A year ago, to the bemused scepticism of the principal European leaders, and to the relief of a growing number of Italians, Silvio Berlusconi's dangerously inept government was deftly eased from power, and the unenviable task of forming a "technical" (i.e. non political) government was bestowed, by the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, to Professor Mario Monti, who set himself the seemingly impossible aim to restore Italy's international credibility and to halt the country's irresponsible and apparently inevitable path towards economic and financial disaster. Like the rest of his team, Professor Monti has never been involved in political life, and, ostensibly, owes allegiance to no political party, and this has enabled him to take unpopular decisions with no fear of future electoral problems.
On the anniversary of Monti's rise to power, an assessment of his government's achievements and shortcomings, as, indeed, an attempt to analyze possible future trends in Italian politics seem appropriate, particularly in view of the national elections which will take place in the early Spring of 2013.
An assessment of the Monti government's activity over the past year would have to be, by and large, positive, both in terms of regained international respectability and also for the painful, but necessary steps being taken towards economic recovery,
feeling of optimism is aroused, however, by a glance into likely future
political developments in
There is no doubt that the present government has had much greater success than any of its predecessors in persuading Parliament to approve measures which imposed noticeable sacrifices to the population. The going was made easier in the initial months of the government's mandate because of an unprecedented attitude of obedient passivity on the part of a Parliament which seemed to have understood that it was totally discredited in the eyes of the electorate. Only in recent weeks have the traditional political parties regained some of their original energy and found the courage to contest some of the latest measures suggested by the Government, but the electorate does not appear to be impressed and continues to show its disdain.
This was clearly shown, most recently, in the very important Sicilian regional elections which saw a voter turnout of under 50%, and a resounding victory by the newly formed, extremely populist "Five Stars" political movement, created by a successful stand-up comedian, Beppe Grillo.
The situation in
A corollary to the paradox of the self-immolating political parties is given by the fact that in poll after poll, in spite of the increasingly tough and controversial austerity measures taken by the Government, Mario Monti, after a year in office, still gets an astounding 43% approval rating among the people, who, obviously, have understood his basic message and appreciate the lack of showmanship which really distinguishes him from his predecessor.
A general assessment of this first anniversary of the Monti Government would have to conclude that the rather audacious experiment carried out by president Napolitano has, until now, succeeded in steering the country away from the brink of disaster, and that the Italian government has regained, after long years in Limbo, a measure of international respectability and credibility..
Those who felt that a pause in political activity would give the parties time and incentive to regroup and to strive to present new options and programs to the electorate next Spring have instead to admit their disappointment, and, apart from the low voter turnout, the results of the forthcoming elections, instead of marking the exit from a period of incertitude could signify its indefinite prolongation. This "technical" interlude, deemed acceptable only because of its temporary character thus risks being transformed into a long term stage of political stagnation and deterioration. A "Monti-bis" government, as it is already cheerfully called, might satisfy those who feel that it would give Italy some further years of stability. But in reality, it would only serve to cover the festering sore of Italy's political reality with a neat bandage, no concern being given to the underlying infection, and to the political void that has been formed in the course of the past two decades.
This, of course, leads to a consideration of how Italian political life has evolved to this stage, ever since a well known, and rather popular business man from Milano, Silvio Berlusconi, entered the political arena and, by operating a permanent media blitzkrieg campaign, was able to remain a pivotal presence on the scene, fundamentally altering the delicate balance which had until then prevailed between a subtly managed power structure and an ever suspicious, but basically satisfied public.
In the course of the past weeks, Mr Berlusconi, who many consider definitely out of the running, formally declared his retirement from political activity, only to reverse his decision a day later, after being sentenced to a prison term for tax fraud. The contradictory announcements, greeted at first with incredulous relief and, finally, with derision, are an invitation to analyze both his brutally uninhibited use of the Media to enhance his presence and appearance, as well as his rapid fall, to the point of becoming an almost pathetic figure.
The term "Videocracy", coined by Italian film-maker Erik Gandini, was the title of a controversial 2009 documentary which described and explained the ruthless use made by Berlusconi of the many TV outlets he either directly or indirectly controlled.
The subtitle of the film, however, "basta apparire" ("It is enough to appear") is even more noteworthy and illustrates the growing need for constant visibility.
An appearance on a TV program, any program, no matter how insignificant, vulgar or unintelligent, had become essential to satisfy career ambitions and, in particular, was seen as a very likely introduction to positions of responsibility, especially in the glitzy political world characteristic of the Berlusconi years.
a considerable number of teen-age girls, when interviewed about their ambitions for the future, put, as a first
(and sometimes only) choice,
participation and victory in a beauty contest, any beauty contest, as long as
it was televised. Indeed, many Italian
female parliamentarians, and a number of particularly glamorous and
inefficient cabinet ministers in
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