Bunga-bunga Steps Down (Elements of Roman Style: IV)
Berlusconi after Monday’s humiliation in parliament
A Roman newspaper dubbed Berlusconi “The Great Seducer” when his party, Forza Italia, won the election only three months after its formation. As his wife, Veronica Lario, put it at the time: “People voted for Silvio Berlusconi, they rewarded the life story of this man. It’s not a victory of the right wing, it’s a victory of the man. People don’t believe in political parties any more. They want men of calibre to believe in.” That was in 1994.
Yesterday (Nov. 7) The Seducer, Mr Bunga-bunga made five entries entries to his Facebook, including the Mark Twainesque: “Le voci di mie dimissioni sono destituite di fondamento” – “The rumours of my resignation are unfounded.” Naturally, he offered his resignation today, that is, after parliament passes an austerity bill. And he might well stand again for election in February next year; he has already been PM over three different periods. At 75, he has nothing to lose except his wobbly immunity from prosecution for fraud, bribery etc.
“The restaurants are full”
Constant Gardener and I have been dining out a bit over the last week and I must report that the restaurants are not full; even if they are not quite empty, at least not when we eat in them. On at least two occasions we were the only paying patrons. Admittedly one was a very bad Japanese joint (indeed, “giapponese e malese”) on a wet Sunday night, and another couple arrived late as we were leaving; but the other, Il Tartaruga, was a very nice place with a good kitchen (the best carbonara I’ve had, right) — the only other patrons were the owner and his girlfriend.
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It’s the stupid economy
It’s not that Italy is in such terrible shape or that the Italians are spendthrift; unlike the Greeks with 30% of the population — 11 million — on the government payroll (even if they haven’t been paid the last while). But the Italian debt problem has become unwieldy to a crisis degree: this neat chart is from an almost comprehensible article in the Guardian. (See also this suspiciously lucid article from the BBC.)
The thing though is that Italy has had a debt level of over 100% since 1991. There is low level household and business debt, but the economy hasn’t been growing ( a measley 0.75% annual growth over the last 15 years) and now the cost of boorrowing money to pay off accumulated national debt has arrived at that mystery state of economics — ie, failure breeds failure. The more expensive it is for the Italians to borrow money for repayments (ie, The Market doesn’t trust them) the less likely they will be able to repay the debt; stir, and repeat. “To borrow money for just one year, Italy now has to pay an interest rate of
6.05% nearly 7%. Germany, by contrast, must pay only 0.25%.”
The mud clarity of economics, thus: “Like other southern European economies, Italian wage levels rose too quickly during the good years, and left Italy uncompetitive versus Germany and other northern economies . . . likely to mean many years of even weaker growth and low inflation, as Italian workers find their pay is frozen, or even cut, until they regain a price advantage over German workers . . . But lower growth and inflation suddenly make the Italian government’s debt load look much less sustainable.”
The end is nigh, again
When we walked past parliament yesterday the atmosphere was agitated around the forecourt, a void enforced by the carabinieri, ringed in turn by long-haired reporters and camera crew, including a curious group of formally dressed dark-skinned Africans in suits.
Five years ago, a friend in Bologna explained to us that normal people (he meant folk like himself) liked Berlusconi; admired his success, his common touch, his ordinary failings, his very Italian-style manhood, ie, flamboyantly chauvinistic womaniser. But as a Roman friend of a friend told us earlier today, everyone is sick of Berlusconi, but have no expectations of a better result from any other party in politics.
But the Eternal City goes on, that other Rome, as real as the ephemeral world of politics and finance — the world of ruins and art- and religious-pilgrimage. There will always be groups gawking up at the occulus in the Pantheon. That grandest of Rome’s ancient monuments, that gravest, weightiest 2000-year-old building — dwarfs all the religious entities and rulers who have taken up long-term residence within. Its latest mantle as a nominally Catholic site is belied by the troupes of folk like us who end up in its vast interior, a different, opposite kind of void to the parliament’s forecourt. Here, we know nothing is going to happen, except for rain. We look up to that hole in the dome to see the sky in its fugitive manifestations, or like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters — hoping to be beamed up, yearning for transcendence.