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As I See It... (11 April, 2006)

11 April, 2006

Today is Sunday 9 April 2006, and voting has already commenced in Italy’s General Election. Both BBC and CNN will (I hope) give adequate coverage to this important event in European politics.

I have lived for some time in Italy in the remote past, and have not lost my appetite for the pungent flavour for the pasta of Italian politics, with its choice of minestrone, or spaghetti Bolognaise, all washed down with a Chianti of good vintage!

Unfortunately, living in south Asia one really feels cut off from the hurly-burly of European political affairs. The broad outlines are always visible, but sometimes the details are obscure.

I remember a few facts about the life and achievements of Signor Silvio Burlesconi, and did a little research in Internet, before I could conjure a picture of the living man, and what did I behold?

Berlusconi's business career began with construction jobs, in the 1960s. His first entry into the media was a cable television station, designed to service his posh residential development project in a suburb of Milan. Soon afterwards he formed his first media group, Fininvest, and from there he expanded to a country wide network of local TV stations which would reuse the same materials, forming, in effect, a single national station. At the start of the 1980s he founded Italy's first private national network Canale 5 and began to become known to the Italian public, which was also beginning to take a lively interest in the astonishing speed with which Burlesconi was becoming the Big Shot of Italian business.

In the early 1990s, the major Italian Parties, the Christian Democrats, and the Socialist Party, lost strength because of corruption. This led to the expectation that the forthcoming election would probably be won by the Democratic Party of the Left, the former Communist Party, unless there was a strong alternative: Berlusconi decided to enter politics on a platform of the defeat of communism. This was a bluff strategy, but it suited the mood of the time, and it worked well for him!

Berlusconi founded Forza Italia and he became Prime Minister in 1994, but his term in office was short. In 1996 he was out! Forza Italia means “Force of Italy”. The connotation is : On to Victory!

In 2001 Berlusconi again ran as leader of the centre-right coalition Casa delle Libertà (House of Liberty) with other parties. But there was no sign of liberty anywhere. His success in this election lead to him becoming Prime Minister once more, with the coalition receiving an impressive 53% of the vote. On July 1, 2003, Italy assumed the rotating EU presidency, represented by Berlusconi.

Today, Silvio Burlesconi faces the electorate again, but I wonder whether he still thinks that arrogance and showmanship will dazzle the voters and keep the media lord in his wonted place.

When I came to consider his opponent in this election, I was faced with Romano prodi, about whom I knew practically nothing at all.

Italian left wing writers, intellectuals, and politicians had long since become utterly foreign and unknown to me. All I could recall was that Prodi had once been an Italian prime minister. I found a link in Internet which led me to the following information.

Romano Prodi was born in11939 Italian politician, prime minister of Italy (1996–98), Educated at the Catholic University of Milan. He is a trained economist and served (1978–79) as Italy's minister for industry; he also was a professor of economics at the University of Bologna, a visiting professor at Harvard, (USA), and a researcher at the London School of Economics. Quite an impressive academic background, Berlesvoni himself would surely admit! An expert on European industrial policy, he twice served (1982–89, 1993–94) as chairman of the Institute for Industrial Reconstruction, Italy's state holding company. Prodi reentered politics in 1994 as leader of the Olive Tree Alliance, a center-left coalition that was victorious in the April, 1996, general election. As prime minister, Prodi formed the first left-leaning Italian government since World War II. He made Italy's joining the single European currency a prime goal, and won passage of budgets that significantly reduced the government deficit. In 1999, Prodi became president of the European Commission.

Now we have two portraits to gaze at. The swashbuckling superstar of press, Radio, Film, and Television, in other words the money-greedy, power-greedy, controversial media lord, who duped the Italian people into giving him premiership for five years, after which Italy would be top of the world, and instead amassed a fortune for himself, with uncountable criminal charges still pending against him.

Berlusconi served a full five year term in office, the first time an Italian PM has done so since the end of World War II. Until now it has been a long period of revolving-door governments. In you go, and out you come. A cabinet member, in the 50s, entering a restaurant for the first time, asked the Head Waiter if there was a radio on the premises. When told that there was, he said to the puzzled-looking Head Waiter : “Listen to the 9 p.m. news, and let me know if I’m still a minister!”

Apparently this has been the most “abusive” campaign in modern Italian political history. But that is the way Italians like their politics - strongly flavoured and spicy. It’s all expected to be a heady mixture of Commedia della Arte, and the Theatre of the Absurd. reaching its climax and conclusion in real Grand Opera style!

Mr Ken Livingstone, mayor of London, on January 21st 2006, had this to say about the Italian prime minister : "It's a matter that concerns the Italians and therefore I don't want to interfere. But I do hope that not far from now the Italian people will decide to consign Berlusconi to history's trash bin from which he should never have emerged."

Now it’s Tuesday evening, and my deadline is fast approaching. Nothing decisive has been announced. Romano Prodi has claimed victory, but his rival is not a man to concede defeat in a hurry! He will fight on. He will turn himself into a new monster, as Leader of the Opposition Coalition, armed with all his media weapons and money. He has all but destroyed Italy during his five years of deception and betrayal. Is Prodi a man capable of solving the immense problems Burlesconi leaves behind as a terrible legacy? The enormity of the National Debt has broken the rules of the European Union. If the new economist prime minister cuts taxes, how will he draw in the massive revenues he will require to carry out his promised reforms? Perhaps if he chops up big corporations, the small manageable pieces will not have to evade paying taxes. Small family businesses could thrive again.

The days of plenty for European states are over. Before they opted for a close union they were doing fine. Competition and incentive and solid frontiers were the bases of individuality and independence. How can you expect a fisherman in Spain to worry about the difficulties of a fisherman in Norway?

I do not think my beloved Italy deserved a fiend like Silvio Berlusconi. But then they say a country deserves the government which it elects!

A cynical civil servant in Rome once remarked : “It is not difficult to govern Italy, it is unnecessary...”

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