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Franck Biancheri (2004): But what is Berlusconi playing at?

Franck Biancheri (2004): But what is Berlusconi playing at?

… to be a “smart alec”, who is in the same time smart, funny and scheming … and very visible. The “mariole” is not the crook who disguises himself or hides himself; no, he parades himself because he knows he has an audience who loves his tricks even if it is to the detriment of its national community (which in any case is not psychologically important for every spectator) – Franck Biancheri, 07/04/2004

Do not count on us, the Italians, to actively build Europe. We have not even succeeded in building a modern nation-state; so Europe!? – Giacomo Neri, 1985 (Aegee-Europe, Milano)

In 2004, Franck Biancheri described Berlusconi as the “Sganarelle of the 21st century“, the “mariole”, who is in the same time smart, funny and scheming … and very visible. Today Berlusconi was joined on the Italian political scene by two other players, Beppe Grillo (a real comic actor) and Salvini, who probably because less dusty and swept defeated the Cavaliere. This is indeed the only surprise that have given the elections in Italy this Sunday, March 4th. It was already kown that Beppe Grillo’s M5S would come to the top of the Italian political parties and that it would be Berlusconi’s and Salvini’s right/extrem-right coalition that would take the lead, even with insufficient results to claim to govern alone. Berlusconi, Grillo, Salvini, three dramatic characters of the Commedia dell’Arte scene who embody, not the zero degree, but the ultimate degree of Italian politics as described by Franck Biancheri: the “Sganarelle” of the 21st century, more cunning than its masters (here Europe) but is not less oblige to bend to the laws made by them and for them; and who should cheat to be able to exist and live as he wishes … So do not count, even today, on the Italians to actively build Europe, they are still struggling in building their own modern nation-state…

A little lesson of pedagogy to the Europeans to understand in which dimension are playing Berlusconi, Grillo and Salvini, but also the Italian people.

∴ But what is Berlusconi playing at? (by Franck Biancheri, 07/04/2004)

From a European point of view, the question indeed deserves to be asked. After a catastrophic presidency, he continues to block the European arrest warrant for reasons of personal convenience, while making himself the “spokesman” of Vladimir Putin (who does not ask for so much), supporting the candidatures to the EU of Russia or Israel (both of which have not asked for anything), and lately deciding to campaign for the European elections by talking about finances in Lires and not in Euro. For the rest, but it was already a technique used by his intimate enemy, Romano Prodi, to be accepted in the Euro zone, he keeps Italy in the “normality” of the budget of the Stability Pact (which we forget yet Italy has never respected the condition of public debt) by multiplying accounting artifices and occasional transactions of asset disposals.

Personally, I have the feeling that he doesn’t care less about European construction as about his first radio station. How else can we explain the carelessness with which he has approached his presidency and how he puts his personal interests above those of the EU as a matter of priority (you will tell me that he does this every day at national level)?

In a way, he exploits an intimate conviction of many Italians. I always remember what Giacomo Neri, one of the founders of AEGEE-EUROPE, told me during a meeting in Milan: “Do not count on us, the Italians, to actively build Europe. We have not even succeeded in building a modern nation-state; then Europe!? On the other hand, we will always follow what the French, the Germans and the Benelux will do together.” In the mouth of this 25-years-old, committed European student, who allowed our vast European student network to expand into Italy and make in particular Erasmus known, this analysis could not be ignored; and de facto, contemplating Berlusconian Italy, I am convinced of its profound accuracy.

Because Berlusconi does not exist independently of the Italians. He was democratically elected. He continues to enjoy significant support, even if weakened, in the public opinion of the country. He fits with a certain idea that the Italians have of politics and a political leader. If Berlusconi sometimes gives himself Mussolini’s paces (and is de facto associated with the former neo-fascist party, National Alliance, and the xenophobic party of the Lombard League), it is because in Italy, the Mussolini era (that of when “trains arrived on time”) is still nostalgic for many Italians. So often Berlusconi is a clown at European summits and seems to treat all this as a vast masquerade (which he is not entirely wrong in), is that Italians see politics as a huge “commedia dell’arte”. If Berlusconi, without any shame, is actively promoting or defending his personal interests, it is because in Italy many people think of the collective interest as that of “their” community, their family, their clients, their city. If Berlusconi does not deny any demagoguery like talking in Lires rather than Euro (national-populism par excellence) or treating Islam and Muslims of lower religion and civilization (xenophobia in action), it is because he knows that in terms of “show”, it will work best. National and international media will talk about him; he will flatter the instincts of his electorate. These “gaffes” are in fact communication operations well controlled that rely on a good knowledge of its environment.

Of course, there are a large number of Italians who oppose Berlusconi and his allies, who are distraught to see how in two decades Berlusconian TVs have very clearly lowered the intellectual level of the country, who are scandalized to see how he caricatures their country on the international scene and who are afraid of seeing the growing control of his media over the country. But in political matters, one question remains: are Italians really interested in the sustainable promotion of the collective interest understood as the most important community in which they fully recognize themselves (their country, the EU)? Because, as I have seen since 1985, through the many actions carried out by our European networks in Italy, if everyone is “ready to die” for the European cause at dinner, the next morning when it’s time to act very few are present. And I compare there to all the other European countries without exception. Although the Eurobarometer regularly gives Italy the best figures of support for European construction, it only measures Latin enthusiasm for beautiful ideas. In reality, private, family or local affairs will always (or almost) take precedence over this beautiful European ideal.

Many Italians have an aesthetic vision of politics. The important thing is that the debate is beautiful; that the political theory or that the proposal of constitution is beautiful; in fine that the political actor is good! For the rest, to others to fend for themselves!

So Berlusconi does not embody today the zero degree of Italian politics; on the contrary, he embodies the ultimate degree: the “smart alec“, who is in the same time smart, funny and scheming … and very visible. The “mariole” is not the crook who disguises himself or hides himself; no, he parades himself because he knows he has an audience who loves his tricks even if it is to the detriment of its national community (which in any case is not psychologically important for every spectator).

There will certainly be in the coming years a return to more “acceptable” levels (according to European standards) of Italian politics; but fundamentally I believe that the Italian people suffer from what I call the “complex of Sganarelle”, this servant of the plays of Molière who is smarter than his masters but is nevertheless obliged to bend to the laws made by them and for them; and who must cheat to be able to exist and live as he wishes. Italy has not known a proper Italian government for more than 140 years (and it was imposed by force on half of the country). Previously, for nearly 1400 years since the fall of the Roman Empire, Italians were ruled by foreign powers or experienced only local independence. I think it has made them naturally wary of power and laws that are seen as the laws of “others”, not Italians. And at the same time, this situation has placed people like Sganarelle at the heart of the collective political imagination, one who knew how to manage in the midst of all these foreign “masters”. Berlusconi is Sganarelle in the 21st century!

Franck Biancheri: Mais à quoi joue donc Silvio Berlusconi ? (original French – 07/04/2004 ©FB Documentation)

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