Berlusconi is no longer merely a threat to Italian democracy, but a warning to the rest of Europeby John Lloyd / January 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
The government of Silvio Berlusconi is an affront to the democratic values which the nations of the European Union affirm as their most precious heritage. It ruthlessly manipulates the large majority it gained in both houses of parliament in the election of spring 2001 to pass legislation tailored for the prime minister’s commercial benefit. It controls almost all of the nation’s television channels. It is, in many respects, comparable with governments of post-Soviet states-governments of backward economies which struggle with a much more recent experience of authoritarian rule than Italy.
The Casa delle Libert? (House of Liberties) coalition of the right, led by Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, has not, of course, expunged democracy. Italy’s civil society remains lively. The presidency, the opposition parties, the judiciary, the trade unions, intellectual, scholarly and creative life and (latterly) the business community are wholly or partly opposed to the juggernaut which is the Italian government. And Berlusconi is provoking crises within the judicial system, the state broadcaster RAI, the ranks of the main business organisation Confindustria, with the organised workers, in the diplomatic corps and in the world of education-all of which are becoming more serious.
Nevertheless, he faces a weak formal opposition. The left is divided into several parties which conduct a ceaseless war of position, and which are often divided within themselves. There is no widely accepted leader of the left and none seems likely to emerge. The mass movements of citizens, organised by figures within the creative and intellectual worlds, are often scornful of the parties but cannot replace them. Italy is not alone in having a weak opposition-indeed, it is presently something of a feature in western Europe, evident in countries as diverse as France, Spain, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark, which have weak left oppositions, and in Sweden and Britain, which have weak right oppositions. But in none of these is the government destroying the principles of a liberal state. In Italy, it is.
Most worrying, Berlusconi’s form of politics may be showing us our own future. Italy has often been in the vanguard of history. Capitalism began on the peninsula, in the medieval city-states. Some of these states showed another novelty for the medieval period: elective governments. In the 20th century, fascism was pioneered; as, after the war, was Euro-communism. Berlusconi has brought to democratic government another novelty-a populist videocracy.
Berlusconi’s first and major target has been…