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Zen and the Art of Tone Moderating

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The recent events in Italy have caused some turbulence in Italy’s political class. First, Berlusconi has resigned as Prime Minister, an event that led to celebrations in the streets of Italy unseen since the 2006 Football World Cup Final. Given the lack of success of Italian football teams, politics gave the Italians a chance to feel pride at their country again.

These celebrations have been immediately condemned by important newspapers such as Il Giornale, owned by Silvio Berlusconi, for their aggressiveness, vulgarities, and display of hatred. What was overlooked by the important newspaper was the image of members of Berlusconi’s giving the finger to the crowd in front of them as they were leaving Palazzo Grazioli after B’s resignation.

Second, Mario Monti has been appointed as new Prime Minister. Monti is a man whose character  could not be more different from Berlusconi’s (hopefully). In the current economic and political turmoil, there has been a general appeal to follow his example and “moderate the tone” of the discussion, the latter being an art in which Italian politicians have never really excelled (see the previous video).

Take Francesco Storace. A man of the Right, member of the now-extinct Alleanza Nazionale, ex-ally of Gianfranco Fini (who last year, for a moment, looked like Berlusconi’s main antagonist), Storace is famous for his reply to a journalist who once asked him to say something right-wing: “You faggot!”, he said, to fulfill the journalist’s request.

Storace, like many others in Italy, struggles with moderating the tone of the discussion. Two days ago, at the convention of his political movement La Destra (“The Right”: one can imagine the massive brainstorming they had to go through before picking this name), while talking on the stage, he openly attacked Fini, yelling “Now you must resign too! Now you have to become unemployed too! You must go get a job! Pig!! Pig!!!” The crowd in front of him cheered and clapped hands – surely in a moderated way.

Interviewed on Radio24, Storace minimized the event. “I did not say maiale (pig), I said meno male (thank God)”, he said, laughing. The interviewers laughed back and replied “Come one, be serious: you’ve said some pretty serious stuff about the third figure of the State” (Fini is the President of the Chamber of Deputies).  After a few more jokes, Storace concluded:

“I did say maiale, but I did it unbeknownst to me”.

(The audio interview, in Italian, can be found here.)


Written by TheItalianist

15/11/2011 at 05:33

Evolutionary Theory and Italian Politics

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If  a ‘conservative’ country can be defined as one which is wary of changing, we have a clear winner.

Written by TheItalianist

11/11/2010 at 17:42

Amidst the Ruins

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Today, a building in the ancient area of the Pompeii Village, in Southern Italy collapsed. Pompeii has escaped the eruptions of the Vesuvium, it has managed to survive bombs during WWII (accidentally dropped by the Americans). However, it could not resist after years and years of water infiltration into its buildings, due to general carelessness and lack of proper maintenance works. More on this can be found here and here.

I find it symbolic that the building in question used to be the House of the Gladiators. That was the place where gladiators would train and prepare to fight. What happens when such place ‘collapses’? Is that a message that there might be no reason, or no hope, to fight any more?

Luckily, the Italian Minister of Culture, Sandro Bondi, who is in charge of the care of Italy’s heritage, has immediately stood up to comment: “If it was my fault, I would resign!” This is Bondi, in an image that captures his relentless effort to assist the Prime Minister in Parliament:

In addition to his achievements as Minister of Culture, Bondi is well-known for reprimanding Quentin Tarantino, a snobbish movie director, when he had commented on the quality of Italian cinema in a not very friendly way.

Unofficial sources have suggested that the Government is already planning an emergency strategy to deal with this very serious incident that, according to the same sources, is believed to be part of a large plan of the Mafia. As this post is going into (world)press, a meeting is taking place at the Prime Minister’s residence in Palazzo Grazioli, in Rome, where the leader is working hard, with some colleagues, to solve the country’s problems. There are consistent rumours that Berlusconi is about to appoint one of his best men to direct a rescue plan, which allegedly is going to be called “Operation Bunga-Bunga”.

Written by TheItalianist

07/11/2010 at 22:26

A Diamond is Forever

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Unexpectedly, a story of bribery populates today’s Italian news. The stage of this story is Abruzzo, the mountainous region of central Italy, and particularly L’Aquila, the city that was struck, almost 16 months ago, by a terrible earthquake that killed 320 people.

A series of polemics followed that dramatic event. First, local authorities were fiercely criticised for ignoring alarming signs in the days preceding the earthquake. Second, it emerged that many buildings that collapsed during the seism had been built with poor materials. Later, a series of scandals involving the Civic Protection Department revealed a dark world behind the “rebuilding” of L’Aquila.

The series of scandals continues uninterrupted. This time, it centres around Daniela Stati, the councillor for Civic Protection in Abruzzo. This is Stati:

Actually, she is now the ex councillor, for she resigned today in connection with this story. It is alleged that Stati received, and yielded to, many external “pressures” aiming at convincing her to assign funds for the reconstruction works in L’Aquila to one particular contractor, Abruzzo Engineering. According to the allegations, the latter was offered the contract in spite of the fact they hadn’t even presented a complete project. In fact, the group was preferred to Consorzio ReLuis, a group led by a private university from Rome, which had offered to do the work without receiving funding from the Abruzzo Government.

Details are still emerging around this -slightly uncommon- story: among them, there is a €15,000 (12,500 GBP) diamond ring that Vincenzo Angeloni, representative of Abruzzo Engineering, ‘gifted’ Daniela Stati on 15th December 2009, the same day in which the building group was eventually offered the contract. Wiretaps show a series of friendly exchanges between Ms. Stati, Mr. Angeloni, and Mr. Ezio Stati: the latter is the father of Daniela, himself an ex politician who had to resign in 2000 for being found guilty of bribery. A family business, so to speak. During another of these wiretaps, Angeloni phones Ezio Stati, whom he greets as “the councillor’s father”, informing him of his intention to buy a TV, “a very big one!”, as a present for old good Ezio. The latter happily abides, like “The Dude”, commenting that he is “waiting at home as a parrot”. (Not clear why he says so.. Must be politics jargon).

(Damien Hirst’s work)

The story is still to fully unfold. However, Daniela Stati appeared today on  Italian TV SKY, to give a statement rejecting the groundless allegations, and appealed directly to the Italian PM, saying “Mr. Berlusconi, I am another national scandal!” – with reference to Silvio’s idea that the fact that, once a week, a person of his crew is found involved in dirty stuff is the fruit of mere communist propaganda.

Then, Daniela Stati emphatically claimed: “My only fault is that I tried to defend the rights of the workers of [Abruzzo Engineering], I tried to offer a job to this society!”

A very reassuring explanation. To hell the accusation of bribery, and greed over the tragedy of the people from L’Aquila. This was just the attempt of a committed woman to foster workers’ rights.

Damn you, communist propaganda.

Written by TheItalianist

04/08/2010 at 17:49

Tell me you like me. Or, bugger off.

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Today is the 30th anniversary of the bombings at Bologna train station, one of the bloodiest (probably the bloodiest) terrorist attacks Italy suffered during the so-called anni di piombo (“years of lead”), in the 70s and early 80s. Eighty-five people died as a result of the explosion. Nowadays, the lancets of the station clock are still indicating 10.25 am, the time the bomb went off.

Each year, on the 2nd of August, relatives of the victims, along with common citizens, meet in front of the station, to commemorate the event and to ask for the truth about those responsible for the death of all those innocents. As of today, two neo-fascists have been condemned as material executors of the attack, but nothing has been said as to whom they acted for. The inquiry into the responsibilities of the Bologna bombings has led to State’s representatives and the so called “strategy of tension”, yet very little effort has been made to date, to find the instigators.

Today’s celebration is the first in which no member of the Government is present. Ministers used to take part in the 2nd of August commemoration, as a sign of the State’s support for the victims’ plea for justice. However, and particularly in the last few years, Ministers present at the ceremony have been also object of contestation from some groups of citizens, in relation to the trentennial delay in ascertaining the truth behind the bombing.

This year, then, no one from the Government is attending the ceremony. The reason for this is explained by Ignazio La Russa, Italy’s Minister of Defence. This is La Russa:

Ignazio explained yesterday: “In the past years, you always booed the Ministers who came to the ceremony. Thus, it’s not worth it for the Government to send its representatives”. His view was echoed by Manes Bernardini, from the Northern League: “This year, Bologna will pay for the contestations of the previous years”. Other members of the Government agreed with these statements.

So, here is today’s  lesson about democracy in Italy. The Government is there to be praised. If citizens contest the Ministers, if they made them accountable for their (in)action, then the Government will simply avoid showing up. Or, if it is the citizens who showed up to ask question, the Government will kick them out


(The Minister of Defence, La Russa, grabs a freelance journalist, Rocco Carlomagno,  who was annoyingly contesting the PM Berlusconi during a press conference, and throws him out of the room).

Written by TheItalianist

02/08/2010 at 15:34

End of a Love

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More drama on the Italian scene. This time, the drama takes place at an open debate of the PDL, The People’s Freedom, Italy’s ruling coalition led by Berlusconi. For us Italians, so used to kisses, tears, love, hugs, and the various performances of the defenders of “Love that wins over hatred and envy”, today was a bit of a shock.

Here’s what happened. There were these elections in Italy, a couple of weeks ago. Against the odds, and in spite of a quite messy build-up in the final weeks, the Right Wing, Berlusconi-led coalition, brought home a clear success over the not-so-charismatic Left-Wing opposition (see previous post).  The clearest outcome of the elections were that a) few people than ever went to vote and b) more people voted for the Northern League.

The Northern League is one of the most influential parties in Italy, with strong leaders and clear plans about reforming Italy. It is known for its commitment to protecting Italy’s culture and values, and for a perfectly rational attachments to tribal ceremonies like baptizing each other with the water of their sacred river Po. They use to refer to themselves as “colonies of Padania”, and are somewhat wary of big associations, like multi-region nations, not to mention the EU.

It turned out that the Northern League was the real winner of the Regional Elections: Berlusconi got less votes for himself, but could take advantage of the Northern League’s votes, given the latter belongs to the coalition he leads. As some have pointed out, this has had some serious effects on the Government’s next moves.

Enter Gianfranco Fini. This is Fini:

In spite of 16 (!) years of life together, he’s often showed a dissatisfaction with having to deal with Berlusconi. How could it be so? – one may wonder.

This unhappiness has increased after the regional election and the already mentioned Northern success. Fini, who leads the second more important Right-Wing group in the Government coalition, AN (National Alliance), got somewhat tired of the PDL’s supine obedience to the policies the Northern League is now pushing. Again, it is hard to accept this may be possible..

After weeks of mild reciprocal challenges, the two came to a showdown today. Fini got to talk at the PDL convention, and he raised some criticisms directly at Berlusconi. Now, it is important to specify some things:

a) no one criticises Berlusconi

b) even more importantly, no one ever criticises Berlusconi in public

c) no one ever criticises Berlusconi in front of TV cameras

Fini breached these three fundamental principles of Italian democracy, and in fact he has already been labelled a communist (according to the Italian rule that says “against Berlusconi” = against democracy = communist). He went on the stage and raised questions to the PM: mainly, he questioned the direction the PDL is taking. He highlighted contradiction between claiming to intend to defend the authority of the law and enacting some policies. He prided himself for criticising the PM openly in spite of being ridiculed by ‘certain press’ owned by PM’s relatives. He congratulates the PM as the real winner of the regional elections, yet he also asked “to be honest: now that the elections have gone, let’s say clearly that none of us believe there was a plot from the judges to deprive us of the victory, but that we just messed it up ourselves..”.

Too much, even for an ex-fascist. I’m surprised he’s still alive. Berlusconi got on the stage after him, and made it clear to him that if he wanted to make criticisms of the Government’s action, he should abandon his role of President of the Lower House of the Parliament, because he is meant to be super partes. Curiously, Berlusconi never gave similar orders to the President of the Senate, Renato Schifani.

“Our party has been exposed to public humiliation by its own members! Gianfranco, let’s talk to each other clearly! You said you are ashamed of having formed the PDL! This is the truth!!” Then he continued: “You are supposed to be super-partes, you cannot make judgments on the Government action! You cannot make these judgments if you are President of the Lower House.” Fini, from the audience, stood up and, waving his finger at Berlusconi, asked “Or what? Are you going to kick me out?”

The country is under shock. A breach in the PDL seems hard to avoid. Right-wing voters express their rage against Fini, “the traitor”, the mercenary sold to the communists. Left-wing voters struggle to acknowledge sympathy for an ex-fascist who has also shared Berlusconi’s bed for the last 16 years. Berlusconi is surely preparing one of his stylish coupe de theatre. The Northern League, in the meantime, appears unshaken by these issues.

Written by TheItalianist

22/04/2010 at 23:03

Come on Minister, Light My Fire

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The flame of democracy and freedom still burns in Italy. Against those who stay sceptical of Italy’s democratic level, today the Italian Minister Roberto Calderoli has poured fuel over the fire of liberty, a testimony of how well the Italian Government is doing.

This is Roberto Calderoli (on the left):

Calderoli plays a fundamental role in the Italian Government: he is the Minister for Legislative Simplification. His job consists in looking at the legal system and removing the ‘useless’ laws. A key function. What would happen without him? How many useless laws would Italians have to deal with, otherwise? Thank God there is Calderoli. I’m surprised no other country recognises a similar figure in their administrative body.

Clearly, not everyone can be Minister of Simplification. Calderoli has been the winner of a harsh selection, thanks to those qualities that make him stand out in the political scene. One can imagine him spending his days over the legal code, looking for the clogs in the mechanism that make the machine run less smoothly.

Today, his value was finally duly celebrated, through a solemn rite which, however, did not take place in the Parliament but  in a fire station. The ceremony consisted in the Minister burning a bunch of cardboard boxes, symbolising the 375.000 laws that allegedly the Minister has carefully and relentlessly removed from the Italian legal code. This the Minister getting ready for the service:


The attentive reader will notice that he is wielding a flame-thrower and an axe. He’s so attached to his work that he takes his tools with him always, even on official ceremonies. The boxes say “375.000 Useless Laws”. Can anyhting be more postmodern?

In pure ministerial fashion, Calderoli set the useless boxes on fire. Witness allege that Jim Morrison’s voice was heard coming from the flames:

The fire dissolved the burdens of the Italian Legal System. People clapped hands. The Gods were probably pleased.

(Pictures from

The Minister waved his thumb, reassuring the country about the safety of our legal system.

Thanks to this purifying fire, then: a fire that finally sweeps away all the little nuisances of our everyday life, about which we should stop worrying.

Written by TheItalianist

24/03/2010 at 23:59