Monday, February 02, 2015


Standard of the President of Italy

If you were watching the same UK news channels as I did over the weekend, you could be forgiven for believing that nothing newsworthy had happened in Italy. In case you missed it, then, I bring you the news that the country's Parliament did, in fact, elect a new President on Saturday. It has been hard to find any coverage of the event in online editions of the UK press, too, and I am wondering if this is a reflection on how the world now regards Italy - I hope not - bafflement with its political system or whether other news was simply deemed more important.

The new President, Sergio Mattarella, is a 73-year-old widower and it is thought that his daughter Laura will carry out the duties of "First Lady".  Born in Palermo, Sergio Mattarella is the first Sicilian to hold the office. As you may imagine, there has been much discussion about him here and most people I have spoken to believe him to be a decent and honourable man. His brother Piersanti Mattarella was killed by the Mafia in 1980 whilst serving as President of Sicily. Therefore people here think he is likely to understand some of the problems they face.

President Mattarella is a Constitutional Court judge who has also served as Minister of Education and Minister of Defence. In the latter role, he was instrumental in ending conscription in Italy. In 1990 he resigned his position over the liberalisation of the media in Italy, a relaxation of the rules which led to the rise of the Berlusconi television empire.

Later Sergio Mattarella became one of the founders of the current Democratic Party [PD] in Italy.

Upon his election on Saturday President Mattarella said,

"Il mio pensiero va soprattutto e anzitutto alle difficoltà e alle speranze dei nostri concittadini - My thoughts are first and foremost with the difficulties and hopes of our citizens."

He will be sworn in as President tomorrow. The Italian President has largely ceremonial duties but is regarded as a guarantee of the democratic process in the country.  His role can be crucial at times of political stalemate or instability [as President Napolitano's was].

It seems to me that few people, in any country, go into politics for purely altruistic reasons, but it has to be said that those in democracies other than Italy make a better pretence at doing so. My hope for President Mattarella is that he will encounter more honourable politicians than perhaps he expects to during his term or terms of office. 

Incidentally, I was immensely cheered up to read on twitter that, on the day of President Mattarella's election, arancini were being served in the canteen of the US Congess - whether by accident or design I know not!

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