Last week I told one of my high school students about a friend of mine who had her bike stolen in Roma’s trendy Trastevere neighborhood last weekend. When she went to report the theft to the police they told her that they had a good idea about who took it but couldn’t do anything about it. The high school student responded that the police couldn’t do anything because it was Berlusconi who stole the bike. Today we’ll see if that’s a prelude to what’s about to happen here.
It’s national Election Day in Italy as the two-day vote comes to a close and the absurd theatrics of this testicular driven reality TV election season have finished. This election, much like the Kerry/Bush show in the United States, has been framed by many Italians to be a battle for democracy. The left coalition, led by Romano Prodi, is seen by many here as the last hope for democratic ideals versus the government currently lead by the Premier and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi. But, as in the United States, there are no real fundamental differences between the candidates in the center of this propaganda spectacle. And, as we have learned from the past two Bush elections, democracy is but a facade masking a heinous dictatorship of gluttonous war mongers profiting from the petrol fueled terror and torture complex.
The center left is cockily confident of victory always having led by around 5 % in the polls, but digital voting machines are being used here in four regions. As we witnessed in Ohio, it takes a manipulated vote count in only one state to steal a close election. Pecoraro Scanio, the president of the Green Party, has pointed out this threat of election fraud and called on Italians to be prepared for such a controversy. Could we be on the eve of another electoral scandal? And does it really make a difference? Many Italians say that an election scandal can’t happen here because Italy is a constitutional democracy; many in the United States thought so too.
The Green Party here, teaming with the Communist tradition and as a minority party in the left coalition l’Unione, speaks of renewable energy, a jobs program built around the sustainable transformation of the peninsula, a respect for immigrant populations and diversity, an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, peace on earth, etc. and yet the Italians continue on their petrol and cell phone binge. The comforts of cars, vacation homes, good food and wine in some of the most beautiful surroundings in the world seem to comfortably numb the true desire for transformational change.
There is heaviness in the air, as many seem frustrated by the direction of the country and the world. Minor skirmishes, similar to the mass civil unrest in France of recent weeks, have occurred in cities to the North — Milan, Genova, Torino and Bologna. In the valley area of Val di Souza in the Southern Alps, almost the entire population rose up to halt the construction of a tunnel through the side of a mountain for a new high velocity train route. The Green Party and some Communists seem the only true electoral voice of opposition on this issue, offering viable and less destructive alternatives to the construction project, while recognizing the grassroots democratic wishes of the people.
Italy’s election season has been very similar to that leading up to the Kerry/Bush show. The populace is frustrated with the choices and divided, while continuing with their day-to-day routines. Berlusconi’s proclamation that “we will win because we are not testicles” and center left supporters wearing signs proclaiming that they are indeed testicles pretty much sums up the tone of the electoral season. Slogans such as “better to be a faggot than a fascist” color the atmosphere.
The importance of reality has been brought into question as television continues in its’ attempt to manufacture consent. Two weeks ago Silvio Berlusconi claimed that “reality is no longer important,” as he is an actor on history’s stage. He “ironically” stated that the Chinese boiled their children under Mao likening the election to a battle against Italy’s communist tendencies. His comments led to demonstrations in China against xenophobia in Italy. The Prime Minister compared these elections to those in 1948 when the Christian Democrats defeated Communism. During those elections the United States spent tens of millions of dollars to influence Italian public opinion and has continued to work to systematically cripple the popular communist movement in Italy up until the present day. This time around Bush invited his buddy Silvio to address the American Congress as a gesture of thanks for the war effort, which many here viewed as a manipulative gift of TV air time leading up to the vote.
While the right pushes nuclear power, oil and war as the solution for energy independence, the center left talks of democracy and the Italian economic crisis. There has been No mention of the war in Iraq from the opposition’s Romano Prodi. The Italians still have 3,000 troops stationed in Nassiriya as the Italian energy giant Enel profits from the theft of the Iraqi petroleum sold here. The White House has not yet authorized Italy’s withdrawal of Italian soldiers from Iraq. The center left refused to endorse the March 18th anniversary demonstrations against the war because they did not come out “strongly enough” against the threat of terrorism. Prodi has caved in on the Val di Souza tunnel project much like a spineless democrat would in the States.
The propaganda magazine sent out by Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia “The House of Freedom,” entitled “The True Italian Story,” is littered with photos and articles promoting mass consumption and the Made in Italy brand. It is highlighted by photo ops with George Bush, the rest of the G8 leaders, and at the American Congress as a proud ally in the war without end. There is a feature spread on September 11th calling the firefighters who were sacrificed at the twin towers angels and speaking of the defense of liberty. As in America the Berlusconi government touts the increase of infringements on civil liberties as security from terrorism. There is only a paragraph mention of the Iraq war. The paragraph refers to the more than 20 Italian soldiers who have lost their lives as heroes in the “Mission of Peace,” while framing the war as a great benefit to the Iraqi people. The Catholic Church is also featured, the last pope and present pushing their family values and anti-gay stances.
There is a strong desire among many in Italy for a more sustainable society where creative aspirations are allowed to flourish. Under the current economy we are struggling to pay for the increasing costs of food, other commodities and services. Wages are low and there is little to no security in the workplace for new entries into the abyss of global capitalism’s mechanisms. The youth are generally well informed and frustrated. Some talk of revolution, others of moving to Spain if Berlusconi wins, while some just consume, consume, consume. Now we wait to see what tomorrow may bring…
MICHAEL LEONARDI is a native of Toledo, Ohio currently residing in Roma, Italy