Italian Elections 2006 (3)
In a Repubblica newspaper interview (in Italian), last Tuesday, writer Umberto Eco called upon centre-left voters to go to the polls en masse. On Tuesday, March 7, he wrote a “call to arms” titled “April 9, Lets Save Democracy” (in Italian) whose incipit was “We are facing a dramatic appointment.” Two days before, speaking at a meeting of Libertà e Giustizia, he had declared himself to be ready for exile were the centre-right to win the elections.
From a man whose sense of humour is legendary such a crusade-language against Berlusconi seems even more unpalatable than from a looney left. Yesterday, prominent columnist and political expert Angelo Panebianco, in the (moderate) leftist Corriere della Sera, argued that
[s]urely, it is true, democracy is in danger. But danger comes from outside, it comes from people who chose violence, from terrorism and also from those who, like yesterday in Milan, practice urban guerrilla warfare. It would be useful if the best minds of the Country focused their attention on these issues. On the behalf of the Country.
But—asks Panebianco—why the dramatization? And this is how he answers his own question:
For two reasons, I think. The first is that such dramatisation is exactly what attracts the kind of ’intellectual’ audience which has chosen Umberto Eco, and especially Umberto Eco, as its very own champion and reference point. The hate for Berlusconi among this section of the public is palpable and evident, we have surely all of us found this in recent years in scores of private conversations and in the fascinating phenomenon of collective psychology.
The second reason for the dramatisation, I think, is to do with a problem which is typical of our (Italian) culture. It is an ancient legacy here, for many, to mistake democracy, which is a method of resolving conflicts by counting heads instead of breaking heads them……..(to mistake this process) forthe realisation of their own ideals. To mistake the victory or defeat of their political views for the victory and defeat of democracy: this is a kind of childhood illness of democracy.
[Read the article in the original Italian version]
Even though I am a leftist I must say I completely agree with this analysis. But this is also what most non-communist leftists generally think. This is the way, for instance, the DS party secretary Piero Fassino commented the dramatic “provocation” by novelist Umberto Eco: “Italy is a large, democratic country able to live democratically whatever the elections results.”
Unfortunately, Romano Prodi—the opposition candidate to unseat Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi—is dissenting. Why—he said in an interview—shouldn’t Eco call centre-left voters to arms?
“There is an electoral battle of enormous importance going on, and I feel that the decay brought on by the government in these past years, if allowed to continue for another five, would render Italy as something totally detached from the modern world. Eco’s plea appears warranted since he is intelligent and lives in the modern world.”
Worse luck, at the showdown Fassino, and other “liberals” and Third Way supporters such as Amato and D’Alema, are not the overwhelming majority in the coalition. Actually, I think, this is the main problem with the centre-left in Italy.
As it was not enough—as The Sunday Times fairly notes—Berlusconi will take advantage of the divisions within Prodi’s coalition, “which is so fractured on issues from Iraq to gay marriage that many say a centre-left government might last only a few months.”
After all, according to pollster Renato Mannheimer,
Berlusconi’s hope is not so much to win converts from the Prodi camp but to persuade his disaffected supporters to turn out. “It’s like in a marriage, […] if your wife or husband never does what they have promised, in the end you don’t believe them any more, even if you don’t actually divorce. This is Berlusconi’s problem. We’re only talking about 5per cent of the electorate. If he succeeds in mobilising them he wins, if not he loses.”
Tonight will take place the first TV head to head between Silvio Berlusconi and Romano Prodi (RaiUno, 21.00). The second will take place on April 3. Otherwise, if you can’t enjoy the match, take the time to read The Los Angeles Times. Title: Berlusconi just loves Berlusconi. Better this than nothing at all.
To read other news and reports in English from the Italian election campaign trails go to:
> Corriere della Sera (int. edition)
Update (March 15, 5:30 PM) I take the opportunity to draw the attention of the readers to this New York Times report.Thanks to Edward for editing my translation of Panebianco a bit. I, in turn, have just managed to revise the above quoted text.