Sunday, May 26, 2002

The Berlusconi disease can spread throughout Europe

It's a bit annoying when somebody (Martin Woollacott, in the Guardian) comes along and in one essay sums up pretty much everything you want to say and the reason you want to say it,

"All that part of Italy that was instinctively entrepreneurial and individualistic, modern but vaguely Catholic, which had struggled ... to found the material wellbeing of families upon hard work, self-sacrifice and a cock-a-snook attitude towards the state, recognised itself in the smiling face of the tireless little Milanese businessman," writes the historian Paul Ginsborg. "On the other hand, that Italy which believed in the growth of a civil society, in the need to curb the vertical hierarchies of patron-client relations, in the rule of law and the fight against the Mafia ... was appalled."

and to hop up and down and scream it:

The tendency for politics to be seen in part as a branch of consumption and a form of entertainment is also generally evident. How to explain, otherwise, the prominence in the German election campaign of the issue of Gerhard Schröder's hair or, in the French, of Chirac's grocery bills or Lionel Jospin's squeaky voice? The standard issues that Berlusconi exploited to come to power, including crime, migration, nationalism, regionalism and freedom from state meddling, are available everywhere. The means that he employed, in the shape of greatly concentrated media power, a party strong in organisation but short on debate, and a ready recourse to private wealth, are less available, but there are no guarantees that the situation could not change.

It is worrying that Europe has accepted Berlusconi with so few reservations, an acceptance symbolised by the inclusion of his party in the Christian Democrat group in the European parliament in 1999. It remains to be seen whether Europe will change him or he will change Europe.

I'd like to be able to quote this article in full, but I'll just beseech you to go and read it. Please.


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