Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Fratelli d'Italia - A Constitutional Interlude

emblem of the Italian RepublicImage via WikipediaI almost have another instalment ready, but first I wanted to do this post, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Zosia seemed to think that this was just a series in which I criticise Italy (until what, they stop?) and I wanted to look at something more positive. Secondly, it so happens that something constitutional has been in the news recently.

Edit: The Guardian just provided me with this amazing graph of Italian public spending. They forgot to put in a figure for the money that goes to the various mafias, but it's still pretty good.

Perhaps if we start with the sensational news story. Here's an article from near the end of the Italian constitution:

The reorganisation, in any form, of the dissolved fascist party is forbidden.

Not, you might think, a bad idea. The Italian constitution was drawn up in the aftermath of the Second World War. They needed one, because, like a lot of European countries, they decided that monarchy wasn't really doing it for them. In Italy, the monarchy bore some of the blame for Mussolini's rise to power, which didn't help.

Well, if you want to constitute a republic, as a majority of Italians voting in a referendum apparently did, you'll find that a constitution comes in handy. Naturally, in light of recent events, the constitution contained elements intended to make sure that fascism, or something similar, never happened again. This makes it puzzling to me that Berlusconi gets away with such a flagrant conflict of interest in his combination of political office and media network ownership and control; it seems they left out some sorely needed safeguards against propaganda which might have created a less problematic relationship between the state and the media.


The news story is this. A group in the senate (like the house of lords, but I'd hope that was obvious) mostly made up of senators from Berlusconi's PdL (if I haven't got my wires crossed) put forward a motion to remove the above article from the constitution! Apparently the time has come to rethink the ban on the PNF. Really, it's amazing the things you can get away with as a politician in Italy. Political suicide in every other country I should think. Just think what it says about Catholics too; perhaps we'll see a fascist party back in Italy before we see the Act of Settlement repealed. There'll be no need to become an albino monk to give people the willies if that happens. How do you say "We're more scary than fascists" in Latin? It might come in handy.

So, moving on (but returning to complain about Berlusconi a bit later on), Italy has this constitution. I come from a kingdom, painstakingly constituted through centuries of history, not on paper, so it's an intriguing concept for me, and it's part of my wife's national identity and a future part of my daughter's national identity. I wanted to have a look. My father-in-law Carlo also wanted to have a look, because he went to a talk for the recent 150th anniversary of Italian unity which presented the Italian constitution as something to take pride in (national pride is not to be taken for granted in Italy). Coop produced a little booklet containing the complete text of the constitution and some archive photos and historical notes for €1, so I picked up one for me and one for Carlo.

To me, it seems pretty good. Maybe if we get round to ditching the monarchy we could nick some bits from it. One of the things which I found interesting is that it defines the responsibilities of the state, and this is where that man comes in; a common, and obvious, complaint about Berlusconi is that he only cares about saving his own skin – laws ad personam, they say here. This is exemplified by the (repellent) approval of the processo breve by the chamber of deputies (like the commons). He's decided that legal processes take too long apparently, and the best thing to do would be to set a time limit and cancel any cases that are dragging on a bit. It so happens that this means that he won't stand trial for a particularly tricky case of his - who cares if a heap of people are denied justice and the innocent are not absolved? But the Italian constitution actually indicates the responsibilities of the state, which makes his failure/refusal to deal with the real problems of Italy a constitutional matter.

Fundamental principles

Art. 1
Italy is a democratic Republic, founded on work.

Art. 4
The Republic recognises the right to work of all citizens and promotes the conditions which render this right effective.

This is probably the most common form of (political) complaint about Berlusconi and his government. He doesn't seem particularly interested in people who are losing their jobs. For a long time, the position of the Italian government on the international financial crisis is that it didn't affect Italy. B*llocks, obviously. I couldn't tell you the ins an outs of it, and Italy has probably been significantly less directly affected by the crisis than the UK, but people have lost and will lose jobs because of it. There's not much effective right to work for women either; obviously there's equal right legislation, but what does legislation mean? When Monica was looking for work, we knew that it was illegal to for them to ask personal questions about marital status and number of children, but they did at every single interview, to sift out women who might inconveniently excercise their right to bear children.

Edit: In the Guardian's graph, lavoro (work) is the little purple box just next to the very bottom right.

Art. 3
[...] It is the task of the Republic to remove obstacles of an economic and social nature which, effectively limiting the freedom and equality of citizens, prevent the full development of the human person and the effective participation of all workers in the political, economic and social organisation of the Country.



Art. 35.

The Republic safeguards work in all its forms and applications.
It attends to the the training and professional advancement of workers.

Here I might again note the long-term problem of precarietà (unstable work situations, especially among the young), and how this 'effectively limits the equality of citizens' and 'prevents full development'. I haven't noticed the Republic paying a lot of attention to that recently.

Edit: In the Guardian's graph, formazione (training) is the little (olive?) green box at the bottom right. 

Fundamental principles

Art. 9
The Republic promotes the development of culture and scientific and technical research.

Mmm. Culture. Well, I'm hazy on the details, but I recall that there was a big hoo-ha about the government's neglect of Pompei. I also proofread an article recently that said that only one of the many artistic residences available in Italy, only one was open to Italians; a sort of charitable concession by an American institution I can't remember the name of. Then, as for research, well... in addition to the governments much-contested (futile) cuts to the education system, a long-term problem here goes by the name of la fuga dei cervelli (the flight of the brains. An Italian rapper (Caparezza) recently released quite a good song about it, featuring Tony Hadley, of all people. Italians who make it through the university system don't find a research infrastructure that can take them. Italians are doing important research around the world; unfortunately not so much of it is done in Italy. The Republic is effectively exporting its talent through neglect, and losing out in the process.

 Edit: In the Guardian's graph, cultura (culture) is the yellow box towards the bottom right and ricerca (research) is the higher of two little blue boxes at the bottom right. 



Art. 31.
The Republic facilitates the formation of the family with economic measures and other provisions [...].

I think that it's worth mentioning precarietà again here. How is a young person expected to start a family when his job could simply disappear in a year? This is at least part of the reason why Italians marry so late and have so few children, a demographic issue which creates not a few problems.
Interesting again is how little notice is taken of these obligations. To me it seems that using the constitution as a stick to beat Berlusconi with is an obvious course to take for the opposition, but it doesn't quite seem to register. It's not as though the subject never comes up (in fact, Bersani was quoting the constitution yesterday on the telly) but it doesn't seem to be a popular appeal. Perhaps it's because every Italian government has been failing to address these issues, so it doesn't seem too clever to single out the PdL.

Perhaps it's just that the constitution, so far, seems too good to be true.
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