Sunday, November 13, 2011


Image:  Wikipedia
In Italy we have been witnessing a "great show" all week and its finale was played out in front of the eyes of the world yesterday, when Silvio Berlusconi at last resigned.  

Rumours of the Premier's political demise had  begun to circulate on Monday on twitter, as Italy struggled to save itself fiscally by satisfying the demands of its eurozone neighbours.  But by the afternoon the Premier had denied the rumours and people all over Italy were trying to work out how to get the cork back into a bottle of champagne.

By Tuesday, however, the scenario had changed again and it was announced that the Premier would resign, but only after full approval of the "Stability Budget" by Parliament - a process which, under normal circumstances, could have taken up to a month.

This time, though, the President and the people, aware of the gravity of the country's situation and of its terrible image abroad, swung into action:  The Budget was rushed through Parliament and by yesterday afternoon everyone was waiting to watch Mr Berlusconi's last journey as Premier - to the Quirinale to hand in his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano.

The Premier's appointment with the President was, we were told, for 8.30 pm but, this being Italy, no one really expected events to run to time.  Nevertheless, as the minutes ticked by and it became known that Mr Berlusconi was holding a Party meeting, everyone began to wonder if he was about to pull a last rabbit out of the hat - and in fact he did, laying down certain conditions for the Pdl's [People of Freedom] participation in and support of a new, transitional government.  The most reported of these conditions is that Mario Monti, the academic and former EU Commissioner who has become Prime Minister while I have been writing this post, will not, as an unelected Premier, be a candidate when elections are eventually held.

At last, nearly an hour late, Mr Berlusconi was driven to the Quirinale.  He made it known that he was upset and "embittered" by the jeering crowds, who were singing the partisan song, "Bella Ciao" and chanting "Galera!" ["Prison!"] and  "Buffone!"  Ah, Silvio, thus have the mighty ever fallen.  

The announcement that the Premier had, indeed, tendered his resignation came at 10 pm, the twitter feeds went crazy and the spumante was flowing in the streets of Rome and several other cities.  Sicily is traditionally conservative and all remained quiet here in Modica, although the town has a left-wing Mayor in office [by the skin of his teeth]. 

And that brings me to the question which is always asked abroad about Mr Berlusconi:  How did this tycoon, so often ridiculed in the rest of the world, stay in power for so long?  Part of the answer is, of course, that the country has had no effective Opposition, but the real answer, I believe, lies in the personality of the Cavaliere himself: Many of his supporters would claim, with justification, that he did not amass his millions by being stupid and that he has received little credit for his business achievements.  They admire a man who can rise to the top and remain there.  Secondly, as I've written before, Mr Berlusconi appeals to a very Italian instinct - the instinct for joy -  and it is this which may, paradoxically, have toppled him.  

The trouble is that the country's young people, who feel they have no hope, can manifest little joy.  Every day I meet students who tell me that they feel they have no future and that they are ashamed of their country.  And I, as a lover of Italy, have been heartbroken at times, in the past few years, to see the country so derided abroad, largely because of the antics of one man.

That said, I do not think that Mr Berlusconi is all bad:  I am sure that he is very charming and I would rather spend an evening with him than with Nicolas Sarkozy.  My hope for Mr Berlusconi is that he will ditch the airhead models and find the companionship he so obviously needs in a kind, intelligent woman nearer his age.  [But when did men ever learn?!]

Now we are going to have a new, "technocrat" transitional government and what will happen is anyone's guess:  Mr Monti may be able to sort the whole, sorry, economic situation out.  If he needs advice, he will find no shortage of it, with those two self-appointed "headteachers" of the eurozone,  Merkel and Sarkozy, ready to fly to Italy to tell him what to do. Personally, I hope he tells Merkozy to get stuffed as some people, it seems, need to be reminded that Italy is a sovereign state.  As so often happens in hard times, we may see a resurgence of the right;  extreme right-wing parties are already advocating an "Italy for Italians" and the independence-seeking Lega Nord may prove to be more dangerous outside government than within it.  My own country, the UK, panicked by events in Greece and Italy, may even leave the EU, a policy which I believe would be domestically disastrous and which would have serious repercussions for British expatriates here.

Let us hope, however, that all will be well.  I have actually been rather proud of Italy this week, for it was not the bankers who ousted Mr Berlusconi - it was democracy in action.

Finally, for those of you who are going to miss the Cavaliere, don't worry too much:  his new CD of love songs will be out on 22nd November.  But you may prefer to spend your hard - earned cash on earplugs.


J. M. P. said...

My most sincere congratulations to you and to Italy for getting rid of him. Thank you for the info, it's been great to read in your post that it has been democracy, not bankers, who ousted him. In Spain, sadly enough, the conservative party will democratically achieve absolute majority within a week. *sigh*

Patricia said...

Oh we appreciated your post. I read it aloud to my husband and we had a long discussion afterwards. You give us a wonderful "internal" glimpse of Italian politics and it is valued. We have mixed feelings about Berlusconi. On one hand i want to shake him and say..."Grow up and act responsibly." but on the other hand he is a man with business acumen that you mention and as American, we admire that. My cousins are split over him. Most do not support him, but one of my cousins does support him. Jay always minds me of the old Chinese curse..."May you live in interesting times!"

Unknown said...

Blessings and joy to the Italian people!I pray for the health of Mario Monti and that he may prove to be an effective and enlightened leader.

Whispering Walls said...

Bye bye bunga and good luck to Super Mario!

Woman on a Raft said...

Thank you so much for this post. There is nothing like a first-hand account of events.

"Every day I meet students who tell me that they feel they have no future and that they are ashamed of their country." Then you must tell that that although things are grim at the moment, they are very much the envy of the world in so many respects.

Some of these may seem trivial to them, but it counts greatly with visitors that Italian children are quite the most delightful in the world. Go in to any restaurant or bar, or watch them on the streets, and the Italian children will be the properly dressed ones who behave beautifully.

This does not happen in a vacuum; it is because Italian parents and Italian teenagers know how to set an example. No nation where the children can use a knife and fork, speak politely at the table and play so beautifully with each other is utterly lost.

It might have temporarily mislaid its directions, and I hope and pray it will recover those. Visiting Italy is one of the great privileges of being alive and one I hope to enjoy again in the future.

Jenny Woolf said...

Well done Italy for giving him the boot. Fingers crossed for the future.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thank you, Josep. Sorry to hear that about Spain. Thanks, Patricia. I think a lot of people have mixed feelings about Silvio because it is hard to totally dislike him! I echo your words, Nick. Well said, WW! Thank you, Woman on a Raft. Yes, I tell my students that Italy is still the envy of the world in so many ways! I completely agree with what you say. I've got everything crossed here, Jenny!

Rosaria Williams said...

So good of you to give us the full story here. We get so little background information on most news items.

James Higham said...

policy which I believe would be domestically disastrous

Yes, it would lead to economic recovery and freedom from the yoke of the unelected EU - a disaster all right. Britain would then trade as she did before in her days of strength.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks, Rosaria. Somehow I knew you would say that, James!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

I have received this message from Constance, of the lovely "Rochambeau" blog:

Hello and thank you for your thoughts about Silvio Berlusconi. I tend to stay on the sidelines and take it all with a grain of salt. We gather info about politics and politicians, but no matter how hard we try, we will never have the whole picture. People listen and read and try to get at the bottom of the truth, but probably never will. It is a miracle any country gets by with their leaders, yet somehow the wheel keeps on turning. I wouldn't want a position of power, would you?

Thank you for your thoughts. It fascinates me to hear your perspective living in your beloved Italy.
hugs to Simi~~~

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thank you, Constance. I agree - we can never know the whole picture. I certainly wouldn't want a position of power in these times! x

Weekend Yachtsman said...

I don't think Il Cavaliere is all bad, either, and I have long and often said that I think he adds much to the gaeity of nations - politics is full of stuffed shirts, after all, and one who brings another flavour altogether is not entirely unwelcome.

One must note, too, that after a very brief bounce, the economic situation hasn't improved: Italy's problems did not start with Berlusconi's arrival and will not end with his departure.

But what do you all think about having a completely unelected government appointed by the Germans?

In the UK such an outrage would cause a revolution - I hope.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, WY. Not all bad but he gave Italy such a terrible image abroad by the end and he did nothing for the cause of women although he purported to love them. I have to admit that he told good jokes, though! As for the technocrat government, I don't see what else Italy could have done at the moment. I just hope it works.


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