New Italian Prime Minister: Italians are Brainwashed, “Post-Democratic” Slaves

Posted by John Rosenthal

Silvio Berlusconi raised a number of eye-brows during last Spring’s Italian electoral campaign when he said that he had trouble believing that there were many "coglioni" – literally, "balls" – who would vote "against their own interests", namely, by voting for Romano Prodi’s "Union" coalition. Despite the vulgar turn of phrase, Berlusconi emphasized that his judgment in this connection was a matter of "respect for the intelligence of the Italian people." Remarks made last week by Romano Prodi in an interview with the German weekly die Zeit [link in German], on the other hand, display anything but such respect. More exactly, they display striking contempt for the intelligence of the Italian people and even indeed for the very institutions of Italian democracy that permitted Prodi in an orderly transition to regain the office of Prime Minister.


What follows are some translated extracts. Note that the theme of Italy’s alleged "enslavement" under Berlusconi is introduced into the interview by Prodi himself in a seeming non-sequitur. It does not in any obvious way respond to the previous question of the Zeit interviewers.

Prodi: …And let me say something else. This country was enslaved. The previous Prime Minister could permit and do whatever he wanted.


Die Zeit: How would you describe Berlusconiism [sic.]? As a post-democratic form of government?


Prodi: Yes, post-democratic. Berlusconiism systematically changed the Italian people: people’s mentality, their values.



Die Zeit: The American journalist Alexander Stille writes that Berlusconi created his own voters with his television channels.


Prodi: That’s right. And that is the post-democratic aspect of Berlusconi… In these elections, almost 70% of academics voted for me. 70 percent! Among women between 35 and 55, I received fewer votes, maybe (laughs) because I am not so sexy. But in this age group, I had 11% more voters among people with active careers than among housewives.


Die Zeit: …who obviously watch more Berlusconi-television.


Prodi: The less time people spend before the television, the more likely they are to vote for the center-left. That is the mathematical law of post-democracy.


The interviewer’s allusion to "Berlusconi-television" refers to the television channels of the Italian media group Mediaset. Contrary to a popular myth, Berlusconi does not "own" Mediaset, but is rather the principal shareholder in the group. In any case, one is left wondering what is supposed to be "post-democratic" about people choosing to watch Mediaset programming when they are perfectly free to watch other channels – notably, the three channels of the state-owned RAI network – if they prefer.


Here some further extracts of note.


On the composition of Italy’s "Union" coalition versus the composition of Germany’s "Grand Coalition" government:

Prodi: We just have more folklore involved: the Communist Refoundation, and the Italian Communists. But compared to Lafontaine, that’s rather harmless.

The former Chairman of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), Oskar Lafontaine, led a "Left" electoral alliance, including the "post-communist" PDS, in the 2005 German elections. The degree of dependence of Prodi’s own coalition on Communist "folklore" is discussed in the previous Trans-Int article "Communists and German Nationalists: Italy’s ‘Broad’ Coalition".


On Italy’s public debt and the requirement that Italy fulfill the "Maastricht criteria" for Euro-zone countries, including keeping public debt below 3% of GDP:

Prodi: Our current level of debt is at around 4.6% of GDP. Of course, we know that we have to respect the parameters of Maastricht and that no one is going to turn a blind eye for us, as one did before with Germany. Because back then there was a benevolent President [of the European Commission] in Brussels…


Die Zeit: Namely, you.


Prodi: You said it [not me]!



Following the controversy provoked by the Zeit interview in Italy, a spokesperson for the Prodi government claimed that the Prime Minister had been misquoted. Giovanni di Lorenzo, the editor-in-chief of the German publication, has insisted on the accuracy of the transcript. Di Lorenzo, who speaks Italian, was himself one of the two interviewers.



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