Berlusconi’s last bunga bunga

It is with great relief and so much joy that we say goodbye to Berlusconi as Italy’s Prime Minister for the better part of seventeen years.  Now I know a little how people feel when their countries are rid of dictators.  Berlusconi came to power shortly after I arrived in Rome and hailed himself as a progressive leader that would modernise Italy.  Instead he went about feathering his own nest and did nothing to revitalise or bring Italy forward.  He even went on national television (which he owned) and gave a monologue speech in which he contracted with the Italian people to do a number of things, and holding himself accountable to the population, for them.  At the time I am sure he believed himself.  I can’t remember if that was before or after he was charged with corruption and asked to step down as Prime Minister.  The first time.

Italians are an incredibly forgiving race and tolerant to the point of the ridiculous but I knew it was all over when I read in the paper last week that according to Berlusconi’s second in command, Berlusconi had to go as he had created a laughing stock out of Italy and that no other countries respected them anymore.  Four indictments of corruption, constantly accused for having broken the law in a number of other areas during his seventeen year reign, his lack of leadership, changing electoral laws so it was easier for him to win elections, owning most of the print and television media and using it as the communications arm of his political campaign, flagrant womanising, stacking his political party with gorgeous women he had seduced, and sex with an underage prostitute was never going to be enough.

Italians have an expression La Bella Figura which is fundamental to understanding part of their culture.  It means “to make a good impression” and is the basis for all social interaction and behaviour.  It is important at all costs to conduct yourself in a manner which creates a good impression (and this means treating others well as part of it).  I knew that the comment in the newspaper meant that Berlusconi had crossed this line and caused his country to not have a Bella Figura.  I was therefore pretty sure that unlike all the other times, this time he was doomed.

I do however have a word of caution to the Anglo leaders (USA, UK, Australia) who have been calling for him to get his act together and start leading the country.  Like that was the piece of advice he had been missing.  If only it had come sooner.  There are several cultural, historical and social reasons that Italy is the way it is, and not the way any of the Anglo type countries are.  These circumstances, although they may lead to some disasters such as now, are also tied up in the many successes and wonders of Italy.   It is not as easy as it first seems.

  1.  Berlusconi has mostly had to govern with a minority government over his seventeen year reign.  Traditionally his government has had to include parties in it from the extreme left to the extreme right, in order for him to form a government.

At the moment Australia has had a minority government for just over a year and it has caused us paroxysms of anxiety, debating, stalemates, slowness and at times divided the country because we have had to get the OK of a few people not in the party of the current Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

The UK and USA systems have been constantly paralysed and brought almost to the brink of disaster over the past four years due to partisan politics.

Berlusconi’s government has had to run the country like this for seventeen years, trying to get agreement on everything they do across a wide spectrum of political parties, any of whom could dissolve the government if they didn’t agree.  Governing in Italy is a major act of facilitation, participatory practices and consultations to bring everyone along as a group.  It is something that not many other governments have to put up with, and even fewer display the aptitude and leadership skills for.

2.  Traditionally who you voted for in Italy depended on what your professional was or where you lived (your region).  In order to keep your job/get a job or have access to government services in your region you had to pledge support to the candidate who represented this as part of the election campaigning.  All journalists voted a certain way, so did university staff, doctors, bank employees etc.  It was only recently that a law was passed banning mobile phones in the polling booths so that people could not be pressured to prove who they voted for by taking a photo with their phone of their ballot.

This is a system of patronage that greatly hampers any individual politician leading or making any great changes once they get to Parliament.  Much like the system of big business and other factions in the Anglo countries that can afford to pour huge sums of money into candidates’ electoral campaigns.  In Italy the politicians go after the voters, in the Anglo countries it is the other way around.

3.  Italy is a country of 65 million people and one of the eighth most industrialised countries in the world.  It has huge wealth, high productivity, and a black market possibly as large as the one that is recorded on paper.  It is much harder to manage this kind of economy than one which has only 20 million people in it and only 1% of the world’s market.

The way Italy’s economy works is based on its social system which has been around for longer than the economy.  Unlike other countries whose culture can now be called Economic Rationalism, Italy has retained much of its pre-industrialised values and traditions.  This is what makes it such a wonderful place and is also part of the reason it is filled with world heritage treasures.

Sometimes the “Stock Market” is not able to list, define or appreciate all the world’s stocks.  Therefore let’s not make it the only measurement of value in the world.

5 thoughts on “Berlusconi’s last bunga bunga

  1. Love reading your blog. So informative and evocative. Brings back wonderful memories of Roman pizza and wandering eight hours a day soaking up the glorious architecture. Keep up the wonderful writing.

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  2. I am from California and I never thought the Italian government was backward, or as corrupt as the American government often is. Italy obviously has a good system and tradition in the government- governments are just hard to run. It’s a big, messy job and you know greedy people will be attracted to power. I don’t know what the corrupt American media has said, but I know Italy doesn’t have a backwards government. The fact that few dictators have ever risen in post-Roman Italy says something. Italy’s ancient traditions and the good Italian people, who have given us unmeasurable cultural treasures and inspired many other countries and cultures, have clearly taken good care of the people by moderating the dangers of politics as well.

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    • thanks David, interesting observations, I appreciate you sharing them. I often thing the media have a huge role to play in how we see our governments. Also from the outside it is easy to judge, as you say, governments are hard to run. I always point out that Italy is one of the 7th most industrialised countries in the world yet still has very low levels of heart disease, family break down, and violence against women compared to other post industrialsied countries. They have strong humanitarian values which balance out a lot of things. You would probably enjoy my book Roman Days for further insight into the Italian way of life. Thanks again for your kind comments.

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