June 6, 2009 § Leave a comment
If you’re from the left, you might have reasons to dislike Silvio Berlusconi. A provisional list could include recent pronouncements against a multi ethnic Italy, backed up by draconian anti-immigration laws, the fact his coalition partners the Northern Alliance press for preferential seating for “native” Milanese. All this must be fairly obnoxious to anyone with progressive instincts.
Then there’s the eternal question as to the source of his personal fortune, his ownership of 50% of the national media, his recurring abuses of power. And yet no amount of financial dirt and dodgy deals has failed to make him so unpopular that he can’t win an election or two. His approval ratings rarely go below 50%, and as Italy votes for the European elections today, his Populo della Liberta stand to win 45%, if polls are accurate.
This is no doubt deeply frustrating for the Italian left. But it doesn’t quite explain why left-leaning journal La Repubblica has taken Madame Berlusconi’s pending divorce to heart, publishing ten questions to the Calviere about his supposed relations with eighteen year old starlet Noemi Letizia. Without much effect it would seem.
No doubt there’s something ridiculous, if not embarrassing, and maybe even illegal, about what might be a 72’s year old’s passion for a Lolita. But in what way does it advance the left’s cause? Sex scandals have a habit of working in both political directions. And yet over a decade ago not even Bill Clinton’s enemies in the Republican right benefited from the Monica Lewinsky affair. However, it seems no coincidence that since then, even on this side of the Atlantic, we have had to endure cheese and ham pieties about the blissful marriages our candidates enjoy. As if it were any of our business.
Berlusconi complains his critics attack him on Letizia because they have no “political ideas”. This is disingenuous, since he has been instrumental in trivializing Italian politics, via his TV stations, and the gaggle of bimbos he has put forward on the Populo della Liberta’s ticket for the coming elections. And yet he has a point. As political analyst Ilana Bet-El argued recently, “we are the midst of the worst financial crisis since the 1930’s and yet the left is nowhere”. Mainly because it no longer knows what its values are. What follows then is that in an ideological vacuum, it has erected itself as a guardian of morality. No surprise then that that other guardian of morality, the Catholic church, should have recently waded in exhorting the prime minister to be “sober and sombre” in his manner. Sombreness, usually appropriate for funerals, is certainly not the air Mr Berlusconi will adopt as he buries an increasingly sanctimonious left.
May 29, 2009 § Leave a comment
My latest blog at Presseurop
A couple of weeks back Lech Walesa caused mutterings in the Irish and Polish press for having been a guest speaker at the Libertas convention in Rome. Papers speculated whether this was not a ringing endorsement of Irishman Declan Ganley’s crusade against the Lisbon Treaty on a “pro Europe – anti EU” ticket.
“We need to heed the Libertas message and put the people back at the heart of the project,” he said. Rumours soon surfaced that for such chiselled gems the Nobel Prize winner and former Polish president had received €50,000 for his pains. A week later Polish daily Gazeta Wyborsza reported the figure was €100.000 and called him a “disgrace”. A tightlipped Declan Ganley refused to disclose. “Gentlemen do not talk about money to other gentlemen. The word honorarium includes the word honour.” And indeed for this Latin-monikered party whose Europe-wide candidates include Czech tax-evaders, a Holocaust negationist from Poland and France’s own Islamophobe-in-chief, the Viscount de Villiers, they are all honourable men, as Mark Anthony once said over the corpse of Julius Caesar. Later, Walesa bragged to fellow Polish journalists that for speaking he got more in one night than they earned in a year, which has a Linda Evangelista ring about it, though the model who would not get out of bed for less than 20,000 dollars does not apparently have to live off a Polish state pension.
Here’s where it all goes awry. After Rome, Walesa’s son told the press that “my father doesn’t agree with Libertas, their opinions or how it works,” As far as Poland was concerned, Libertas, he said, “don’t exist”. Walesa, on the defensive, grumpily asked impertinent journalists – “Should we lock them up and beat them?” After all he only wanted to take part in open debate with these honourable men. This week, reports the Irish Independent, Walesa now has personally distanced himself from the party which will be running some 550 candidates in 16 member states this June. He now urges Irish voters to say yes to the treaty rejected last year. “I don’t like the Lisbon treaty as a driver but it’s better than no driver at all.” There are bad drivers and bad drivers, however, so one assumes that the inference here is that the Lisbon treaty might go up over the kerb, jump a few reds rather than plough wildly through a crash barrier and plunge us all into a 300 foot ravine. In the meantime, Libertas hasn’t asked for a refund.
May 28, 2009 § Leave a comment
My first blog at Presseurop
Is France taking an authoritarian turn? So wonders left-leaning daily Libération. In Marseilles a 52 year old philosophy professor has been charged for “breach of the peace in daylight hours disturbing other people’s tranquility.”
The incident unfolded all of eighteen months ago in Marseilles’ central train station where PL (only his initials are known) yelled “Sarkozy, je te vois!” (I can see you) as a means “to break the ice with some humour” as two police officers carried out an ID check on two youths. Passers-by are said to have laughed at this allusion to the French president’s predeliction for law and order crusades. The police officers, however ( described by PL as “very kind” ) “felt intimidated” and “invited” wise-cracking PL to the station. Eighteen months later he received a summons.
PL’s rebel yell would seem fairly innocuous, if not insipid, but Marseilles’ zealous local prosecutors have dug up the above-mentioned, and wonderfully eloquent, charge, from the very bowels of French law (dating from 1875) to protect presidential dignity. This, as Libération notes, is not the first of such incidents since the controversial Sarkozy rose to prominence. In 2004, an erudite demonstrator schooled in Roman period population movements was sentenced to one month imprisonment for having yelled “Go back to China, you Hungarian git” at the then Interior Minister – whose father hailed from Budapest. Unlike his tranquil predecessors, Chirac and Mitterand, the French president is renowned for his sensitivity when members of the public vent their pent. He has not just crossed swords with Breton fisherman, but last year launched a personal suit against a firm which produced a voodoo doll in his image emblazoned with the “Get lost, silly twat” remark with which he dispatched a farmer at the French Agricultural Fair of 2008.
Sarkozy’s street-fighting style, many complain, has diminished the office of president. “He wanted to break with his predecessors by going down into the arena himself,” says political commentator Stéphane Rozès. But in bringing the presidential function to street level, “he invites citizens’ invective.” What worries Libération most, however, is that the case against PL was launched not at the President’s instigation but by “the zeal of public servants”. “In other democracies,” writes editor Laurent Joffrin, “this little affair would have caused a major scandal. In the Republic, we have the right to make remarks about the sovereign”.
So is France’s often vulgarly eloquent street life being smothered by an increasingly monarchical Sarkozy aided by an obsequious judiciary ? One legal blogger alarmingly observes that “penal law is being instrumentalised in order to create a political police.” Perhaps the mood would be less dark if the French left were able to rise out of the doldrums it has languished in since the passing of the Mitterand administration all of fourteen years ago. Le Monde reports that in the forthcoming European elections the PS, France’s main opposition party, stands to win a lacklustre 22% of seats while the UMP at 27% will remain the largest French party at the Strasbourg parliament. The UMP, after all, is the party of a president whose approval ratings rarely go above 40%.
May 9, 2009 § Leave a comment
Presseurop is running a blog about the European elections at Le Monde.
This was the first blog.
« Rejoignez-moi pendant que je sirote du champagne millésimé, dîne dans les meilleurs restaurants, m’embarque sur des missions d’enquêtes inutiles dans des endroits exotiques… tout cela à vos frais. »
Pour un Britannique, l’Europe et son Parlement sont l’objet de tous les fantasmes. Brian Wheeler, le correspondant de la BBC à Westminster, a donc décidé de se rendre à Strasbourg pour comprendre comment fonctionne la démocratie communautaire. Son blog s’adresse avant tout aux électeurs de sa Majesté, peu nombreux à connaître le nom des eurodéputés qu’ils vont élire le 4 juin (ils votent toujours le jeudi). Direction donc les bords du Rhin, dans la deuxième capitale de l’Europe, pour chercher à s’éclairer sur trois questions clés. Qui sont ces parlementaires d’un nouveau type ? Que font-ils de leurs journées ? Et surtout : combien gagnent-ils, et quelles sommes astronomiques se font-ils rembourser pour leur soi-disant besoins vitaux tels que les hôtels, la nourriture, et bien sûr, le champagne millésimé ?
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