May 7, 2001
This week has been a big news week. Macedonia is moving close to a state of war. There have been large riots around the world from our hippie friends. In Britain, the questions of race and multiculturalism have taken a sinister totalitarian turn. Germany and Belgium have announced a push for even more European integration. The world seems to be turning that bit faster this week, so with my usual appalling news judgment Iíll be writing on something that may never even happen, the right-wing alliance winning the Italian elections.
You see there is a good chance that a party that supported a brutal and repressive system of government is going to have a central part in Italian government. The Euro-Communist party is the lynch pin in the "Olive Tree" alliance of the left. It may shock you, but the mainstream press outside Italy seems not to have noticed this. They do seem to have noticed the (smaller) part that the "post" Fascists are playing in the right wing "House of Freedoms" coalition. If the right do win the next election, the foreign press is certain to notice the past affiliations of a minor coalition partner than they ever noticed the past affiliations of the present main governing party.
The other "worrying" point about the possible future governors of Italy is their leader, Silvio Berlusconi (the third element is the separatist Northern League). Now before I get the e-mails admonishing me, telling me that I donít realise how corrupt and manipulative the man is, I do and I donít care. Itís not as if Italian politics has ever been particularly clean, and even if it had interfering in Italyís domestic politics, still less in her democratic process, is in no way in the British interest.
Silvio Berlusconi is very rich, has a large media empire and (not unlike many Italian businessmen) has a rather shady turn in making deals. If any right wing readers doubt how much he is loathed by the left think of Ted Turner and then think of him as the probable next President. Got the picture now? This presents the EU with the same nightmare scenario that afflicted them with Austria. A right wing maverick takes part in the government of an EU country, and the other major governments have strong links with the parties in the outgoing government. This time it is not Austria. Italy is a larger and longer standing member of the EU, and this time their bete noir is not brooding in the wings but is actually a possible Prime Minister. Last time they failed, because they misjudged the mood of the Austrians, and Denmark was facing a referendum on Monetary Union. This time round they are trying a different approach, poisoning the well prior to the election.
The foremost in the shameful campaign is the Economist. They ran a libelous cover story on the election campaign asking, "Is Berlusconi fit to run Italy?" This recycled the usual allegations against Berlusconi (without paying too much attention to his court victories, after all why ruin a good piece with balance). This hue and cry has been taken up throughout the European press, creating an impression of European condemnation of Berlusconi. The Italian left has clutched this convenient straw, saying that if Berlusconi is elected then Italy will be isolated. Now usually I would not complain. Democracy means that parties have to use whatever weapons they have to hand. Similarly newspapers have their own views, and it is only a little odd if a London paper is pontificating on Italian politics. What stinks, to high heaven, is when this is not merely an opinion but a government inspired smear.
Who actually wrote the article? Was it a journalist, or was it a member of the beleaguered Italian government? The reason I ask this is that the former Rome correspondent of the Economist, Tana de Zulueta, is now a senator for the communist-dominated coalition and is foremost in the desperate smear campaign against him. This is compounded by the Economist's practice of not naming authors, except on high profile pieces. Surely a report as serious as this requires a by line and if it had not been written by a member of the government then the Economist would have nothing to hide. However, as a report in the (London) Guardian said, the absence of by lines is "designed to reinforce its authority and hide its use of freelance stringers." Obviously, it is also designed to hide its use as a platform for Government smears. (For those readers worried about my use of a pseudonym, I can assure you I neither use stringers, nor have any authority to reinforce). The Economist is acting in the same way, and with the same motives, as Zimbabweís state owned press. None of this is surprising in a magazine whose editor in chief, Bill Emmot, boasted that "we are the house magazine of globalisation." They also seem to be the house magazine of a rather corrupt government as well.
They all seem to be coming out of the woodwork. The proven partisan Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzon, has also tried to indict Berlusconi, and tried to get his parliamentary immunity lifted (an immunity that historically was laid down to stop the executive or the judiciary from derailing opposition politicians). The difference with Haider is instructive. In Haiderís case, the Social Democrats realised after the election that they might be pushed out of government, and so attempted to isolate their country too late. The Italian ex-communists now realise that they are unpopular with the electorate, and are trying to ameliorate it through their friends in the media and the judiciary.
I hope that these shabby tactics will not work and the Italians will actually think for themselves. I think it is unlikely. The Italian electorate will be cowed by this sustained international smear campaign. If the right does indeed win despite this then it will be a small, temporary and imperfect victory in the fight for national democracy. There will be more fun if the German Social Democrats make good on their promise to isolate Italy if their political allies are voted out of office. Forza Italia!
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