snafu on Fri, 8 Mar 2002 12:13:14 +0100 (CET)

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[Thing.International.News - Special_Report]

An updated screenshot of Italian socio-political conflicts
Roma, 4-4-02
By Snafu

In these days an anomalous breeze blows over my country. It is a sharp
wind, splitting the social cohesion along two separate fractals. The
radical reformist politics practiced by the Government "owned" by media
tycoon Silvio Berlusconi is perceived as increasingly dangerous and a
concrete democratic menace by millions of people. As a result, this
perception is generating an almost endemic cycle of massive demonstrations
and strikes on various issues: the defense of the independence of Italian
magistrate, of the workers' right of not being fired without a justified
reason, the safeguard of the public school and public health care system,
the fight for freedom of expression (after Indymedia pursecutions). The
vast mobilization of Italian civil society, investing all the social
strata from unemployed to industrial or "cognitive" workers, from students
and teachers to significant sectors of the middle class - could mark a
point of non-return for Italian politics.

On one hand, these demonstrations are challenging the neoliberist and
private use of public space the right-wing Government is making. On the
other one, they demand a new relationship between an emerging civil society
- whose protagonist cannot longer be denied - and traditional organizations
of the Left such as Unions and Parties. In particular, over the last two
weeks, we have assisted to big demonstrations of a new "self-organized
movement" surprisingly composed by middle class sectors. This movement,
which started in Florence with a march of 30,000 people and prosecuted in
Milan (40,000 people met spontaneously to celebrate 10 years of "Clean
Hands"), and Naples (30,000 people in a candle-light parade) has the main
focus to support the Italian magistrate, constantly attacked and
denigrated by the Prime Minister, currently in charge for corruption,
fiscal evasion and financial report falsification. Beside the specific
content of this claim, these demonstrations are significant because they
are completely self-organized by ordinary middle-age citizens, mainly via
Internet. Demanding more democracy and participation, they show a
methodological contiguity with the new global movement and are forcing
Italian moderate Left (DS and l'Ulivo) to radicalize its opposition into
the Parliament and onto the streets.

After being publicly contested by Italian movie director Nanni Moretti and
the electoral basis, the leadership of l'Ulivo called for a massive
demonstration on March the 3rd in Rome, that gathered around 300,000
people against the Government. The demonstration was an undeniable success,
but the dialectic between the basis and the leadership remains open. More
in general, we can say that the historical basis of the Communist Party -
quickly liquidated during the 90s by a "telecratic" political model to
which the DS leadership was happy to adapt is knocking again to the main
door. And with a higher contractual power, given by the possibilities of
spontaneous organization that the Internet offers not only as a
communication tool, but as a social-political space that needs only the
squares (and not the Party sections) to be fully realized.

- A conflict of interests?

As a result of this mobilization, the opposition is forced to increase the
conflict in the institutional spaces as well. Last week we saw the moderate
deputies of the opposition nearly physically clashing with the majority
deputies (Forza Italia, Lega Nord and Alleanza Nazionale) in the
Parliament. After an extenuating verbal challenge, the representatives of
the oppositions decided to abandon the room, leaving the majority alone in
approving the scandalous law on the so called "conflict of interests". A
law that Berlusconi announced immediately after the elections, sustaining
that the node of his personal empire, would have been unbound as soon as
The law on the conflict of interests currently discussed by the Senate -
sanctions the incompatibility between the management of a company and the
undertaking of a public task, but not between the propriety of a company
and the political activity. The law will have the immediate effect of
relieving Silvio Berlusconi from choosing between his personal empire and
the institutional role he is representing (Berlusconi is also Minister of
the Foreign Affairs). Political and private functions will be the same
business, since Berlusconi has never been used to conceive them as separate
activities. The only charge Berlusconi will be forced to abandon is the
President of Milan football club, while he will keep the total control of
all of his proprieties (Milan included).

- A man at the service of his own Empire

Silvio Berlusconi won the elections in May 2001, owning entirely or
indirectly controlling: 3 out of 6 main national TV channels (Mediaset) and
the relative advertising company (Publitalia), a Spanish Tv channel
(Telecinco) various newspapers and magazines (Corriere della Sera, Gazzetta
dello Sport, Il Foglio, Panorama, Men's Health, Marie Claire, Focus,
Starbene, TV Sorrisi e Canzoni, Donna Moderna and many others) 2 Italian
main publishing houses (Mondadori, Einaudi and many others), 2 major cinema
distributions (Medusa and Cinema 5), and home video (Blockbuster) 3 chains
of megastores (Standa, Panorama, Rinascente), an Internet portal and ISP
(Jumpy), an online bank - insurance company (Mediolanum) and a premiere
league football club (Milan).
Nowadays it is almost impossible for an Italian consumer to buy a product or
a service without financing one of the Prime Minister companies.
After the designation of the new board of administration of Rai Television,
Berlusconi and his allies are now putting their hands the other half of the
6 national Tv channels. The so-called "third Tv pole" (La Sette) will never
take off, since it was bought about three months ago, by an emerging
entrepreneur (Marco Tronchetti Provera, owner of Pirelli) with the express
support of the Government. Also Gianni Agnelli, historical owner of Fiat
Auto, is supporting Berlusconi, waiting for the next wave of public funding
to sustain a car industry in permanent crisis. More in general, all the
industrial front seems aligned with the Government, thanks to its plan of
canceling the article 18th of the Workers Statute (a law approved in 1969)
which impedes to an entrepreneur to fire a permanently hired dependent,
without a justified reason. A support that comes also from the publishers,
thanks to the promises Berlusconi is making of re-launching a stagnant
advertising market, through extraordinary measures that will mainly benefit
his own agency (Publitalia).

- The legacy of Clean Hands

But not all gold is what is shining. The ascent of Silvio Berlusconi during
the 80s can be explained only if we locate his empire at the cross of an
intricate and undercover system of gambling on public contracts, crossed
favors between entrepreneurs and public administrators and corruption of
judges. This system, synthetically called "Tangentopoli", was discovered
ten years ago by the Italian Magistrature and in particular by the pool of
the Milan Tribunal. Started in 1992, the maxi-inquiry that goes under the
name of "Clean Hands", provoke, in the lapse of 2 years, the liquefaction
of the old political parties (Dc, Psi and smaller ones) which had ruled the
country after World War II. In 1993 Berlusconi filled the political void
opened by that collapse, founding its own "party-enterprise", Forza Italia.
But his bonds with the precedent corrupted ruling class (in particular with
the PSI) were too fresh and evident. Currently Berlusconi is in charge for
7 different trials. Three of them (All Iberian, Sme, and Milan) are going
to fall in prescription soon, thanks to the new law on the crime of
"financial report falsification" approved by the Prime Minister majority.
The new law reduces the penalties for that crime, and subsequently the
times of prescription. Given the ultra-slow times of Italian justice, it is
sure that these three processes will never get to an end.

But this sad story doesn't end here: any time a new session of the trial
SME-Ariosto is celebrated (in this case Berlusconi is co-accused with
Cesare Previti for corruption of the Roman judge Renato Squillante) Previti
and Berlusconi try to move the trial elsewhere rising the suspicion that
the Tribunal of Milan is not impartial and therefore unable to judge them
objectively. According to the lawyers of Berlusconi, the demonstration at
Palavobis of two weeks ago (40,000 self-organized people) is a clear
evidence of this point. In this way, an ordinary trial is transformed into
a political arena, which is dangerously mining the basis of democracy
(division and independence of powers).

The campaign of denigration of the Pool of Clean Hands has been completed
with the decision of the Minister of Justice Roberto Castelli to withdraw
the escorts of Ilda Boccassini and Gherardo Colombo, both Public
Prosecutors of Silvio Berlusconi in different trials. And with the
decision, take by the same Minister, to transfer one of the judges in order
to invalidate the process (the decision has been canceled by another
sentence of the Corte d'Appello, with the result of increasing the conflict
between Government and Magistrate).

- The EU dangerous relationships

After the law on financial reports, the Italian Parliament approved another
law which makes more difficult for Italian magistrate to cooperate with
foreign judges. Basically, any act transmitted between Italian judges and
their foreign colleagues will have to be validated through a complicate
procedure, that will make much easier for lawyers to ask the invalidation
of acts and documents. This politics is completed by the aggressive
position that Italy is keeping in the EU, on the design of a common legal
frame for cooperation amongst the members. Any time that a EU meeting takes
place, a diplomatic accident occurs: first Italy tried to obstacle the law
on the European mandate of capture, then (last week) the law on the
international "freezing of assets" for inquired people. Whilst the German
Minister on Justice said that Italian position could be conditioned by the
personal interests of the Prime Minister, the leader of Lega Nord, Umberto
Bossi said "EU is a technocratic Stalinist State".

This impatience of Lega Nord for European integration, repetitively
expressed during the last Congress, is not casual. The social classes Lega
Nord is representing, are mainly composed by little entrepreneurs of the
North and North-East of Italy. The introduction of Euro makes more
difficult for them to survive in a market where Italy was used, until few
years ago, to compete using small tricks such as the currency devaluation.
The heavy recession currently hitting Germany will also have an immediate
impact on the made in Italy export. If this is true, it is easy
understandable how the position of the industrials on the abolition of
article 18th of the Statute of the Workers (a law approved in 1969) is more
intransigent amongst little entrepreneurs. The big ones, such as Agnelli,
have enough contractual power to ask to the Government a financial support
for workers who are fired when Fiat shuts down some productive lines. The
little enterprises require a completely deregulated labor market (the final
goal is to abolish the national contract) in which any worker is completely
flexible and can be used only on demand.

- The strikes on the Article 18

In this context the general strike called by CGIL for April the 5th
(national demo in Rome is scheduled on March the 23rd) is a conflict
charged with high symbolical meanings. With 5 millions members, CGIL is the
largest Italian Union. So far, CGIL has been cooperating with two other
"confederate" unions, CISL and UIL, organizing in February a highly
successful packet of regional strikes against the abolition of Article
18th. After the unitary initiative, the leaders of CISL and UIL decided to
slow down and did not agree with CGIL on the general strike of April the
5th. In this way, CGIL could be politically isolated by a foxy maneuver
ordained by main Berlusconi allied, Gianfranco Fini, leader of post-fascist
party Alleanza Nazionale. Thus, over the last two weeks Cgil, Cisl and Uil
delegates organized spontaneously a long series of unitary strikes in all
the factories of the North. A clear sign that will force the leaders of
Cisl and Uil to take soon into account a basis critical with their moderate

Beside this mobilization we have to add the one of the non-confederate
Unions (Cobas, Rdb, Cub) which have already organized, three weeks ago, a
general strike with a demonstration of 100,000 people in Rome.
The third front of conflict is given by the school, where the Minister of
Public Education Letizia Moratti is introducing a reform that will erase
the notion of public school, transferring public resources to private and
catholic schools and valuing teachers and directors on the basis of
"productivity criteria". Also this front is hot, and a new alliance between
teachers and students is contesting the reform with occupations and strikes
(about 70,000 students demonstrated in Rome one month and half ago).
Last, but not least, there is the mobilization of the new global movement
to support the Indymedia network after the G8 searches and Radio Onda
Rossa, historical community Roman radio that risks to be closed. The
national demonstration of March 16th will end up in front of Rai Television
addressing the freedom of expression and communication as a central topic
for Italy. The challenge will be how to expand this concept of freedom to
the largest number of subjects currently shadowed by this incredible
concentration of powers. _march 2002

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