Friday, November 29, 2013

Bunga Bunga

Renato Giuseppe Bertelli, Continuous Profile 
(Head of Mussolini) (1933).
I've been back in France almost a month after my little Italian voyage. I don't speak very much Italian, but the linguistic similarities between French and Italian and my curiosity about word etymology made it a lot easier for me to get by...I love the language, now I want to be able to speak it. We arrived in Rome and were met by our very old friend, Enzo at the airport. That made it so much easier to get on a train and get into Rome at night and then get a cab to take us to the incredible pallazo  where the apartment we would be staying in was located. Enzo is totally Italian, he lives in Manhattan, but he grew up in Perugia, in Umbria where he has an incredible little home in a building on a stairway that follows the 2500 year old Etruscan Aqueduct along the Etruscan wall that girds the old city. Enzo is a totally political Italian animal...he was a communist labor organizer at the Perugina Chocolate Factory and ran for public office in Perugia quite a few times. So in the cab, he engaged the driver in a very animated conversation, which I could hardly follow, but it seemed to center around the subject of Silvio Berlusconi. The last time Berlusconi staggered out of the gutter and into the cosmetic surgery center and then emerged to be re elected as President of Italy again, I remember very clearly, Enzo snarling in disgust, "I am not Italian, anymore...." To hear him say that is an exercise in redundancy, because I have never met any one more Italian than Enzo.
The conversation in the cab got pretty animated and after we got out and paid the fare, they shook hands and the guy drove off with Enzo snarling " Typical Asshole!"
In the week or so I was there, I realized that Berlusconi enjoyed the same kind of populist support as your typical Teabrained Congressman might enjoy in the district he represented. It makes sense, because, he controlled the media in Italy for years. He was a phenomena that could only have occured in a small country like Italy. As if someone like say, Rupert Murdoch could have molded his public image. But Murdoch could never be Berlusconi. Berlusconi enjoyed the chipped decadent fading aura of Mussolini Fascism. A small but still vibrant country still divided by ancient cultural prejudices. This country is divided by region and carries it over to the way they view the rest of Europe.

Okay, a bit of a generalization, but the little map of Italy on the left is a not so exaggerated view of the way the lumpen Italian common people view their country. And what's so bizarre about that? Look at the way a big country full of ignorant idiots, like say, Fox News viewing Americans view the rest of the country and the world from the relatively secure familiar confines of their trailer courts in their particular region. Look, Italian politics are a study in controlled anarchy. Berlusconi first came to power in Italy in 1994. He used his position as a the CEO of Italian Media to create his Forza Italia Party and hone his image as a strong Mussolini unifying national leader. He became his own historical semi regency...he rose to power as a savior and then rode out the ups and downs of economic reality with his media and cosmetic surgically enhanced PR mastery. His personal life mirrored the decline of the Roman Empire. Drugs, Sex, Corruption Scandals...he is a 77 year old surgically enhanced Viagra dependent despot desperately trying to hold the reins of the nationalistic, fascist racist monster he created. Rob Ford of Toronto is a two bit amateur compared to the Bunga Bunga Coke fueled Under aged prostitute Orgy world of Berlusconi. He was the fuckin President and he he didn't give a fuck...and for a lot of the machismo envy of a lot of the common worker Italian men, this was the gateway to a fantasy land they could never even imagine.

So, Silvio Berlusconi's scandal-haunted political career has suffered a potentially killing blow: following his conviction for tax fraud, the upper house of the Italian parliament has tossed him out, stripping him of his seat. Berlusconi insists that he will be exonerated by new evidence, and has called upon the president of Italy to pardon him (though he will not formally petition for a pardon, insisting that it should be forthcoming as a matter of course). Assuming the pardon is not forthcoming, he will go to prison in 2014. It will be a strong, if fractured opposition against a weak government. Italians are used to governments which fall faster than the political caste can assemble them. Faction leaders don't have to be elected officials to carry out Machiavellian deals behind the screen. Mere governments change rapidly in Italy, while the political status quo pretends to change so that everything can stay the same.
It took twenty years to remove Berlusconi from the ranks of government, although his noisome politics of corruption and media monopoly were obvious from the first day. His populist Italianism still has strong appeal among the poor and ignorant, the very people Berlusconi did most to bring into that condition. Elderly housewives and retired men still swoon over the charm of this gallant, headlong TV impresario, who presented himself as a true Italian man, a self-made tycoon who knew what he wanted and knew how to get it. When he finally lost power -- as a patron of underage prostitutes -- the women from Berlusconi's splintering party dressed themselves in black to mourn the "death of Italian democracy."
A study in contrasts, France's President, Francois Hollande has a much more positive economic record and has done all he has could to protect France from austerity economic measure. We still enjoy the best health care system in the world, but he is totally null when it comes to his image and PR. His government is very inclusive, a black woman is the minister of justice, a Spanish born citizen is Minister of the fact, Manuel Valls is perhaps the farthest "right" member of the government.  Young, glib and reeking charisma, Valls could be Prime Minister now if he was asked. He has the highest approval rating of any French political figure. But Hollande seems to be losing luster by the hour. thought he rejects far right nationalism but because of his tragic lack of PR skills, he is facing the lowest approval ratings of any recent French President! 

It might be that Berlusconi's fandom was overestimated, thanks to his long-time control of Italian newspapers and television.
Berlusconi can be stopped and searched! Policewomen, give him what he deserves!
Berlusconi's voters deserve their share of blame for putting up with him. His devotees were numerous, active, vigorous and still are. He may have been purged from political life on a disgusting morals charge, but a counter-purge awaits around the corner from the horde of cronies who fully share his politics and his tycoon wealth-machine. It is only a matter of time: somebody from Berlusconi's numerous family and his crew of bunga bunga friends will strike back at the Italian parliament that humiliated him.
In the meantime, those honest people and voters who fought against dark times in Italy must find some path back toward the daylight. With or without Berlusconi, the citizens of Italy still face Austerity policy at work: cuts in the social welfare, childcare, education, research, pensions, and the mutilation of one of the best health care systems in the world. So the news is good: but it would be better news if democracy and civilization were back on their feet again

Meanwhile, Berlusconi's 28 year old "girlfriend" Francesca Pascale went public yesterday with her plea for a public audience with Pope Francis to plead for forgiveness and explain his part of the story....for the record, Berlusconi is one year younger than Pope Francis....Uhh, this might have been a serious tactical error, but religion? politics? stranger things have happened.

1 comment:

Ol'Buzzard said...

Nothing could surprise me in Italian politics.
the Ol'Buzzard