The Italian hand brake

Raffaello Tesi

Originally published on 7.1.2005

(31th October, 1974) In a conference at New Delhi, Henry Kissinger said that he will come to Rome to have a dinner with the Italian President Leone, but he will not talk about politics, because the Italian one is, for him, too hard to understand. It is the first time Kissinger confesses a limit of his intelligence. But we want to reassure him. There are also fifty-five millions of Italians who don’t understand it, including the ones who make it.

Indro Montanelli (from the daily Il Giornale)

Yes, it is an old story. People from other countries asking why Berlusconi is the Prime Minister of Italy should be answered with this quote.

Is it possible to discern right and left in politics? Do right and left correspond to similar ideologies in different countries? Hard to answer. But it is generally true that the right wing has more conservative views and the left one more progressive.

Let’s consider then the Italian example. An extreme example. Until the beginning of the 1990s there has been a hard distinction between some parties – Christian-Democrats, Socialists, Republicans, Liberals – on one side, and the Communist Party on the other. Italy has been, since the Republic was funded in 1946, a conservative country. The former parties – also known as the “parties of the constitutional arch” – have always been, all together or a part of them, the Italian governmental power. And their behaviour of negligence in reforming the country was partly justified by having as an opponent a progressive party too far progressive. Let’s not forget that in the seventies, the years of the bullet, while politicians and common people were kidnapped, injured or killed by the communist terrorist group Red Brigades, the Italian Communists protested against them on the streets by shouting “neither with the State nor with the Red Brigades”.

If gas and brake can be seen as a metaphor of progressive and conservative behaviour, Italy, to contrast the progressive side, had even the hand brake on. Also softer progressive parties, as the Republicans and later the Socialists, were slowly forced to take the conservative post.

During the 1990s things became (a bit) clearer. A reform of the electoral system introduced the two-round majority approach, and the Second Republic was born. Despite of a huge amount of parties remaining as a symbol of the individualist soul of the Italians, a better distinction between right and left was made. Berlusconi and his party Forza Italia, together with his allies, is now evidently the symbol of conservation, partly resembling the partitocracy of the First Republic. As for the left wing, it is undoubtable that their aim towards reforms is definitely more progressive, despite of a too wide fragmentation of ideals, proposal, parties and coalitions. This being easily explained by paraphrasing Rudyard Kipling: “one Italian is an honest person, two Italians start to argue, three Italians found a political party”.

What is the situation in your country? Are there well (roughly well, not well at all) defined right and left?

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