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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 11/27/16

Italy and the Myth of "Political Stability"

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Message Carlo Ungaro

A rather bewildering consequence is that the infamous Berlusconi decades, once condemned as a prelude to a tightening of ideological screws on the press and media are now viewed almost with a feeling of nostalgia, for the path to authoritarian government now adopted is much more subtle and efficient and appears to have won the approval even of those influential foreign powers, and respected international media which had always opposed Berlusconi and had actually contributed to his downfall. Indeed, one of the humiliating aspects of the current Italian administration can be seen in the eagerness displayed by its leaders to embrace any positive comment coming from a foreign source, no matter how suspect or how visibly and shamelessly the result of unabashed and undignified cadging and wheedling on the part of the Prime Minister himself, who even went so far as to organize a totally useless "summit" with his French and German colleagues the sole purpose of which was to show an obdurately indifferent and sceptical Italian public opinion how important Italy is on the international scene.

Recent episodes, however, should serve as a warning to the Italian Government that foreign support is very flighty and hence basically unreliable. One example would be the public warning issued some days ago by the US Ambassador in Rome on the dire consequences the country would have to face if the constitutional referendum should go against the wishes of the International Community, while another could be seen in the Franco-German decision to hold an EU summit without Italy, as a consequence of Mr. Renzi's tantrums at a recent meeting in Bratislava. In fact, "Foreign Policy by Tantrum" appears to be the new trend in Mr. Renzi's wayward governing style, as he -- absurdly and belatedly trying to latch on to the Trump "anti-establishment" bandwagon - likes to be shown on prime time newscasts as assuming strict, tough stances towards the European partners (to the point of having briefly eliminated the European flag from his Office), only to warn that a rejection of the referendum would alienate those very European leaders he occasionally likes to taunt, and who do not appear overly impressed by his performance.

Some time back, Italian public opinion would have shown resentment at such foreign interference, and, in fact, it is commonly thought that, about two decades ago, a very strong and well written article in the Economist, meant to prove that Berlusconi was "unfit to rule", actually helped the Milanese millionaire win the ensuing election, an early fundamental step in his rise to power. Now, instead, while there is still some resentment at negative foreign jibes (such as the recent cartoons by "Charlie Hebdo" on the Central Italian quakes), the fact that foreign leaders appear to show sympathy for our Prime Minister is greeted with sublime indifference and, perhaps, some sarcasm, but without any appreciable resonance on public opinion.

Foreign acquiescence, however, is easily bought by the Italian Government and leading media simply by agitating the spectre of the "instability" and chaos that would be the inevitable result of a major political crisis, and the very idea of which is considered frightening and unacceptable. It is over this scarcely subtle form of blackmail that the Prime Minister is currently attempting, on the one hand, to show that he can "talk tough" with his European partners, while, at the same time, imploring them not to abandon him in this moment of peril.

While foreign preoccupations over the perceived political instability in Italy are understandable, it would be unwise to undervalue the deep-seated apprehension which still obtains in parts of the more informed Italian public opinion over the possible consequences of an exaggerated attempt at "stability". There is a growing, uncomfortable feeling that success in the Prime Minister's current efforts in this direction could, very easily indeed, pave the way for an authoritarian form of Government in which a very strong, in truth "stable", executive would have, at its command, an extremely weak and obedient Parliament.

Carlo Ungaro

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I am a former, now retired, senior Italian diplomatic officer. I have spent many years (over 25) in Central Asia (sixteen in Afghanistan).
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