The political situation in Italy is apparently stable. But underneath this image the danger of increased instability cannot be ignored
If bookmakers abounded in Rome as they do in London , bets could easily be placed on the duration of the present Italian "technical" Government, and on the probable date of the next general elections -- whether as early as November, or in the Spring, when the Parliament's mandate comes to its end.
Even the most daring of bookmakers, however, would hesitate to hazard opening a book on the outcome of these elections, or, even more so, on Italy's political future.
It is believed that William Shakespeare got ideas, settings and characters for his Italian based plays in the course of one or more visits to Italy. If so, also the expression "all the world is a stage" may well have had the same origin, for Italians, like few other people, freely display their histrionic prowess in all phases of everyday life, and this trait, which could not have escaped the Bard's notice, is particularly evident in Italy's political life.
Those who fail to take this into account often label Italian political events as "paradoxical", where, in reality they follow a totally logical path, emphasizing the permanent, and widening gap between perceptions and reality, characteristic of the Italian political scene.
From the immediate post war years until the end of what Italians inaccurately call "the First Republic" (circa 1994), leading political commentators repeatedly described Italy, often in ominous tones, as the epitome of "political instability". It was very difficult, at the time, to explain that in Italy reality was then, as, indeed, it is now, very much different from appearances, and that the much criticised political system had a stability of its own, which, instead, has been lacking over the past twenty years or so..
It is true that, in a period spanning just under five decades, dozens of governments were formed and fell, sometimes after only days in office, while premature elections -- held before the end of the Constitutionally decreed parliamentary mandate - were the rule rather than the exception.
A similar situation had obtained in France during the short-lived Fourth Republic, but General de Gaulle had had the strength and the charisma to put and end to this and the "Fifth Republic" he bequeathed to the Nation guaranteed decades of political stability without sacrificing democratic principles.
An Italian version of de Gaulle has never appeared although some of the post-war leaders have posed as their country's saviours: one of these -- Bettino Craxi -- ended up in luxurious self-imposed exile in Hammamet as a fugitive from justice after heading the most corrupt -- but also the most "stable" -- Italian Government in the decades between the birth of the Republic (1948) and his political downfall (1992).
There, in fact, lies the apparent paradox, for it was precisely in those seemingly trouble-free years that the seeds were sown for the rise of the so-called "Second Republic" the un-mourned demise of which now seems imminent, and which has been the theatre of the greatest "instability" in the country's recent history..
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent, not totally unrelated, cataclysm which shook the foundations of the Italian Republic, brought about a dramatic ending to a system under which, after all, in spite of its perceived "instability", the country had prospered, Democracy had flourished, the quality of life had become one of the most envied in Europe and Italian style and design were known and appreciated the world over. Today's Italy, by contrast, has known real, tangible instability and economic decay over the past two decades, even though -- with some exceptions -- Governments lasted out their full mandate with large majorities in Parliament. The instability -- invisible to all but the most jaundiced eye -- lay (and still lies) in the cynical, irresponsible and ultimately dangerous infighting which took up all of the governing Parties' energies, and the ultimate result was the last Berlusconi-led government (his fourth stint as Prime Minister, for a total of 3340 days in office), largely responsible for Italy's present situation.
The timing of Italy's next general election is actually not as important as it could have appeared some weeks ago, and the political leaders, as well as the voting public will be as unprepared for them next Spring as they would be in November. Their outcome, instead will be of fundamental weight in determining the country's destiny for the coming years.
The trend, which is being pursued rather clumsily, with little of the classic Italian touch of subtlety, seems to indicate that, no matter what the outcome of the elections, the more powerful political parties will attempt to band together into an unruly "moderate", Catholic-led centrist coalition, which would have a very good chance of lasting out the entire Legislature. There is even cautious talk of a role for Professor Monti, either as head of the Government or as President of the Republic.
This solution is certainly not the most desirable one, for, while it would certainly bring apparent stability to the Italian political scene, it could very well reveal itself as a severe blow to the democratic process in Italy. In this way, the endemic volatility of the system would be allowed to fester, under a deceptive cloak of respectable solidity, and the electorate's confidence in the political setup -- including, of course, the Government -- would risk growing to a dangerous level.
The author of this submission, Ambassador Carlo Ungaro, is a retired Senior Italian Diplomatic Officer
I am a former, now retired, senior Italian diplomatic officer. I have spent many years (over 25) in Central Asia (sixteen in Afghanistan).