Sunday, 4 October 2009

Proud to be crooks in Berlusconi’s Italy

In ancient Rome, it was a high honour to be able to proclaim ‘civis Romanus sum’, ‘I am a Roman citizen’. In modern Italy, that has been replaced by ‘sono farabutto’, ‘I am a crook’.

‘Farabutto’ is the term the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, recently used to describe his opponents and the defenders of freedom of expression. That’s one group, by the way: ‘opponents of Berlusconi’ and ‘defenders of freedom of expression’ aren’t two separate currents in Italy.

Berlusconi hasn’t learned much from history. The British called the rebelling colonists of North Eastern America ‘Yanks’ and they took great satisfaction in applying the name to themselves. The British Army in Belgium in World War I thought the German Kaiser had called them ‘contemptible’ and took pride in calling themselves ‘the old contemptibles’. Abusing your opponents often rebounds against you.

Sadly, though, abuse is the least of Berlusconi’s offences. Senators from his party have been drafting a constitutional amendment to limit freedom of the press formally, seeing as the media haven’t been sufficiently cowed by informal means – Berlusconi owns the major private TV channels and controls the public ones by pushing his authority as prime minister to the limit of democratic behaviour or beyond. The amendment would prohibit the publication of material detrimental to the dignity of individuals. Since Berlusconi feels he has been unfairly maligned by the press, it’s not hard to understand what the aim is here.

As it happens, Berlusconi isn’t waiting for a constitutional amendment. He’s launched lawsuits against two newspapers, l’Unità which was historically the paper of the Communist Pary, and Repubblica which has been perhaps the leading voice in highlighting Berlusconi’s contradictions and downright lies. As Repubblica points out, the suit against them is curious: he’s taking action over the ten questions they put to him on the front page of the paper. They were questions they had officially asked for permission to use in an interview which he never granted them.

So Berlusconi is taking them to court for daring to question him. There are many terms for regimes in which it is illegal to question the head of government. Democracy isn’t one of them.

So up against the biggest crook of them all, calling yourself a crook, a farabutto, in Italy today is to align yourself firmly on the side of humanity and against self-serving authoritarianism.

In that sense and in that sense alone, I’m also proud to line up with the crooks.

A crook with little to be proud of

Meanwhile, police have announced the arrest of a young man in Albano Laziale, just outside Rome. He came across a PC with the power on while he was burgling a local apartment. He couldn’t resist the temptation to get onto Facebook and chat with his friends. His personal data left on the PC led the police straight to him.

Sounds to me like he has all the intellectual and moral qualities for a career in Berlusconi’s party. If they’re still in power when the burglar gets out of gaol, he should pursue the opportunity.


Awoogamuffin said...

"He came across a PC with the power on while he was burgling a local apartment."

When I first read this sentence I thought I'd understood that Italy employed electrically powered constables.

David Beeson said...

My experience with constables generally is that you're lucky to find one operating on clockwork, let alone electricity.