an area of the map for world news.
the August 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48, No.
Franz Haas, Neue Zürcher
Zeitung (conservative), Zurich, Switzerland, May 19-20, 2000
May 13, some of Italys leading intellectuals were vehement
opponents of Silvio Berlusconis right-wing coalition;
today their silence is deafening. Norberto Bobbio, the Turin
philosopher and a moral authority of more than just the nations
left, even circulated his extraordinary outcry on the Internet.
And Umberto Eco took a position that was equally anti,
calling for a moral referendum to defeat the populist
villain. Now, after the electoral debacle, not a single line
from either of these highly respected, internationally known
individuals has been published: not from Bobbio, who can always
publish in La Stampa, or from Eco, whose words have
so often filled the center spread of La Repubblica.
And in Corriere della Sera, where such prominent figures
as Antonio Tabucchi and Claudio Magris regularly appear, there
is nothing critical to read at all.
Berlusconi smiles after the Italian Parliament returns a vote
of confidence in his government. (Photo: AFP)
Two days before the election, The International Herald
Tribune ran a front-page headline: Berlusconi Challenges
the Culture. That is unpleasantly close to the truth,
for the TV magnate now has a good chance to gain control of
the state television networks, too, and to take them down
to the level of the three channels he owns. Berlusconis
dominance of print publishing is not quite as overwhelming.
It is true that he recently purchased Giulio Einaudi Editore,
the quality book publisher traditionally associated with the
left, but he has been sufficiently clever not to involve himself
directly in any editorial decisions thereyet. For now,
all that matters is making a profit.
As for those who create culture, their reticence has been
spectacular. Gianni Vattimo, the philosopher and a leftist
member of the European Parliament, is one of the few with
a powerful voice. He has calmed down his followers in La
Stampa, saying that the election results represent simply
a mistake by the Italian electorate. Many others
said nothing more pungent than that. The editorial pages of
the respectable press these days are marked by a kind of disappointed
optimism: It wont really be that bad. Lets wait
before we announce the end of Italy as we know it. Unlike
the panic that broke out after Berlusconis short-lived
1994 victory, this time no one is packing his bags to go into
But in fact there may be more cause to worry now, above all
about the climate for debate created by what Eco has called
the elections verbal civil war. In 1994, Berlusconi
conducted his campaign as though it were a soccer tournament,
but this time he was an actor in an overwrought operetta.
One of his allies, Northern League leader Umberto Bossi, recently
announced that after the coalition took power, heads would
roll at state-owned television. Another ally used similarly
martial rhetoric: Take no prisoners!
It will certainly not be hard to ruin the three state-owned
channels, for they have, over many years, adapted to the unspeakable
style of their private competition. Most Italians do not seem
to be bothered that their media broadcast a uniform blend
of commercials and entertaining idiocy. Nobel laureate Dario
Fo, for a long time now one of Berlusconis most vocal
opponents, is both worried and cheerful: As an artist, he
survived the worst of what the Christian Democrats dished
out; it would be laughable to think that Berlusconi will be
able to destroy him. Fo is still appearing, together with
Adriano Celentano, on a television variety show. As yet, no
one has lost his job.
In the month before the election, there was significant unity
in the cultural community against Berlusconi. The lefts
last major effort centered on MicroMega, a cultural magazine.
It usually came out every other month, but by the end of the
campaign, it began appearing every week in order to maintain
an elevated polemical temperature. The major forces and names
gathered there to speak out against the right-wing coalitions
methods. Tabucchi and Andrea Camilleri, the most successful
writer in recent years, offered their opinions. Director Nanni
Moretti even produced a screenplay for the cause, while Massimo
Cacciari and orchestra conductor Riccardo Muti joined forces
in attempting to explain what culture ought to be. The heaviest
intellectual artillery, however, came from Indro Montanelli,
a very old journalist who remains both lucid and archconservative.
His invective against this extremely talented liar named
Berlusconi sounded much like what the far left has been
saying, but he was no less convincing for that. All of this
occurred in the uncertain but hopeful days before the election.
Now such writers are still coming together in MicroMega. Its
most recent edition, still a weekly, was very thin. It will
return to bimonthly publication.
The most important voices of the cultural elite still exist,
but many of them are grimly comic: Using metaphors from soccer,
Tabucchi has explained the political defeat as a preference
for Machiavelli over Leopardi. Cacciari has turned to even
more scholarly sources, citing Erasmus The Praise
of Folly and even Seneca. According to Tabucchi, part
of the blame lies with former extreme leftists, who broke
away from a just cause and are, according to Dario Fo, too
willing to compromise.
Yet they are all merely talking among themselves. None of
the wise words of Eco or Magris can be found in any major
newspaper today. Instead, the press is filled with speculations
about who will get which cabinet post. For consolation, the
disappointed half of the electorate has returned to World
The only truly resounding echo has come from Nanni Morettis
biting statements at the Cannes Film Festival. Speaking in
front of a confused group of French journalists, he reproached
Fausto Bertinotti, head of the separatist-leftist Refounded
Communists, whose leftist separatists refused to join the
Olive Branch coalition [which supported Francesco Rutelli,
the center-left leader, for the presidency] and thereby contributed
decisively to Berlusconis victory. The dispute made
its way to the Italian media, and passions on the left have
not yet cooled. Moretti, whose film The Sons Room
was seen as a favorite at Cannes, made this movie in part
with the support of state-owned television. Such sources of
funding may dry up. But the old comrades did not want to compromise,
nor did they choose to learn from 20th-century history.
Quarrels, finger-pointing, and the lefts defeat at the
polls are not the worst problems facing Italys cultural
elite. Worse still is the crass incompetence of the right
in some respects. Berlusconi, for example, wanted to appoint
the popular CEO of Ferrari as minister of sport and culture.
This man was smart enough to refuse and to keep his job making
racing cars. It is true that the center-left government has,
in recent times, not had much to be proud ofits school
and university reforms, for examplebut it is doubtful
that the right can effect any positive change.
The leading candidate for minister of education seems to be
Rocco Buttiglione, a Catholic revisionist zealot who considered
fascism to be a necessary response to communism. He claims
never to have heard of discussions of the 1922 Treaty of Rapallo
or the secret accord between Stalin and Mussolini.
For now, literate Italians are holding their political breaths.
The Turin Book Fair, for instance, kept any ideological disputes
at an unusual distance. The honors went to poet Mario Luzi,
a sublime and completely apolitical writer. Turins own
leading publisher, Einaudi, continues to distinguish itself
with high-quality, progressive output. Berlusconi, who owns
it, has so far shown his teeth only to smile. For now, the
apocalypse has been postponed.