(Rome) NEITHER ITALIANS nor foreign observers should err as to where real Mafia power resides. It resides and thrives in the vulgarity of contemporary Italy in the era of Silvio Berlusconi. It was born in Italy and flourishes in Italy. Now it has swept across the nation from south to north on the waves of what is here called Berlusconism. And it has established its headquarters in the city of Berlusconi, Milan, Italy.
By Gaither Stewart [print_link]
The journalist-writer Roberto Saviano in his now world-famous book, Gomorrah, projected the image of the real, the original Mafia, onto the world scene. Mafia is a three-headed monster, Saviano explained on a new national TV show, Vieni Via Con Me. The Mafia world concern is composed of the Camorra in the Naples area, the N’drangheta in Calabria and the original Mafia in Sicily. However, the present headquarters of the monster, according to Saviano, and according to many non-Berlusconian experts, are now located in rich Milan in north Italy.
The mafia has become All Italian. It remains irresistibly and unbearably light to the touch of political Italy. With passing time, it has become the epigone, if not the model, of Italy’s contemporary vulgarity.
Berlusconi-Mafia? Silvio Berlusconi, Prime Minister of Italy—the primary protagonist of Italian socio-politics of the last Ventennio—the word means a period of 20 years, the term which is historically used in reference to the 20-year Fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini—is today depicted as the Mafia’s man at the helm of the nation. The Mafia, at the head of the Italian government. Saviano, on the socio-political TV spectacle, Vieni via con me, (Come Away With Me, perhaps into dreams, or perhaps in flight from the land where lemon trees grow)—a show of left-wing singers, dancers, comics and political commentators with their lists——lists of lists of the things wrong with Italy.
Saviano however is the star attraction. He scratches his shaved head, slightly embarrassed, runs a finger along his nose, clears his throat and says unequivocally that the Mafia now resides in Milan. Like the New Russians make their money in Russia and spend it in Europe, the New Mafia makes its enormous wealth at the expense of the Mezzogiorno, the south of Italy, but invests and recycles it in the north.
Saviano (Left), for many Italians a modern day hero of our time, under constant police escort since his book, Gomorrah, claims that Mafia money stands behind the emergence of the industrialist, Silvio Berlusconi back in the 1970s when he appeared from the jungle of the Milanese entrepreneurial world to build the huge, luxury residential area of Milano 2, establish a TV empire of three national networks and soon after buy one of Europe’s most successful soccer clubs, Milan. And now, as comic Roberto Benigni claims, he wants to own everything. “Mine, mine mine”, he cries, in his mad attempt to own everything and become God. All with mafia money, one adds cynically.
So what does this information translate into? It translates into Mafia control. Into a Mafia society.
THE STRUTTING AND THE STAGGERING OF A WOULD-BE-DICTATOR
Imagine a chief of government who urges world leaders, especially of more subservient nations, to refer to him as “President” Silvio Berlusconi. A chief of government who leads his followers in the singing of his hymn, Thanks That There Is Silvio. Yet his wide power in Italy, his imagined influence outside Italy, his influence on U.S.-Russian relations for example, is all part of his own mad, megalomaniacal dream. A chimera outside real reality. A mirage in the Desert of the Tartars of that wonderful film of the pre-Berlusconi era when Italy was truly a cultural leader.
For Berlusconi (Left) is not the President. Generously, he is at the most a shaky, criminal Prime Minister, on the verge of his own personal disaster. Imagine a would-be President, who on a visit to Bulgaria announces publicly that since his second wife is divorcing him there is a “long line of women who want to marry him.” Him, this short, squat old man trying to be young, false hair that doesn’t look like hair, suntan reaching his neck, jacked up shoes in an attempt to be at least as tall as France’s Sarkozy or his “friend” Putin in Russia, a man who unabashedly declares himself the “best in Europe.” A man who also happens to be the richest man in Italy and one of the richest men in the world who cannot legally explain the source of his wealth. A man who, in his own words, loves women, and must relax in the presence of “escorts”, that is, prostitutes, beautiful women better than him who must despise him.
If Italy is not precisely a Banana Republic, “bananas” is perhaps the closest definition of what is happening in the land where, paradoxically, the beautiful lemon trees grow. There are however—to back up the international role of the unruly “underbelly of Europe”—as Cold War anti-Communists once described Italy—the full U.S. power of gunboats stationed along the Mediterranean Sea and the powerful U.S. airforce at its many bases from north to south of the peninsula-aircraft carrier of the Bel Paese, from which it bombarded and destroyed Belgrade in 1999.
Above all however there is the nation’s richest man, Silvio Berlusconi, who has bought himself a parliament and a sheaf of ministers--accomplices who run things to the tune of iron-clad laws, and who will do anything to ingratiate himself to Washington. Prime Minister Berlusconi, who wants to be known as the Supreme Leader, will do anything to stand at the side of the USA’s worldwide military adventures. A man who heads a system which continues to pass laws to suppress an independent magistracy and a free press in the face of a divided opposition
Yet, despite all, Berlusco’s government is unraveling. At a rapid pace. Still, formally a parliamentary democracy, the Italian government exists on a parliamentary majority as elected by the “sovereign people.” As above, Mr. Berlusconi not only appointed his ministers—not however on merit but on blind loyalty to the would-be President—but also after designing himself an electoral law which gives him the right to literally name the parliamentary deputies then dutifully elected by the “sovereign” people.
Berlusconi’s party’s co-founder, Gianfranco Fini, ex-neo-Fascist, today’s President of the Chamber of Deputies, more powerful than the House Speaker in the U.S. system, has withdrawn his former party’s ministers from the government, abandoned Berlusconi, and formed a new party of the “democratic right.” One after another the rats are abandoning the sinking ship. A Senator or a Minister here, a parliamentary Deputy there. Strikes, popular unrest, a nationwide movement of persons leaving Italy have branded Italy, once called the “Beautiful Land”, the sewer of Europe. In the words of other Europeans, a wonderful place to visit—at least it once was—but hell to live in.
Recently, immigrants demanding residence permits mounted a high crane in the northern industrial city of Brescia for 19 days in protest. When they finally descended, cold, wet and hungry, some got their residence permits (proving again that resistance pays); others were meanly deported. Workers strikes against FIAT, Italy’s biggest industry, because it closes down plants and moves them and the jobs to other parts of Europe. Transportation strikes, teachers’ strikes, pay cuts in the country with Europe’s lowest salaries, the equivalent of food stamps flourishing, the widening division between the political caste and people, between rich and poor, between Italy of the north and Italy of the South, between ethnic Italians and immigrants. TV networks and press freedom muzzled. The piles of garbage now literally submerging the territory of once beautiful Naples, infecting citizens with God knows what diseases. The reconstruction of the once beautiful, earthquake demolished city of L’Aquila, one hour from Rome, abandoned after much fanfare, after constructing a handful of showcase apartments. An earthquake celebrated and actually toasted by gleeful government appointed re-constructors. Museums closed nationwide for lack of funding: Pompei’s prize archaeological site, the House of Gladiators, collapsed from lack of maintenance, pot-holed streets and West Europe’s worst public transportation, a nation-state with a Prime Minister the laughing stock of Europe.
Bel paese? Folklore for nostalgics. From day to day, Italy at the tail end of most statistical photographs of a nation. Lowest salaries, highest prices, violence growing at an unprecedented pace, and shame of shame no restaurants at the top of Michelin guides and its national sport, soccer, in 16th place in the world.
As Mafia-backed dictatorship draws near, more of Italy is rebelling. The Berlusconi system, up to the last minute as it begins to disintegrate and collapse like Pompei, continues to crush an independent magistracy and a free press.
I searched the NY Times today for news about the student protests spreading like wildfire. Perhaps its news bureau in Rome is busy with the Middle East, but I found no mentions. Nor did I see news about Italian opposition press led by Rome’s La Repubblica, in protest against the gag of the voice of a free press, against the rigid controls over the public TV networks of RAI, widely reported throughout Europe. Nothing about the Mafia. It’s Mafia business as usual. As if it were nothing unusual.
Yet: Italy is not the United States of America. Protest against Mafia Fascism is growing. Right-wing parts of Berlusconi’s own government party, The People of Freedom, have defected. Western Europe’s lowest paid workers are in turmoil. Tens of thousands of students yesterday, took to the streets and the rooftops of government buildings, rail stations and universities from Palermo to Milan in protest against the proposed useless, noxious educational reforms. Just as those immigrants who protested at the top of gigantic cranes against residential restrictions.
The “people” show signs of stirring. Not a precise political movement, however. Left, right and center together. Workers and immigrants, and now university and high school students have joined in the protest against rising study costs. Austerity is the government slogan when, as some economists believe, it should be spending. Especially budget cuts for culture, schools and universities. Private schools gain, public schools lose. Meritocracy is the slogan. Support for achievers and screw the rest.
The students have returned to the streets. But not only the streets this time. In these days they take to the rooftops where they are invulnerable. They learned the tactic from immigrant workers atop the cranes and plant rooftops.
HERE IS A RUNDOWN of student protest that exploded during America’s Thanksgiving week, protests which brought out tens or hundres of thousands of Italy’s university and high school students—no one knows the total number—in a show of strength against a parliamentary bill of wide cuts and reductions in the entire education sector.
Marching through garbage filled streets, students occupied the “Oriental” University in Naples. Several hundred students marched in Palermo and occupied the political science building, and in Bari the Engineering faculty. Thousands of egg-throwing students marched through Turin, occupied the main rail station of Porta Susa and the landmark rooftop, Mole Antonelliana, high over the city, and in Pisa the world-famous “leaning tower.”
As massive police units tried to protect the entire Historic Center of the capital, students staged a colourful, symbolic occupation of Rome’s Coliseum, protests at the Ministry of Education, occupation of various faculty buildings including the famous Faculty of Architecture where student protests began in the 1968 era, putting pressure on reinforced police forces defending the national Parliament and “President” Berlusconi’s private Rome residence. Researchers and students lined the rooftops of Milan and the terraces of the Politechnical Institute, while police attacked corteges on street level injuring various persons. In Ferrara, a funeral march for the “death of the university. Occupation of a faculty in Trieste, protests at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, protests in Ancona, Perugia, Bologna, Sienna, Florence, students joined by professors in Cagliari in Sardinia, in Aosta, in the port city of Genua, blocking traffic everywhere and testing police tactics. Some students ecstatic at the national successes, now threaten to “occupy” the Vatican.
While nationwide manifestations were underway, in Parliament the Berlusconi majority went under on amendments to the education bill and one heard the first rumblings of withdrawal of the entire education bill. The air smells of the end of an era. The end of an epoch.
What does all this mean to the future students are fighting for? It means that protest and resistance pay. They pay off in the end. Maybe such days will happen again and again, not only in Italy where, in the South, lemon trees still grow, but also in colder climates.
Senior Editor GAITHER STEWART's latest novel is THE TROJAN SPY (Callio). Based in Rome and Paris, he serves as TGP's European correspondent.