Articles- La Stampa
- Nikkei Business
- Financial Times
- Project Syndicate
- The Times
- Corriere della Sera
- The Economist
- Voice series
|The Theatre of Italian Elections|
Corriere della Sera - April 14th 2008
An election campaign is a piece of pure political theatre, whether it is interminably long, as in America’s two-year races, rather short as in Britain’s 3-5 week contests, or of middling duration as in Italy’s current campaign of roughly nine weeks. Still, it is hard with a theatrical drama of that sort of length to prevent the audience from either falling asleep or walking out in disgust. That is especially true if, like me, you are watching the play from far away, in
Watching the British media try to make sense of
Thus, the only time I have seen the nightly BBC Television News provide a report on the Italian election (it was on April 11th), about two-thirds of the report was on Mr Berlusconi. Walter Veltroni hardly appeared. That is not surprising since few foreigners know anything about him, and whatever his talents might be he looks rather dull to us, especially on television. Such lack of balance between the parties would be illegal during
That is certainly what the foreign media does, and not just the British (though we may well be the worst). We just love to find excuses to talk about our stereotypical images of
This campaign has provided all of those opportunities. For me, probably the
But there have also been other excellent cues for our foreign stereotypes. Daniela Santanche and Alessandra Mussolini were especially generous since with their noisy arguments they provided three all in one go: the word “fascist” (there, I used it again); the idea that Italian women are beautiful and are obsessed with their appearances; and sex itself, with the question of who is the most horizontal of all. Marvellous. Discussions of sex in British politics always have a dirty, secretive character, being about illicit affairs, illegitimate children or sexual practices that should remain private. No British candidate would dare to accuse their opponents of being prostitutes, or venture an opinion about their femininity, or offer a view about whether left-wing or right-wing women were uglier.
We had to wait a long time, but our patience was rewarded when football finally entered the story, blended curiously with another campaign theme, that of mental health. For Francesco Totti to be accused by Mr Berlusconi of being “bonkers” for considering voting for Francesco Rutelli in the Roman elections was a gift from heaven: the foreign media could speculate to their hearts’ content about whether Roman voters might now make their choice on the basis of sporting loyalty rather than politics. This played into another foreign prejudice, that of irrationality, the idea of the emotional Italian. Whether Mr Berlusconi was being irrational when he suggested mental health checks for prosecutors was, to be sure, a rather different issue.
Stereotypes, jokes, provocations: they have all prevented the foreign audience for
There are, as has been widely observed, two striking things about this election. One is that it should not be happening at all, less than two years after the previous one. This election is the result of the failure of the 2006 election to produce a decisive outcome and the failure of Romano Prodi’s government to defy gravity. So, in a real sense, this election campaign has been running not for ten weeks but, in the American style, for more than two years.
The other striking thing is that there is so little difference between the parties’ programmes, even now that there is a contest between just two main groups. At least from an outsider’s point of view, the issues of abortion and of Alitalia have provided virtually the only clear difference between the Democratic Party and the Freedom People. All the rest is either technical detail—how spending promises will be reconciled with plans to reduce the public debt—or else evasions of responsibility from both parties for the weakness of Italy’s economy and of its institutions (especially its garbage-clearing institutions).
No wonder we need entertaining, to distract us from the underlying realities. But at least us foreign observers don’t have to get up from our seats at the end of this long theatrical performance and cast a vote. Good luck, Italians.