The Spectre Of Authoritarianism Threatens Italy
    By Tommaso Dorigo | December 14th 2009 07:30 AM | 12 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    I am an experimental particle physicist working with the CMS experiment at CERN. In my spare time I play chess, abuse the piano, and aim my dobson...

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    Be sure about one thing: in my very humble opinion it is not like Berlusconi would not deserve some kind of punishment, for the damage he has caused to my country. But violence is not the way.

    Yesterday's attack to the Italian premier by a deranged person with mental problems would not deserve much commentary, were it not for what really brought the hand of the assailer up and forward. There is, indeed, a climate of hatred in Italy these days. But who is responsible for it ? And what can we expect next ?

    Politicians are used to employ strong words to distinguish their at times minimally different position from those of their colleagues; and in a situation where real differences emerge, and institutional conflicts are exacerbated by a real democratic emergency, it is unavoidable that the pitch of their voices grow even further.

    So who is responsible for this daily bombardment ? I am sorry for being very predictable, but I claim that Berlusconi himself is the main source. His imperative is today to save himself in the only few remaining trials which his troop of lawyers could not bring to fail with all the other means, after a string of sapiently machined expiration of time limits of the trials, exceptions, challenges of judges, laws forced through the parliament which depenalized the alleged offences, and a few trials which ended nowhere because of lack of concrete proofs. And Berlusconi is very worried, because the only way to avert a sure conviction in a crystal-clear case of corruption is to force yet another ad-personam law through the two parliament chambers, despite a similar law has just been canceled by the Italian Constitutional Court.

    The clash of powers is nerve-wrecking for everybody. By trying to steer the political agenda to suit his own needs, the Italian premier has already totally alienated his second-best ally, Gianfranco Fini. Fini sits at the presidency of the Camera dei Deputati (the Italian lower chamber), and despite his own love for power, he seems unwilling to continue to play the puppet as the rest of the government members keep doing regardless of the amount of contortions of the threads above their heads. And despite attempts at calming down matters, Italy's President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano is himself under heavy attack from Berlusconi. The premier has understood that a preventive war aimed at undermining the legitimacy of Napolitano is the only way to win the political battle.

    The reason is simple: Berlusconi needs to justify his forceful passing of a disrupting law that will cancel 20 to 30 percent of ongoing trials -including his own, ca va sans dire- in front of his electors; and the law would not be signed by the President of the Republic in a normal situation, because of its evident flaws. Hence the preventive attack to Napolitano, to the "party of the judges", to magistrates and to the opposition. No day passes without the Italian premier expressing his lamentations of being a victim in a country where communists have expressed the last three presidents, control magistrates, and conspire against him. It feels particularly strange to hear Berlusconi call "communist" Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, whom he implored for a second mandate no later than a few years ago -as we were reminded by the same former President Ciampi a few days ago.

    In such a situation, it is by no means strange to see a deranged individual raise his arm against the engine of this political instability. Shortly after the incident Berlusconi himself declared he had been almost waiting for it; and he might have been sincere, for once. The wind he has seeded is becoming a tempest. In Italy we have seen organized terrorism in the seventies and eighties flourish in a situation of political tensions, and we know that it does not take long for such spectres to materialize again. It is a spiral of anger and violence we know all too well.

    I believe such a turn of events has not yet happened, and I want to trust that there still is time to avoid it. The assault of yesterday night was a solitary action. I fear it might not take long, though, to witness the development of more serious, organized attacks, especially if there is no release in the political tension. And I wonder whether there is indeed some obscure, hidden force directing Italy toward a new authoritarianism. Such a plan has been attempted in the past -and it partly succeeded; but the same people who tried it then are still around. They are professionals at creating a situation, the so-called strategia della tensione (stress strategy) where citizens feel insecure and accept limits to their freedom in exchange for "safety".

    Italian democracy is maybe as much at risk today as it has been in the seventies. We should stop thinking those dark times are behind us: it may happen again. I hope everybody takes a step back tomorrow. A proposal by Berlusconi's government to discuss with the opposition in the parliament the proposed changes to the judiciary system, instead than announcing that the law will be forced through, would be such a step.


    I am glad you write these in addition to your physics updates.   In the past my take in Italian politics was primarily humorous (more governments than Christmases in Italy since WW2!  Porn stars that are not just metaphors!) but these are serious issues for people living there who care about their home.

    Tensione is not just an Italian thing, of course.   You have been in US airports many times recently and people seem to have accepted that America should be a third world country as regards to air travel.
    Hi Hank
    well, yes. US Airports are pretty awful, but traveling has improved anyways... Some borders with troubled countries still sport anal inspections, I am told :-) I mean, I am glad I just have to remove my shoes!

    Before commenting on this article, my Russian guards (aka Kaspersky antivirus) detected HEUR:Trojan.Script.Iframer when opening this article just now.


    Perhaps I have been a bit unsympathetic to your Berlusconi articles up to now.  After all, “Italian” + “Left” reminds me of the time when our University Library was buying books on Gramsci and the science section of the new books shelf was pretty sparse.

    But, while reading Chesterton lately, it came to me in a flash – this is a replay of the time when the Caesars disenfranchised the Roman populace and gave them bread and circuses instead.  So perhaps your chap should be ranked alongside Blair, Mugabe, et al.

    However, I would not say that today’s Italians are simply Ancient Romans redux.  As an illustration of this, the line in “Malafemmena” which goes “te voglio bene e t’odio” reminds one a bit, at first, of Catullus and his “odi et amo”.  But his “quod amantem injuria talis cogit amare magis, sed bene velle minus” is much cruder than the modern Italian equivalent.  I am glad we do not live in Classical times.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    The phrase "They are professionals at creating a situation, the so-called strategia della tensione (stress strategy) where citizens feel insecure and accept limits to their freedom in exchange for safety," reminds me of the global warming story; let us tax your behavior (but ignore our own) otherwise you will all die.

    If we do manage to prevent man from warming the planet our action will doom the majority of the rainforests. Most of them disappear during iceages and are replaced by grassland. And the next ice age is already overdue. These are facts that are well known to geologists. So maybe Gaia arranged for our carbon based economy because She wanted to save the rainforests.

    Are you asking who is responsible for the hatred against Berlusconi? After the dozens of the distasteful anti-Berlusconi posts you wrote on your "physics" blog? You must be joking, right? What about fanatical hateful communist bloggers like yourself?
    You're co-responsible for this attack.
    Luboš, I would say you stick to String Theory as it seems you know it better.

    Luboš? Isn't that the guy co-responsible for global warming?


    Nope Lubos, he is the offender. And unfortunately he has more listeners than I have ;-)
    No Matter what He did (Berlusconi), he shouldn't be treated this way.
    The man is 73 years old and this is not acceptable on any scale. He is a politician, yes, but there are means in politics which can be used against him.

    Hi Tommaso, other than by writing a great physics blog with occasional commentary on politics, is there an easy way to get on LuMo's "...fanatical hateful communist.." list? Obviously if you are pissing off LuMo it means you are on the right track! Great post, btw; these Berlusconi tales really remind me of the classic emperors of Rome.

    I liked this article but for one thing: no matter how much you (and I) dislike this guy, he doesn't deserve to get a bloody face. Probably a shoe with some dog stuff on the sole would have been much more appropriate.
    The point is that he is amazing in recycling himself. I remember him trying to save his old friends in the nineties just before Italy lost the soccer final in 94. He had to go. But he came back, and back again.
    In fact, this may even be his plan. Who cares now about underage girls visiting his villa? Or how he got to pay for all that?

    In fact the problem is more profound, because he is representing the voters who reelect him.
    Till comunism fell they were voting for a corrupt and decadent system just to protect themselfs from a potentially worse scenario. From guys who kidnapped a prime minister and killed him. Vorters were giving the likes of Andreotti unconditional support. That support is well worth some thrashing. So I dont think B deserves the attention he is getting through this.


    Franklin D. Roosevelt is reported to have said "he may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch", though whether the "he" refers to Somoza of Nicaragua or Trujillo of the Dominican Republic is unclear, if indeed if he ever even said it.

    Now the Hedgehog has no sympathies with the offensive one of former Czechoslovakia, but even so he is wondering if in your case the problem is that Berlusconi is not your S.O.B.  What he is doing is at kindergarten level compared with some leaders of left wing persuasion.  Is your objection to B. primarily ideological or patriotic?  Until we know, the African Tortoise Effect remains in operation, and we cannot wholeheartedly endorse your complaint.