Saturday, January 26, 2008

No country for young men

You leave the country for a few days, and what happens? The government collapses. It's moments like this when you really wonder why some world leaders would continue to make such a fuss about "spreading democracy". Romano Prodi served 20 months on the slimmest of margins, narrowly avoiding ouster last February. As the Guardian points out, 20 months is an admirable showing in post-war Italy, which has now had a staggering 61 governments in 60 years. If Italy were a stock it would have been delisted long ago, its shareholders in the red.

What happened this time? It all started with Prodi's justice minister Clemente Mastella pulling his support for Prodi last week in a juvenile protest. The protest? Magistrates arrested Mastella's wife on corruption charges and announced he too is under investigation. Mastella, a good Catholic, had no choice but to respond by pulling a Judas-like revolt, forcing a do-or-die vote of confidence vote for the Prodi government, which he of course lost. Let's recap here: the justice minister topples the government because an independent judiciary decides to investigate their boss (and his wife) for an ongoing corruption ring in the Naples area that is costing taxpayers a fortune. Does any of this make sense? Of course not. It's Italian politics.

Now, the Prodi government, which already was largely powerless to push through any meaningful reform, is no longer. Instead, we have political chaos just as the global economic picture is looking bleak. But Italy's wealthiest man, Silvio Berluconi is gleeful. He will no doubt be re-elected.

Ordinary citizens look at Italian politics with incredulity. All politicians all over the world are self-serving. But Italian politicians operate in their own world. They are answerable to no-one but each other. They go into power for one thing: to enrich their friends, family and lovers, and more and more these days, the Catholic Church. Where have you heard of such a political system before? Open your sixth-grade history text books. Yep, it's modern-day feudalism. You have a ruling elite consisting of old men with a disproportionate amount of wealth and power, a powerful church that dictates to them and a pitiful peasantry (with university degrees).

Of course feudalism ended in a moment of enlightenment just a few hours north of Rome. And today? Nope. Disaffection rules. The most sensible Italians are telling me they refuse to vote in the next election. Why should they?!, they snap. We deserve Berlusconi, Xtina tells me. At least he was transparent in his aim to pass laws designed solely to save his ass and assets from various criminal investigations. That's understandable. But what's the alternative?

Italy, a G8 member, has turned back the dial to a previous millennium -- or, if you think about it, a good 400 years further back in history than where the Taliban would like to set up shop. The country is losing its best minds increasingly for a life abroad where there are more opportunities and fewer Italian politicians. Unlike a millenium ago, the brain drain is robbing this country of its next Galileo, its next Leonardo, its next Michelangelo.

If modern-day Italians are lucky, the church/state hydra will push the country back even further, back in time to say the fourth century. Evidently, between 300 and 400 A.D. were good times in the Roman Empire, an era of prosperity and promise. A lot of Italians could live with that.

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