Sunday, July 27, 2008

I Begin to get some inkling as to why the hell Italian voters re-re-elected Berlusconi

This has been very hard for me to determine because he has little support among the over-educated middle class Italians with whom I mostly interact and because even people who vote for Berlusconi don't say that they voted for Berlusconi (I have never heard praise of Berlusconi except on Berlusconi controlled TV and I have talked at some length to someone who is now a cabinet minister).

Even though my body is in Italy my mind is generally in the US left blogosphere (please don't tell my colleagues ... my students have guessed already).

This is, to the very small extent that I can make a contribution, bad for the US left blogosphere which might benefit from an Italian reporter and certainly doesn't need a marginally larger echo chamber. I know this. My only response so far is to make my firefox starting page (one of Italy's 2 highest circulation papers, generally center left for Italy (pretty far left for the USA) but motivated by intense passionate hatred for Silvio Berlusconi, since he had a judge bribed in his attempt to take the paper over and fire its then staff).

generally I open it for a second, go to gmail, click on hotmail then go to
Atrios (I never ever check sitemeter and firefox is just teasing me when it proposes extending www to whenever I type www.

Today, I think I may have learned something. I would roughly translate it as "crime in the streets"

Un'indagine rivela una sindrome dell'insicurezza senza precedenti
Si invocano più controllo sul territorio e misure straordinarie per l'immigrazione
Criminalità e paura del futuro
in cima ai pensieri degli italiani

Criminalità e paura del futuro in cima ai pensieri degli italiani
ROMA - Italiani preoccupati per la sicurezza a livelli senza precedenti nel passato.

A poll reveals a fear of street crime sindrome without precedent. People ask for more control over the territory and extraordinary measures concerning immigration.

Crime and fear of the future top the worries of Italians.


Italians worried about street crime at unprecedented levels.

Note that I have made a free translation "sicurezza" literally means "security". Here it is used to mean roughly "being safe walking alone in cities at night" (a concept which is so alien to the US experience that it is very hard to translate). It sure doesn't mean "social security" (stato sociale) or "job security" (non- precariatà job security was the norm for Italians lucky enough to be employed. Being fire-able not at will but at the end of a 3 year contract is the innovation).

Italians are very afraid of being mugged by immigrati extracommunitari (immigrants from outside of the EU) such as myself. In particular they are afraid of undocumented aliens.

Now I really really didn't get this. I assume I am always relatively safe when alone at any hour in any place in Italy (I'm the guy who walked down Huntington ave. Boston alone at 1 am until 2 kids with a knife took the $8 I have in my wallet).

Thus over here we, fairly suddenly, have the working class righties whose fear and anger is now directed down not up.

(an egocentric aside: my worthlessness as a blogospheric Italian correspondent is proven by the fact that you could have read this months ago at not to mention that Josh Marshall is (with Giuseppe D'Avanzo and Carlo Bonino) my main source of news about what is really happening in Rome where I live.)

Now it would be very odd if anger at criminals caused Italians to vote for Berlusconi, since he is undeniably a criminal. He was convicted of a crime but not punished because of the statute of limitations. he could have appealed (a second time he was convicted twice) to clear his name without risk of prison if he lost (a third time) but chose not to. He has been found to be a criminal and chose not to contest that finding in the cassazione (highest criminal court of appeal) because he was nailed down to law. He also changed the law on false accounting as he was being investigated for "losing track" of roughly $250,000,000 and just had parliament pass a law which says he can't be prosecuted so long as he is prime minister (parliament was racing the court which was hearing the case Italian people against Berlusconi for subborning perjury in the investigation of the $ 250 million oversight).

But the key thing is that Italians have accepted the distinction between "people who break the law" and "criminals". This should be familiar to my US readers where the GOP is the tough on crime party and totally corrupt. The desire for "sicurezza" is not at all the same as a desire for "legalità" (legality). The word was introduced into the political vocabulary by Berlusoni (well he actually introduced "sicurity" because he likes to pretend he is American). Its purpose is to distinguish the crimes which must be punished (crimes by poor people) and the violations of the criminal code which everyone does and who cares and to distinguish between criminals (undocumented alien burglers, muggers and drug pushers) and perfectly respectable people who are being persecuted by politicized prosecutors because they did things which are (for the moment) classified as felonies by the criminal code but no one is rude enough to say that they are criminals (except for me causing my wife to comment that its weird that she is married to a US citizen who people assume is probably not a lefty and he is totally further out into lefty craziness than anyone else she knows).

The decision that "law and order" matters more than law, the rule of law or the division of power was crucial to the rise of the Republicans in the US. I now guess that the same thing is happening in Italy.

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