Joachim Fritz-Vannahme
7. November 2019

Italy – the model of the West

cSpain votes on Sunday – for the fourth time in less than four years.

Britain votes in four weeks – for the fourth time in four years if we also count the 2016 Brexit referendum.

In Belgium, the search for the next minority government is continuing, in the German land of Thuringia obviously as well.

Is Western democracy blocking itself?, Gideon Rachmann asks in the Financial Times. “Gouverner en démocratie”, governance in democracy was recently the controversial topic of the influential radio programme “Répliques” on France Culture. Much was said about the ungovernability of our democracies.


Bella Italia, an island of peace in times of troubled democracies?


Only #Italy has been an island of peace since September under the new government of its Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte. Let’s see, since the end of the war in 74 years, the country has been run by 66 governments in 74 years.

Bella Italia has long been the source of the democratic malaise in Europe, but many have not noticed this. You can now read this on 220 vividly written pages in Ulrich Ladurners new book “Der Fall Italien – Wenn Gefühle die Politik beherrschen”, Edition Koerber, Germany, in English. “The case of Italy – When feelings dominate politics”, available in German only). Twenty years ago, Uli and I enjoyed working together in the Hamburg press house of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit. Yet that’s not important here.

I admit, at first glance, I read “Der Fall Italiens” (in English: “The Fall of Italy”) on the cover.

For the decline of this great country and founding member of the EU has long been palpable. The decline of Italian industry, an abysmal education system with high youth unemployment and an emigration of 270,000 mostly young Italians looking for work, a rapid cultural decline of the audiovisual media, the rapidly declining birth rate, empty churches in what was once arch-Catholic Italy.


Behind magnificent baroque facades, it has been simmering


And behind the magnificent facades of the Renaissance and Baroque cities, a frightening change in mentality and politics is taking place, which since the 1980s has repeatedly become the sad forerunner of Western European developments towards the bad or worse.

#Matteo_Salvini, always prepotent as Mussolini once was, continues to write the latest chapter of this story. His triumph in the once red region of Umbria at the beginning of November – 37 percent for his Lega, 57 percent for the pretty united right-wingers – is not a comeback, but simply the signal “I’m still in the game, just watch out. And soon I’ll be back in power”.


Berlusconi was the forerunner of the shameless Donald Trump


Who is the forerunner of the shamelessness of a Donald Trump?

Right, Silvio Berlusconi, building contractor, media czar, AC Milan’s president and owner, scandal producer, and since the nineties with 3,297 days the longest acting Prime Minister of Italy.


Who, as #Ulrich_Ladurner aptly writes, presented the people as “fundamentally noble and good”?

Berlusconi, long before Salvini, Le Pen, Höcke e tutti quanti.

The ZEIT reporter, however, justly points out that since then left-wing politicians have also liked to play off good civil society against corrupt elites. Such a pattern can be seen today in France, Great Britain, and increasingly also in Germany.


Italy has often been an avant-garde and not backward


Italy has also here been avant-garde and not “backward”, as, north of the Alps, unfortunately, they like to consider (even if one then enjoys the journey to the south all the more and idealizes Italy as a place of longing).

In France in late 2018, the yellow vests made headlines as street protests of the little people, the “forgotten France”. There was a lot of talk about the pays réel – the French version of the paese real, the real country.

Read what Ladurner reports from quiet spots such as Desenzano on Lake Garda, about the “Tuscan beauty” Pistoia or from the Apulian Foggia – and one suspects that Italy had its local yellow vests long before the uprising broke out in France.


Pasolini’s disappearance of fireflies as writing on the wall


Ladurner’s excursions into the paese real, which the law-abiding and reform-minded paese legale has so often crushed in Italy’s history, reminded me of a small text from the “pirate writings” of film director, poet and essayist Pier Paolo #Pasolini, murdered on the beach of Ostia in November 1975, probably for political reasons.

Pasolini’s topic: “The disappearance of fireflies … in the early sixties … because of air pollution, and specially water pollution in the countryside,” (Pasolini in English quoted here after the cittapasolini.blogspot translation of 2016).

For #Pasolini this is a writing on the wall warning of the disappearance of the albeit “falsified values of the old agricultural and pre-capitalist universe”. Church, fatherland, order, and thrift had been devalued by the “industrial leveling”. What the left-wing Pasolini certainly saw as an ambivalence of “progress” and what drove him inwardly to revolt.


We are the people – the call here sounds dangerously shrill


So “The Case of Italy” has a long history and is shaping democracies elsewhere today.

Our democracies are staggering towards a time of relentlessness. “We are the people” – thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall this call sounds dangerously shrill in many places. Not only in Italian.


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