A few weeks ago I was in Oxford for the screening of Girlfriend in a Coma, the film on Italy’s decline written by Bill Emmott, former editor of The Economist, and Annalisa Piras, an Italian journalist and filmmaker. The audience – consisting mainly of British Italophiles and young Italian researchers who had left the country’s decaying universities to find shelter in British academia – gave the documentary a warm reception. During the discussion I chaired after the screening, Emmott conceded that taking the movie to Italy would pose a far greater challenge. He joked that he and Piras would need bodyguards. Their movie is in fact a brutal exercise in truth-telling, aimed at holding to account those who have run Italy over the past two decades.
Italy’s first reaction has, indeed, proved rather unwelcoming. The Italian premiere of Girlfriend in a Coma, scheduled for February 13 at MAXXI, a museum of contemporary art in Rome, was suddenly cancelled on Friday. Read more
For those used to a democratic system with an established political dynamic – Democrats v Republicans in the US, or Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats in Britain – Italy can seem strange. Some of the parties and alliances running in this year’s general election did not even exist in previous contests.
Italians will be asked to vote in February for one of 169 parties, movements and groups that made it onto the ballot. Many have unfamiliar names, such as the newly formed alliance of Italy, Common Good (which combines the Democratic party, the socialists and others), the Five Star Movement party created by the former comedian Beppe Grillo, or the even newer Monti movement, formed around the agenda of the ex-prime minister.
Data collated by the FT
How could the Italian political system have worked for so long with such a fragmented composition? The answer is that, for most of the time, it hasn’t.
Barack Obama knows a thing or two about winning elections and having pressed Italy’s Mario Monti into running for prime minister in next month’s elections, the US president is also lending some advice.
Mr Monti, long-time economics professor and former EU commissioner who was appointed technocrat prime minister in late 2011, has never run for elective office in his life, and it shows.
Enter David Axelrod, Mr Obama’s two-time campaign strategist, who responding to a report in Turin’s La Stampa, confirms to my FT Washington colleague Richard McGregor that his old firm AKPD Message and Media has been hired by Mr Monti. Mr Axelrod says he had been retained “to take a look and come in for a day to meet with Monti and his team, which I did.” He adds for transparency’s sake: “I no longer have an interest in AKPD.” Read more
Mario Monti (L) with Silvio Berlusconi in November 2011 (ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)
This week’s alliance between Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party and the right-wing Northern League was the last piece of the jigsaw ahead of Italy’s general elections, scheduled for 24-25 February.
With six and a half weeks to go, the situation is still too fluid to make a call on who will win. But, for those not versed in the art of Italian politics, we thought it would be helpful to explain the main players involved, and outline the chances of the two very different men who have held the most influence over Italy in the past few years – Mario Monti and Silvio Berlusconi.
- A centre-left coalition dominated by the Democratic Party, in alliance with the more left-wing Left, Ecology, Freedom party
- Berlusconi’s right-wing alliance between his People of Freedom and the Northern League
- A centrist coalition led by Italy’s technocratic prime minister, now turned politician, Mario Monti. This includes the PM’s own list, Civic choice for Monti, the Christian Democrats and a smaller centre-right party, Future and Freedom for Italy
- The Five Star Movement, brainchild of the comedian-cum-blogger, Beppe Grillo
- A left-wing group, Civil Revolution, set up by the former anti-mafia judge Antonio Ingroia
Italy’s cumbersome electoral law, which is different for the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, makes the lives of the phsephologists even harder. Here’s what we know about the situation in each house. Read more
The looming political showdown in Italy
Italian prime minister Mario Monti has said he’ll resign, making elections likely to occur next February. But who is likely to win, or even who will run, remains unclear. Both Mr Monti and Silvio Berlusconi are possible candidates. Guy Dinmore, FT bureau chief in Rome, Tony Barber, Europe editor, and Ferdinando Giugliano, leader writer, join Gideon Rachman.
Silvio Berlusconi attends the presentation of the book "The big cheat" by Renato Brunetta (FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/GettyImages)
Following a Berlusconi trial is like going to the theatre — it is your civic right to enjoy a spectacle even though you know perfectly well the act bears no relation to reality.
Very little about Silvio Berlusconi, or about the Italian legal system, is quite what it seems. The four-year prison term to which the former prime minister was sentenced on Friday for tax fraud is a good example. There is next to no chance that he will go to jail. The likelihood that he will ever be definitively convicted of this particular offence is not much higher.
Contrary to what he and his devotees might think, the reason is not that he is a paragon of virtue. Nor is it that the Italian courts always uncover the truth in the end. It is rather that the three-tier judicial system operates so slowly that, even if a defendant is eventually found guilty in the highest appeals court, the case has been going on for so long that a statute of limitations kicks in. Read more
Roberto Formigoni, who this month resigned as the governor of Lombardy after the arrest of his deputy, with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi (R) in 2010 (TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)
The wave of corruption scandals that is engulfing Italy prompts me to ask if we are witnessing a “1992 moment” – that is to say, the start of an unstoppable process that will sweep away much of the political establishment.
The question has two answers. The first is that the Italian upheaval of 20 years ago, though it destroyed the old political party system, promised more fundamental change than it ultimately delivered. So do not raise your expectations too high today.
Some optimistic political commentators thought it safe in the 1990s to suggest that Italy’s corrupt post-1945 First Republic, dominated by the Christian Democrats and their allies, was giving way to a cleaner, more responsible Second Republic. But these hopes turned out to be misplaced.
Secretive networks of influence and self-indulgence at the expense of taxpayers continued, and continue, to shape the activities of the political classes. The mafia, rampant in the 1980s and early 1990s, shrank to some extent into the shadows, but it has never loosened its connections to politics, business and state administration. Read more
Here are the pieces that got us chatting this morning:
Here are our picks from the weekend and this morning to start off your week’s reading:
By Gideon Rachman
“We have made Italy, now we must make Italians.” So said Massimo d’Azeglio, an Italian intellectual, just after his country’s unification in 1861. The current generation of EU politicians face a modern version of the d’Azeglio dilemma: They have made a European Union, now they must make Europeans.