Say it isn't so Italia


Romano Prodi has declared an early victory in the Italian election that took place April 10. By all accounts it was an extremely close result. North Americans are not unaccustomed to this. In 2000, as it is famously known, the U.S. election was disputed between Al Gore and George W. Bush. In 1995, Canada came within absurd whiskers of breaking up during one of Quebec's frivolous referendums. Canada was preserved with barely 50% of the vote. So close, yet so far for some.

Romano Prodi is the leader of the L'Unione Party which is a coalition of centre left parties. The man once alleged to have been the KGB's 'man in Italy' is now the leader of an important economic power. It remains to be seen if magazines like The Economist will be chastising Prodi like they did Sylvio Berlusconi for his own alleged murky and corrupt past.

What about Berlusconi? Well, he's Italy's wealthiest businessman, possesses a vain leitmotif and most important was an ally of the United States. It serves no practical purpose to be anti-American - even in political jest.

What's unfortunate about Prodi's election is how it threatens what Berlusconi has built. He put Italy back on the political map. After decades (some would argue centuries) of political parochialism and indifference on the world stage, Italy had begun to emerge in a post 9/11 global network as an important country. Italy had always been an economic giant and a political midget. That was changing under Berlusconi.

With Prodi in the mix, government interventionism Italian style seems poised to make a comeback - and this is not good for Italy.

Berlusconi's arrogance may have not been appreciated but he stood up for Italy. So long belittled by its Northern neighbours, Berlusconi did not shy away from Northern power. He once told a German minister he looked like Col. Klink from Hogan's Heroes. The Germans demanded an apology but as one astute observer pointed out, "for centuries the Germans, English and French took liberties with Italy. One guy late in the 20th century shoots back and they demand an apology?" His alliance with the Americans also ruffled the intellectually (and morally?) bankrupted European socialist elite. The U.S. must be wondering about its interests as it now seems they are losing grip on a third important ally (Spain and Turkey are the other two who have become less cooperative.)

Things never seem what they appear to be in Italy. Italy is a modern society that has no problem with resorting to Renaissance style political games if need be. An artistic chameleon still searching for a voice. It is a land of sorrow dressed up in a brave and coy concept known as 'la dolce vita'.

Italians are a perplexing yet simplistic society that seems liberal on the surface but is deeply conservative. Orderly chaos masks the yearning of stable governance. In its absence Italy relies on the family as its prime institution. It is where rustic, beautiful Calabria still caught in a 12th century snap shot meets the shockingly breathtaking and influential Tuscany, and where the ugliness of the mafia stands in sharp contrast with Catholicism in the Vatican. They are the modern inventors and hub of western civilization yet Italy has foregone its roots as it wallows in steep contemporary cynicism prevalent in many societies. Italy can be both divine and repulsive to an outsider, yet it overwhelms all. Lastly, Italy is proof that an ambiguous life and disjointed existence can produce such a precious country.

Berlusconi -in all his imperfections and character flaws - is what Italy needed. Prodi is a return to a past that failed it. Will Italy ever be a driver of history again?

1 comment:

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