comptemp towards equality and tolerance, but are very much in accordance with his style of  (frustrated) ‘macho latino’, which makes him appealing to sectors of the italian society, still too much dominated by the tradicional patriarchical model.

The resemblances between the current political situation and that of non-democratic countries are growing. This is particularly worrying because, as I have said in the begining of this post, Italy stands out as a very innovative country in the field of politics, and it’s experiments sooner or later have an impact also on other european societies. In this sense, Italy can be seen as a ‘lab’ for political scientists and commenters in search of new and old fashion tendencies…

The question that this process raises in my mind is: in which point of decay does a political system stop being democratic?


Filed under Uncategorized

12 responses to “Italy sliding into fascism.

  1. Berlusconi is reminds me of Vojislav Seselj. Is there any difference between the two? They are both corrupt and do not shy away to show their intolerance and lack of intelligence publicly.

    Something has to be seriously wrong with a society in which the neo-fascist politician Gianni Alemanno can win elections under the premise of expelling 20,000 Roma residents from Rome.

    Where is Pope in all this? Is he condeming Italian fascists?

  2. Owen

    Dan, I’m not sure Berlusconi has quite reached Seselj’s levels of murderous nastiness but the parallel isn’t unreasonable and Berlusconi’s grip on real levers of power is much greater and quite frightening. It’s pretty horrific that Italians have continued to vote for him for so many years. They don’t have any excuse that they don’t know what he’s like.

  3. Sarah Franco

    I think Berlusconi reminds me more of Milosevic than of Seselj. Both have no problem in associating themselves with self-admitted fascists while, whom they use to reinforce their own power. Both play with ambiguity, appealing to traditional values, while portraying themselves as modern, and I could go on.

    The context, of course, is very different, but there are many parallels.

  4. Marko Attila Hoare

    Great post, Sarah; in terms of its democratic deficit and the strength of its xenophobic fringe, Italy is somewhere at the level of Greece, and not far above Turkey.

    I can’t help feeling that the nineteenth-century unification of Italy was a utopian folly…

  5. Fine piece, Sarah

    Tho we have our differences over what is and is not fascism, the decay of Italian politics is a quite frightening phenomena. I read a fairly trashy but interesting book of the Mafia by John Dickie. One of the things he puts across very well is the confrontation between the Italian state and its citizens. The state is either a corrupt protecter or a brutish interloper. No wonder some look to charismatic ‘outsiders’ like B to ‘drain the swamp’. Alas, they are too busy flooding the place 🙂

    One has to wonder if democracy in any meaningful way can continue. Italy, it seems, has yet to make Italians.

  6. Sebaneau

    I am afraid I might have to part company here with the social-democrats, whom I had rather call pseudo-democratic Socialists given my own (naturally correct ;-)) conceptions of justice and democracy.

    For, might not elected officials be merely answering to the Italians’ protests against attempts by government people, among them judicial bureaucrats, to deny them their democratic rights:

    -to determine foreigners’ conditions of access on their national territory,
    -to defend themselves and their properties against interlopers and aggressors,
    -to be served, rather than be annoyed and exploited by so-called “civil servants”,
    -not to have the outcome of national elections annulled through contrived judicial investigations and
    -not to be killed when they are innocent of murder?

    And this without evidence that they are not acting according to the rule of law and in order to restore actual democratic control of government.

    The only question I would ask myself is why elected officials are responsive to the people’s wishes in Italy while they ignore them elsewhere.
    Might not it be because democratic debate there has not been completely stifled by laws imposing “tolerance”?

  7. Sarah Franco

    Sebaneau, that takes us to the discussion on what is really the will of the people. It is in this point that I find similarities between Italy and Serbia.

    Social republican, I think you have a point when you mention carismatic outsiders. In the case of Berluscone, he incorporates the ideal of the ‘smart guy’ that manages to cheat the system. This is a very typical figure in the latin countries. There is a phrase in portuguese that some people say ironically, and others use as face value ‘the world belongs to the smart guys’. To this phrase inevitably someone replies, ‘no, the world belongs to the rich’. In berlusconi you have a synthesis. On the other hand, the anti-Berlusconi Romano Prodi is also a carismatic outsider. He’s not really a politician, and he’s looked at as an honest guy who has not been tainted by the system. The problem is that the smart guy promises much more fun!!! And here we go again to the will of the people…

  8. Roma people are beautiful people, there is absolutely no reason to demean them. They are beautiful people with beautiful and rich culture. We have Roma people in Bosnia, there is nothing wrong with them. They are just like everybody else, although they tend to be a little bit more misfortunate – but that’s not their fault. They are constantly being pushed on the side of society and they are being overly prejudiced by other ethnic groups. But in reality, they are generally very nice people and I enjoyed playing with them when I was a kid, and they were with us during the war… they are good people and I encourage everyone, if you have chance, to make Roma your friends 🙂

  9. Owen

    Dan, you say “a little bit more misfortunate”. For a group of about 600 or so Roma in northern Mitrovica that’s a massive understatement.

    In 1999 they were housed as internally displaced persons in a camp constructed on lead contaminated tailings from the Trepca mine. This was supposedly a temporary measure, for a maximum of 45 days. They have been moved, to another camp built on lead waste, where they are still, ten years on.

    Some have died from the effects of lead poisoning, other have suffered permanent neurological damage, particularly the young children. A couple of the children at Osterode have recorded the highest blood lead levels ever known.

    What is particularly shocking is that much of the blame for this horrific medical experiment has to be laid at the door of the UN, through the inaction or worse of UNMIK.

    The Kosovo Medical Emergency Group is stepping up its advocacy campaign for the immediate evacuation of the Osterode and Cesmin Lug camps to a place where adequate medical treatment is available.

    Sarah, I know this is drifting a long way away from the subject of this post but I hope you won’t mind me posting news of further developments with the KMEG campaign.

  10. David All

    Thank you, Sarah for another excellant article. I did not realize that the situation in Italy had gotten so bad with that loudmouth Berlusconi’s grip on power being so strong as to be real slide towards some sort of form of new Fascism. Social Republican is right in how most Italians see the State as something to be avoided or gotten around.
    What you said about the phrase “smart guys” being used in Latin countries about those who manage to cheat the system and how much more attractive the “smart guys” are to the public sounds depressingly familiar. Somewhat related to this is that here in the United States, the phrase “wise guy” has come to mean that a person so referred to is a member of the Mafia.

  11. Sarah Franco

    Owen, you are right to draw our attention to the serious situation of the Roma in Mitrovica. I should write a post on this subject.

  12. Owen

    I’ve just been reading again about the death of Pope John Paul I. I went to Wikipedia to check whether Licio Gelli of the P2 Masonic Lodge was still alive and found this interesting item towards the end:

    “In 2003, Gelli declared to La Repubblica, in reference to the P2 “democratic rebirth plan”, that it seemed it was being implemented by Silvio Berlusconi:

    “Every morning I speak to my conscience and the dialogue calms me down. I look at the country, read the newspaper, and think:

    “All is becoming a reality little by little, piece by piece. To be truthful, I should have had the copyright to it. Justice, TV, public order. I wrote about this thirty years ago… Berlusconi is an extraordinary man, a man of action. This is what Italy needs: not a man of words, but a man of action.”