9 December 2011

Not Through With Berlusconismo

This piece first appeared at MicroMega on November 21, 2011.

Berlusconi has resigned, Monti has taken his place, but the post-Berlusconi phase hasn’t yet begun. It’s not even close. In fact, the excessive power that Berlusconi enjoyed, incompatible with the basic principles of every liberal democracy and clearly in conflict with the Italian constitution that came out of the antifascist Resistance, was only partly related to his actually being in power. Its “hard kernel” resided (and continues to reside) in his monopolistic control of television (which grows more Orwellian every day), the network of ad personam laws that guaranteed him judicial impunity (despite the judiciary having found him guilty on various charges at least a dozen times), and the tangle of subversive powers, criminals, and corrupt officials with whom he always mixed his particular patrimonial and political power, creating his own parallel private state.

Only when this octopus of illegality (for which the dozens of ad personam laws comprise the “legal” cover) is radically and irreversibly dismantled will we be able to begin to speak in earnest about a post-Berlusconi era. Until then, Berlusconi will remain in Italian political life like a cancer of antidemocratic power, capable at any moment of metastasizing.

It’s no accident that the one minister that Berlusconi successfully forced on Mario Monti and Giorgio Napolitano is the new minister of the Justice Department. The name that circulated for a while was that of a magistrate, Livia Pomodoro, the president of the Court of Milan and a professor at a Catholic university (not exactly a Bolshevik). She could have returned decency to the Department of Justice, maybe even have managed to convince citizens that the inscription on every courthouse wall, “The law is equal for everyone,” isn’t a joke after all. Precisely for this reason, Berlusconi vetoed her appointment. Instead the new minister is Paola Severino, a lawyer who has not only defended financial elites and entrepreneurs (until now no one bad, one might say), but also Giovanni Acampora, with whom Berlusconi managed to steal the ownership of the largest Italian publishing house, Mondadori, from de Benedetti. This seizure was orchestrated by Berlusconi’s right-hand man, the lawyer Cesare Previti (whom he nominated to the Ministry of Defense), and the hyper-Berlusconian newspaper Il Foglio reported on its front page that it’s thanks to Previti that Berlusconi met Severino. Worrying friendships, to put it mildly.

The proof that Berlusconi’s power goes well beyond control of government has been furnished by way of a “gaffe” repeated by everyone in the last few days. Even the head of the opposition, Pierluigi Bersani, spoke about the “seventeen years of Berlusconismo,” though during this long period the Democratic Party, through Romano Prodi and Massimo D’Alema, was in power for at least seven years! But the real power, the anomalous and anticonstitutional power, always stayed with Berlusconi, growing even in opposition, until it transformed into its own true regime. For this reason we will have to see whether the Monti Administration will have the courage to truly dismantle this power, to restore the words “legality” and “information” to their real meanings. Monti has no excuse: in Parliament today, Berlusconi is at his moment of greatest weakness. If he keeps Monti from governing, we will only have new elections, with Italian bond spreads on the verge of default and with the certainty that the electorate would inflict on Putin’s friend (Russia’s new czar is the only head of state who still defends Berlusconi) a devastating defeat.
The Monti Administration will therefore be evaluated on three criteria: the fairness (or lack thereof) with which it confronts the economic crisis, the restoration of the rule of law, and the de-totalitarization of Berlusconi’s “television system.”

The issue of the rule of law is after all decisive, especially in the case of the sovereign debt crisis. In just a few weeks, German and English (right-wing!) governments have come to an accord with Switzerland over the flight of capital from their countries to the banks of four Swiss cantons. The accord was put together in order to block the rich from hiding money in a new and even more accessible paradise: basically, if they try to do it, the banks will reveal their names, and the German and English judicial system will prosecute them accordingly. The banks will make their clients pay a tax, amounting to about 30 percent, that will be returned to the Merkel and Cameron governments, which will pocket $35 and $10 billion euros, respectively. The Swiss bankers themselves have calculated that under the same accord, Italy would receive $30 billion. But Monti hasn’t even gestured toward this obvious measure of fairness, nor toward an analogous tax that would claim, thanks to Italy’s “fiscal shield,” a mere 5 percent on returning capital. Yet we are dealing with class privileges that are particularly odious and indefensible, and that involve at most two thousand people, a small minority.  If these people are not brought to justice, the words “legality” and “fairness,” pronounced by Monti, will remain mere rhetoric.

Unfortunately, in the matter of secularism—that is, the contempt for the secularism of the state, which manifests itself in the influence of the Vatican—continuity from Berlusconi to Monti is practically certain. The government ministers on the church books are innumerable, starting with the “superminister” for all productive activities (including telecommunications), Corrado Passera, whom Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco once wanted to have speak at an important convention of Catholic associations. The rector of a Catholic university controlled by the Vatican, Lorenzo Ornaghi, even wanted to become minister of education. He was diverted to the ministry of cultural affairs because the Democratic Party knew to hold out against him at least. Still, the weight of clericalism in government remains strong: Umberto Veronesi, an internationally famous oncologist, was the most worthy candidate for the ministry of health, but as he is an atheist and believes in euthanasia, the Vatican successfully vetoed him.

Therefore, if Monti concerns himself exclusively with debt, and not with the multitude of sycophants (many of them actual criminals) thriving in all the vital organs of the country, and does not before all else liberate TV (and make Mediaset pay for the new stations that Prime Minister Berlusconi gifted to Businessman Berlusconi), not only will we not see the post-Berlusconi era, but we will also need to prepare for a tragic return of il Caimano. Since it would be to their credit internationally, it appears unlikely that Monti, Passera, and Napolitano would resist, at the very least, a little house cleaning.

Translated from the Italian by Nikil Saval

Image: Berlusconi. From bergamosera.com.

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