giovedì 9 luglio 2009

Berlusconianism and the Modern State

By Clara Schulze

Italian TV news failed to adequately report on the latest scandal surrounding Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi – namely, the alleged attempt by a real estate manager to bribe the premier using women instead of money. The newspaper “La Repubblica”, which has instead extensively covered the story, also pointed out that 4 Italians out of 5 do not read newspapers, but rely entirely on TV news. This may be a common international trend, but in Italy it is a reason for worry since 85% of major Italian TV news are owned by Silvio Berlusconi himself.

It is part of Italian culture to take an anti-scandalistic perspective on happenings, especially if they are unrelated to political performance. Still, it is true that the non-existence of a decent political opposition in Italy has helped the deterioration of political accountability and transparency and this has been reflected in the quality of information available to citizens. The character that media communication has taken in Italy is not consistent with the model of democratic government - it holds more resemblance to the propaganda commonly used in developing countries or in former European regimes. But this is not yet the worst that Italy can expect from media communication.

English press, always keen on scandals and rumours about private life of public figures, confesses its astonishment for the fact that Berlusconi will not resign. The mere fact that the personal behaviour of a politician might or might not constitute a ground for his dismissal is central to the question.

In fact, from a Berluscon-ian point of view, there is no ground for resigning. Berlusconi owes his popularity to extending his personal-style managerial ideas to public functions.
People like him because he is a “smart guy”, because he knew how to make money and because he can be alien to the boring, useless State ceremonial. He is smarter, uses common sense to waive bureaucratic burdensome procedures and achieves new results, namely obtaining an unprecedented amount of funding from the European Institutions to help solving domestic issues.

But, above all, he is “fun”. This is the rationale behind the jokes he is famous for during diplomatic gatherings. This is also explains some of his claims, like the pledge to reduce the number of Parliamentarians and the fact that any scandal or objection he encounters is rebuked as a manifestation of personal envy from the poorer, less successful and disorganized Italian Leftist.

But, by doing so – through his anti-bureaucratic, anti-ceremonialist, private-sector approach to politics - Berlusconi is eroding the structures which are essential to modern State, and which in Italy may be already weaker than in other European countries, due to the historical fragmentation of the country and to the survival of anti-state organization within its territory (read: Mafia).

When the Parliament is dismissed as boring, and too expensive, the judges are mocked, and, on the other side, Berlusconi surrounds himself with an inexistent party and insignificant or flattering co-operators, and proposes himself as a candidate not because of this program, but because of this person, then there is no point in being too surprised that he proceeds to the appointment of personal friends to public position, or that he behaves unconventionally with respect to his public role.
Italians have called exactly for this, and his consensus relies on his ability to “win” external negotiation and to be “the smart guy of the group”.

This pattern has a very dangerous side-effect in the long run, which is, the lack of support of Italian to their own State, which paradoxically makes the very game of Berlusconi. If you talk of politics with an Italian, most times he will encourage some form of blame on Berlusconi, he will confirm you the decline of the nation and his distrust in the State. Such attitude is unfortunately far away from humour and badly hides a growing shame for being Italian. Beware: not for having this or those premier behaving in a certain way during particular occasions, but for belonging to the Italian nation itself.

The concepts of Berlusconi and Italy are now becoming blurred, in the mind of Italians even more than in the mind of foreigners. This leads to a vicious circle. The more Modern State in Italy is despised as such by citizens, the more they are likely to see its institutions from a Berlusconian, managerial point of view and accept to see them bypassed by the “strong man” initiative.

What should be made clear is that the germ of the problem relies in Italian citizens themselves, who continue to choose to despise their country by voting the one who is happy to make it ridiculous. Instead of blaming circumstances and cry for secessions, they would need instead to re-think their approach and become more clear about what they want from politics. Of course, Berlusconi’s TV news will not help this process to develop.

1 commento:

  1. Hi Margui
    I am trying to get in touch with the author Clara Schulze re a workshop we are organizing studying the impact of Berlusconism. Please contact me if you wish ,
    Renata Summo-O'Connell