(continued from 28 November)
And here, it is necessary to mention an important cultural overlay that primes an enormous number of the Friulani to resist any change and it is the Cult of Mussolini. If you go into almost any newsstand in Friuli at this time of the year you will find Mussolini Calendars and other objects of fascist nostalgia. It is possible to buy bottles of wine in Friuli adorned with images of Mussolini and Hitler. Of course, most people alive today do not recall Mussolini but the strange development of the second world war in Italy left very, very many Italians who loved and admired Mussolini with a sense of grievous injustice at his deposal. Shortly after the Allies invaded Sicily in 1943, the Fascist Grand Council voted Mussolini out of power, following that, the King of Italy told him that, the war being all but lost for Italy, he, the King, would be appointing a Military General as Prime Minister. Shortly after the meeting with the King, Mussolini was arrested. For many in the North of Italy, and particularly in Friuli, this came as an unexpected development for which they were completely unprepared. Prior to Mussolini’s deposal, Friuli was a pro-clerical, pro-fascist region, allied to the Germans. Fascism had supplanted democratic institutions and so mayors and municipal council were suppressed in favour of the local Fascist leadership (Podesta). In many villages, the hierarchical and militaristic nature of fascism was appreciated as it gave a sense of security and certainty. But information was rigidly controlled by the fascist authorities and most of the populace, following years of positive propaganda concerning Italy’s prosecution of the war, were unable to make sense of Mussolini’s downfall. And worse, Italy’s exit from the war, the transfer of the King and military high command to the Allied Zone in the Italian South and the closing of the Italian military in its barracks rendered the Italian regions as vulnerabilities so Germany was forced to occupy them.
The occupation of Friuli by the German military and later by pro-Nazi Cossacks triggered resistance from some Friulani who were incipiently anti fascist but who had so far not resisted the Italian fascist authorities. These partisans who were not great in number mounted a guerilla war against the occupying German army. The Germans responded with reprisals: the destruction and burning of villages and the killing and executions of young men, women and children. Many Friulani, who still defined themselves as fascists and fascist supporters, bitterly resented the partisan activity and the violence that it brought to Friulano territory. Worse, as the Allies pushed up the Italian peninsula, the war came closer to Friuli, food became scarce and the repression by the German military more intense. Friuli’s position as a border region with Yugoslavia involved it in a mini civil war as communist Italian partisans allied with Tito’s communist partisan forces pushed for Friuli and Venezia Giulia to be incorporated into a communist Yugoslavia. Friulano partisans hitherto fighting the germans found themselves also fighting mixed Italian-Yugoslav communist partisans pushing in from Yugoslavia.
Eventually, New Zealand troops under the command of General Bernard Freyberg pushed up the Adriatic Coast and reached Monfalcone just outside the great port city of Trieste. There they blocked the incursion of Yugoslav partisans into Italy and for Italy and Friuli Venezia Giulia the war was over.
For the Friulani, in slightly less than two years, they had gone from being participants in the greatest Italian undertaking since the height of the Roman Empire to losing their Duce (Dux - Roman Commander) through betrayal, seeing their military retire to its barracks and their land invaded and fought over by foreign troops. For these people Fascist Italy didn’t lose the war. For them Mussolini was sold out and Italy sold down the drain.
At the end of the Second World War Italy was unstable. Italian communist partisan forces, especially in Emilia Romagna and Tuscany had been very active in resisting the German forces. The Italian communist party was strong and the nature of post war Italy was in the balance. But Italian nationalism trumped international communist ideology and in 1946 all the political parties agreed that to achieve national pacification and reconciliation there should be a general amnesty for all crimes relating to the war. In total, over a number of years, there were six amnesties, pardons, absolutions and exonerations that had the effect of relieving all Italians from the risk of prosecution or punishment for any act related to the war, including war crimes.
The generosity of blanket forgiveness gave an incentive to all Italians: fascists, communists and common hoodlums, to move on and it removed an obvious incentive to continued conflict and violence. But it didn’t create a blank slate. Rather like Italy itself, which neither won nor lost the second world war, within Italy no-one won or lost. So time moved on leaving everyone where they were in 1943 when Mussolini was deposed.
The effect of this state of affairs at the end of the war in Friuli was that the fascist regime had fallen, and it was recognised would not be returning in the post war order of things. Although the fascist overlay of civil society had disappeared and democratic institutions returned, bureaucratic structures and office holders remained almost unaltered from fascist times providing another incentive for the holders of powerful office to buy-in to the post war settlement. So, Italy and Friuli moved on. Those who had been fascist remained fascist and with a great sense of nostalgia. They remembered with fondness the State development that fascist governments brought in the 1930’s. The improved roads, schools, draining of swampland for fertile farms and the elimination of malaria. The peasants also remembered that for the first time they could sell surplus grain for cash. The1930’s had been a time of great structural development and many Italians gave credit to the fascists for it.
Of course, now, few people are alive who can remember the second world war. Those who can were those whose memories were formed towards the end of the war when chaos, fear and uncertainty stalked Friuli. We know many of these people and they have little nostalgia for war and fascism. But there was a generation of fascists from before the war who had their children following the war as post war development was beginning to improve the lives of all Italians. These people looked back on fascism with great nostalgia while enjoying post war incremental but constant improvements in their standard of living. These people kept their houses and families fascist. They regaled their children with stories of how great Italy was under fascism and how destructive the betrayal of Mussolini. They taught their children that the allied soldiers who occupied their fields with their camps were invaders. These children are now adults in their 50’s and 60’s and they are fascist nostalgics even though Mussolini was but a memory by the time they were born.
Many of these fascist nostalgics are our neighbours. They are not neo-fascists. They are old style fascists. They are a social anachronism of the 1930’s in the present time. They believe in a strong, directive, State. They believe in strong “forces of order”. They believe in the greatness of Italy and Italian culture above all. Harking always back to a previous time, they believe strongly in conserving the present and resisting change. They hate communism reflecting the fact that since 1849 Popes had been teaching against communist ideology. In 1949 the then Pope approved a decree against communists which excluded professing communists from Communion. In Friuli, this decree forced communists to choose between their beliefs and social exclusion. The exclusion was imposed by the Priest, but it was sustained by their neighbours in the village church, centre of all major social events, a lesson not lost on anyone.
These fascists recoil from anyone who is different from the fascist Italian ideal. They are racist in the sense that Italian fascists were racist: coloured people being different are obviously inferior to the greatness of the Italian man or woman. Being from the north of Italy, they tend to see dark skin as a sign of inferiority. They hate perceived effeminacy in men and for them gay men are, by definition, effeminate. They dislike the English perceiving that the English don’t take them seriously and perhaps look down on them. And they like Vladimir Putin, and now Donald Trump because they are strong men.
To the fascist nostalgics this is the world as they know it. Being from a Catholic culture they know nothing of the reformation but they have imbibed the beliefs of the counter reformation. They loath liberalism although they don’t know what it is because they perceive that in some way it is the antithesis of what they believe. They know without doubt that Italian food it the best in the world and that proof positive of the greatness of Italy is that the whole world comes to see it. And for most of the last twenty years these people were governed by people that left them feeling right at home.
Berlusconi and the Lega Nord were reactionary forces that existed to resist, in Italy, liberal changes that were washing over the developed world. Berlusconi, with his black shirts and polo necks, his jaw-jutting poses, his macho behaviour and denigration of powerful women and gays assured Italians the he would be conserving the world as they knew it. Owning the principal television network and controlling the state broadcasting network perfectly placed him to be narrator in chief of where Italy would be going in times of such change. Berlusconi guaranteed no change and he delivered it. His core constituency of pensioners and workers knew that what they had obtained thus far would never be reformed away for so long as Berlusconi and the Lega Nord were governing.
So Renzi, for very many, Friulani provokes hatred and hostility. He talks about a world they don’t understand in a language they don’t understand. He talks about loosening things up, about the necessity for reform and unlike most before him he really means it. He pushed through a Civil Unions law for gay people which was an anathema to the Catholic Church and very many Italians. Renzi, himself, seems to them to be the very incarnation of the forces that Berlusconi and his government’s kept at bay so successfully for so long.
And this has been the shocking revelation to me: that the Italians who are so quick, so ready to complain are so determined to resist change. I suppose that it shouldn’t be a surprise that a people, living in a peninsular, exclusive territory of a religion that for 2000 years has demanded obedience to its dogma and doctrine, its hierarchy and which placed its leader as the earthly representative of God Almighty, should find it difficult to construct a personal world in which they must work it all out for themselves and cannot rely on some dictator or other human being to tell them how to behave. For when a people is required to follow a clerical religion such as Roman Catholicism or a political religion such as fascism that claim absolute monopoly in determining how they should behave it absolves them of having their own right and wrong and lifts from them the individual responsibility they, personally, owe their fellow citizens. For centuries in Italy, It was enough that the people committed allegiance to the authority that commanded them and followed its rules. So in Italy people can show the “bella figura”, be good Catholics in the sense of lauding the religion even if they are not regular church attendees and not care two hoots about their neighbours or other Italians.
So what has this all meant for me, personally? As I wrote, during my twenty years living in Italy, I have been a sympathetic listener as numerous Italians, I would say almost all, moaned, complained and bitched about the state of the country, the venal politicians, and the high taxes that inflicted them. Luca and I started a business from scratch in 1995, probably the point at which the Italian bureaucracy was reaching its apex. It was not pleasant and we have had to confront and accept many official unfairnesses and indignities, not to say humiliation, as the price of running a simple agriturismo. We too would complain and bitch about the state of affairs in Italy. But for most of that period there was no prospect of any change. In fact, as the economy got into increased difficulty, the burden of the State laid on businesses, in the form of taxes and unannounced inspections that could end in swinging fines augmented dramatically. By the end of the last Berlusconi government it was clear that the Italian bureaucracy was oppressing business in the absence of finding any other way to address its chronic overspend and ever growing public debt. Politicians of the left and right were convinced that businesses were sitting on an undeclared hoard of wealth and they were determined to have it. That most businesses in Italy declare themselves to be marginally profitable was taken as proof positive that they were evaders. Fines for non compliance of laws or regulations, of every level of government, national, regional, provincial and municipal, were increased massively to the point where they could cripple a business. It was a very rum state of affairs that was continued with even greater vigour by Mario Monti, the Prime Minister following Berlusconi. No reasonably informed person in Italy, or Europe or probably the whole world could not have known that running a business in Italy was a sisyphean task.
So, after 10 years of recession during which industrial production shrunk 25% and the overall size of the economy reduced 10%, youth unemployment reached 40% and the Italian public debt climbed to 136% of the national economy, Matteo Renzi presented the Italians with a national vote on whether to overhaul the political system or keep things as they had been since 1948. I imagined that our friends, acquaintances and colleagues would leap at the chance to vote for renewal. After 20 constipated years of whingeing and complaining, I imagined the cork being popped from the bottle of change. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
We live in the countryside in Friuli, a part of North East Italy. For most of the time since the fall of the Roman Empire, Friuli has a very backward and poor region. In more recent times it was under the domination of the Venetians who used it to supply wood for their ships and as a protective buffer to Venice.The venetian nobles or those owing allegiance to them dominated the towns. The Roman Catholic church was dominant and by the 18th century most of Friuli’s inhabitants were sharecroppers living and working at the pleasure of the local landowners. They were a miserably poor and ignorant people managed by the church and agents of the landowners to whom they had to hand over between half and two-thirds of what they produced. They held little property with the lands, buildings and livestock belonging to the landowners. Malnutrition and pellagra were common. Every village, no matter how poor, had a church and the Priest had de facto daily authority and management over the villagers who were themselves mostly illiterate and superstitious.
The population of Friuli was pro-clerical, anti communist and enthusiastically adhered to Fascism. With the fall of fascism, Friuli became noted as a stronghold of the Democratic Christians, the anti communist party aligned to the Vatican. Unlike in some other regions of Italy where socialist or communist ideology led to cooperative models of economic activity supplanting sharecropping, the Friulani generally rejected cooperative models of organisation restricting themselves to family farms and firms. Thus farming and artisanal activities remained mostly small and localised.
Friuli remained an underdeveloped and poor region of Italy until 1976. In that year a part of the region suffered a series of serious earthquakes focussed at a point where the Friulano plane met the Julian Alps. The villages in that area comprised houses and dwellings constructed of stone mortared with lime and they were completely unable to resist the tremblors. Slightly under 1000 people were killed in the earthquake. While the effect of the earthquake was devastating for the dead, their loved ones and those whose property was damaged in the quake, the overall effect for Friuli was the creation of a massive economic stimulus. Money poured in from Italy and overseas. Apart from the immediate need to rebuild damaged property there was an additional need to render existing structures more resistant to earthquakes. A building boom unlike any seen before or after took off in Friuli and lasted for well over 10 years. A shortage of labour in Friuli resulted in workers arriving from all over Italy. Many builders were self taught and became rich overnight. Other activities connected to the reconstruction took off. Makers of steel reinforcing, woodworkers, window and door makers, kitchen and furniture makers, tradesmen such as electricians and plumbers, ceramic makers boomed. Restaurants and trattorie flourished serving the working population flush with cash. And a wealthy middle class developed eager to eat and drink and leave behind them their memories of poverty and suffering of childhood. But most strikingly, the economic boom during reconstruction provided unlimited low skill jobs that paid very well and gave an overall poorly educated population a quality of life they could never have dreamed of previously. So children whose parents had been sharecroppers with virtually no property of their own and who had left school aged 12 years having learnt more or less only to read and write could have their own home, an apartment by the sea, one or more fine cars, fine clothes and the ability to eat out when they wished without regard to money. The pension system allowed them to retire on their final salary once they had paid 30 years of pension contributions so they could retire in their ‘40s with a guaranteed income for life. Notwithstanding an opulent lifestyle, their income exceeded their expenditure and, remembering poverty, they were careful to save what they didn’t spend.
But by the late 1980’s the boom was starting to taper off and firms that had grown with the reconstruction after the earthquake were being forced to find new markets. At the very point when the Italian North East was being lauded by foreign economists as a model of economic organisation to imitate, industry in Friuli was becoming uncompetitive and firms with the ability were forced to look to exports to sustain their business model. As I wrote previously, in 1992 Italy was forced out of the European exchange rate mechanism and the Lira was devalued three times. This proved to be the tonic that many struggling firms in Friuli needed. Firms poured into woodworking, the production of furniture, kitchen units and chairs for export relying on the weak Lira to make up for their high cost base and poor productivity. By 1997 it was claimed that Friuli was producing two-thirds of the world’s chairs. This hubris peaked with the creation of a massive wooden chair, three stories high which was positioned in one of the principal squares in Udine.
Unfortunately, beautiful as what Friuli produced often was, it was low tech, was produced with an oversupply of expensive manpower and it was vulnerable to cheaper foreign producers and an increase in the strength of the currency. So when Italy swapped the Lira for the Euro, at a time that coincided with China’s entry into world markets as a low cost producer of low tech products, including chairs and furniture, the Friulano economy took another hit. Firms found themselves uncompetitive in markets that they had once dominated or sat comfortably in. Some businesses survived but many failed. Those firms that survived were often those that had discovered the golden side to Euro entry which was that while the strong Euro made exports less competitive, it gave firms access to bank loans at low German interest rates. Italy was grossly overbanked and many firms were linked by personal relationships to their provincial or regional bank. A kind of a lending frenzy developed as banks encouraged firms to load up with debt at historically low interest rates. Many firms, unwisely, did this and when the recession of 2008 hit they found themselves unable to service their loans.
So this is the Friuli in which we find ourselves. And who are our friends and neighbours? Well, those who have managed to retire on fine pensions are content and satisfied with their lives. Their working lives were brief in relation to their whole life expectancy. They earned and saved well and retired in their ‘40’s and ‘50’s. They have generous pensions guaranteed by the State for life. They live like millionaires and their only real fear apart from risks to their health is that the State may reduce their pension benefits. They mainly supported Berlusconi who explicitly favoured pensioners and they resist any change whatsoever to the status quo. They mostly will not vote for the changes being proposed in the referendum.
Then there are those who work for companies that have managed to navigate the recent years of economic crisis and who have legacy employment contracts rendering them unsackable and who will still benefit under generous, if less generous than before, pension provisions. These workers are furious that the Monti government tightened the pension rules. They loath Renzi for creating less protected forms of employment contracts, even though they don’t apply to them. They will, to a man and woman, vote against any change whatsoever hoping beyond hope that they will reach retirement age without the firm they work for failing and without employment and pensions law being modified to their detriment.
Then there are others such as the tradesmen who do work for us: the stone mason, the plumber and the electrician. They are careful not to get into political discussions and so it is hard to know how they will vote. Then there are, of course, our neighbours who are cereals and dairy farmers. Their holdings are small and they depend on Agricultural subsidies to keep them going. Mostly they are culturally conservative and regularly attend the Catholic Mass but, running a low value added, subsidy sustained business, they are governed and managed by the agro-bureaucracy and so tend to resent the rules and interventions that come with being a farmer in the European Union. Some will vote yes, but most will vote against the referendum. Other neighbours who have vineyards and who make wine benefit handsomely from European Union subsidies and, having a high value product that finds a market both in and outside Italy, they tend to be more satisfied with their lot. Culturally conservative, most of them will vote for the status quo and so will vote against the referendum.
(Continued from 26 November)
The last Berlusconi government having fallen, the President of the Italian Republic then invited a grandee and ex EU commissioner, Mario Monti, to form a new government. As Monti was nothing more than a private citizen, the President appointed him “Senator for Life” thus giving him a political fig-leaf. But he had no democratic mandate to govern. Monti formed his government, the financial markets calmed, and knowledgable comment fantasised that Italy had finally broken free of the hallucination of the Berlusconi years and would now enter the real world of soberly living within its means and putting right years of misgovernment and national neglect.
Monti faced a real problem which was that Italy was living chronically beyond its means. Productivity in the economy was in inexorable decline and the economy had been mired in recession for years. Putting this entanglement drowned in a quagmire right was clearly for the long term so Monti went for two easy hits. First, the State was spending more that it received, so he decided to increase income. For a good number of years, commentators had identified one of Italy’s key problems as tax evasion. Increasing productivity and economic growth was too hard but squeezing more money out of firms, large and small, was something that the State could do through an exercise of will. And it did. Firms were characterised as evaders and economic criminals. High publicity raids were mounted by the military tax police; sometimes whole towns were raided. Normal business people found themselves treated like mafia dons. To categorize the private sector as economic criminals alienated business which already found dealing with Italy’s bureaucracy and tax laws an almost insurmountable challenge. But Italy is a heavily policed state and what the State wants the State gets. Tax receipts initially grew. But then, as businesses closed or failed receipts began to decline. The State sucked out more than much of the private sector could produce and and economy tipped into a vicious recession and by 2016 the economy had shrunk by 10%. The second easy hit of Monti was a cut into the generous pension system that allowed workers to retire on their final salary after 35 years of paying pension contributions. The pension system was wholly unfunded and in deficit. So, surrounded by much emotion, the government rebalanced the system so that gradually (very gradually) pensioners would retire later and on less. Eventually, Italian pensioners will get virtually nothing but this is in the really long term and young Italians today are not thinking about that. The Italian pension system does no longer need to worry about long term unfunded liabilities because there effectively won’t be any.
In the first instance of these actions, Monti was lionised and lauded by commentators and the European Commission for finally having taken bold steps to sort out Italy’s finances. Fear of the financial markets became just a memory. It seemed that the exercise of such boldness and courage by Monti had set him up to create a political party and actually run for office. And so he did. But rapaciously pillaging Italian firms to pay for the inadequacies and deficiencies of the country pushed Italy into a vicious economic death spiral for which he was justly rewarded by receiving a pitiful number of votes.
The President of Italy eventually invited Enrico Letta, a member of the left democratic party to form a government as it seemed that he would be able to form a governing coalition. The Letta government was sworn in but it seemed frozen in front of the mad, roiling economic catastrophe that had enveloped Italy. Eventually this blind stasis gave Matteo Renzi, mayor of Florence the chance to mount an internal party coup and he did so becoming Prime Minister of Italy in February 2014.
Mario Monti’s government proved two very important things. One is that even though tax evasion is, by definition, empirically an unknown, a determined modern technologically advanced State using all means can suck as much money from the private sector as it wants. It also proved that the effect of this in Italy’s case was to remove resources that would have been applied productively to economic activity and retire them in unproductive expenditure. It also proved that in Italy if a government announces a reform (in this case pensions reform) which will have a significant impact on the economic well-being of mid-to-low earners, but defers that reform, passing the burden onto a subsequent generational cohort, those whose position remains protected will be incentivised to resist any changes that may imperil economic rights that they feel have already vested to them.
So Matteo Renzi inherited a comatose economy, a dispirited and despondent private sector, and a working class suddenly fearful that benefits and protections until then taken for granted could be removed. He decided to take the hard road. A road that no Italian politician had taken in modern times, if ever. He announced that without economic growth, Italy’s economic and social health could not return to normal. And economic growth could not come without significant institutional and social reform. He announced that it was no longer acceptable to treat entrepreneurs as presumptive criminals and lawbreakers and that without them in a modern economy there was no hope. He also announced that he intended to set in movement reforms that would remake the Italian parliament currently consisting of two houses with equal powers, each with the power to block legislation. He explained that his aim was the creation of a lower house of elected members of parliament with broad legislative supremacy, overlaid by a smaller Senate, largely representative of the Italian Regions and with limited overseeing role.
Renzi explained that remaking the legislature was the most important of all reforms as it was the perfect parity of the two existing houses (which the Italian constitution treats as fungible) that stymied most reforms, led to bad laws resulting from poor compromises and legislative hostage taking and allowed unrepresentative forces to stymie laws necessary to reflect actual social change. A second and related change sought by Renzi was to bring back to the centre powers that had been spun off or tacitly allowed to go to the regions. Renzi saw that the problem with the Italian system was that national laws in many areas of economic life are passed by the national government. These laws are full and complete in and of themselves. But then, regional assemblies overlay the national laws with regional restrictions. In Italy, obviously, the national government is sovereign so regional governments cannot abrogate or defenestrate national legislation. But what they can do is add and encrust the national laws which means effectively adding restrictions to them, restrictions that the national legislature deemed unnecessary. Thus economic activity is hobbled from the beginning.
Revisions to the Italian Constitution were purposefully designed by its drafters to be difficult following the experience of the dictatorship of Mussolini. Substantive and significant revisions are very hard to achieve and three parliamentary commissions convened since 1948 to significantly modify the constitution failed for lack of political consensus. At first, it seemed highly unlikely that Renzi would be able to convince the upper house of the Italian Parliament to reform and reduce itself, effectively voting itself out of business as it knew it. But he succeeded in doing that although, unable to obtain a super-majority, the reform required confirmation in a popular referendum. This referendum will take place on Sunday, 4 December 2016.
In 1994 the first Berlusconi Government (sustained by the nativist “Northern League”) was sworn in. I arrived in Italy in 1995 and have lived here ever since. In 1992 as the result of speculative attacks, the Italian Lira was forced to leave the European exchange rate mechanism. Italy faced a debt funding crisis, the Lira was devalued three times and gdp fell sharply. In 1996 Italy was having difficulty coming out of recession but the Prodi government, which had followed the short-lived Berlusconi one, decided that it was imperative to insert Italy into the forthcoming European common currency, the Euro, from the currency’s beginning. In 1997 the Prodi government passed a budget aimed at allowing Italy’s return to the European exchange rate mechanism, a precursor to entering the Euro. This was achieved in great part by the one-off levy of a highly regressive “EuroTax” which had the effect of temporarily bringing the deficit down to less than 3% of gdp, a key criteria. In 1998 the Italian finance minister gave an undertaking that Italy would reduce its public debt to 100% of gdp by 2004 and 60% of gdp by 2010 and Italy was accepted as one of the founder members of the Euro.
In 2001 Berlusconi returned to power, again with the support of the Northern League nativist party, and he governed with them for most of the following time until 2011 when an Italian debt funding crisis was threatening the existence of the Euro itself and he was effectively made to step down as allies, looking into the looming abyss, deserted him.
From the first day that Berlusconi was in office until he was forced out, non-Italians asked how the Italians could repeatedly vote him as their prime minister. Lots of reasons were given. It was said that he was a businessman who had promised to bring business methods to government to the benefit of the country. That he was a liberal who wanted to bring anglo-saxon liberalism to Italy, such that he likened himself to an Italian Margaret Thatcher. He was a “straight talking” politician who made a pact with the Italians to simplify the tax system, halve the unemployment rate, finance and develop a massive new public works programme, increase the minimum pension and increase the number of police to address fears regarding public safety in the cities. Others said that with his black shirts and polo necks, determined jaw and right handed salute he signalled his support for fascist currents in Italian society. But the truth was that he was a complete failure. The Italian economy stagnated, unemployment increased inexorably, no massive public works campaign was undertaken and key public works projects were rife with corruption. He did, however, look after the pensioners who had benefitted from one of the most, if not the most, generous pension system in the world.
Berlusconi himself lamented that it was impossible to do anything or make any changes in Italy. But it seemed an enigma that a politician who, while not responsible for many of the structural distortions and cultural deficiencies that left Italy poorly and corruptly governed, amplified them and used them to his own private advantage, should be so favoured at the ballot box. To me, it was particularly perplexing because all of the people I know here, in Friuli in our little part of the world, were perpetually and consistently complaining and lamenting about the state of Italy, the State of Italy and Italy’s bureaucrats and politicians. One asked oneself, “if these people are so hungry for change, how does Berlusconi go on and on?” So when people visiting Italy would ask us “Why do the Italians vote for Berlusconi?” the rather lame answer was that he controlled all the television channels, was a massive player in print media, looked after the pensioners so probably the old people, who vote religiously, voted for him under all circumstances. It was probably true but as an explanation it was ultimately unsatisfying because despite an calamitous aged and aging demographic were there really that many old people to keep Berlusconi running the country?
In 2011 the Euro was in crisis and bond yields in Italian government debt were climbing reflecting increased appreciation by the financial markets to risk inherent in Italian government debt. It was felt by those that govern us that Silvio Berlusconi gave Italy a credibility problem that would have real effects on Italy’s ability to fund its public debt. This was not an unreasonable position to take. In his time in power Berlusconi had shown a marked reluctance to reform the economy, he was believed to be corrupt and motivated by favouring his personal and business interests over those of the country and he came to be seen as a poor interlocutor for Italy with the rest of the world. Under pressure from the French and German governments and with the active connivence of the President of Italy, Berlusconi realised that he was being abandoned by allies alert to the way the winds were blowing and with his parliamentary support evaporating he eventually resigned. He claimed that a coup had been mounted against him, personally. And so it had.
So in 2011 after having been voted into office three times over 17 years and still exercising a popular mandate, Berlusconi found himself against a wall and forced to swallow the bitter pill of resignation. He had not lost his popular mandate but evaporating support in the lower house, engineered through outside pressure, had forced him out. It was, in some way, antidemocratic.