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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

Understanding Italy 1 - A conversation with Marcello Foa

Italy of today is facing considerable challenges. These challenges require a government authoritative and respected but also a feeling of patriotism which is not something common in this period. Of patriotism there would be only something marginal and the current government of Matteo Renzi, the man with an ice cream in hand, is anything but authoritative and respected at home and abroad. The economic crisis persists, despite the proclamations of the government. The European Union pursues its crazy and stupid austerity recipes, sometimes just to save the big banks, and certainly not to protect citizens. Will it be to Italy the same treatment for Greece and Portugal? I like to think that the Italian situation is different, that there is the possibility of redemption and resistance that other countries have not had. The real novelty of the Italian political landscape is the 5-Stars Movement that made Law and Equality its flag. The traditional ruling parties lost many votes and on the background remains the memory, terrible for many politicians, of the investigation named Clean Hands that in the 90s covering of all the illegal activities of Italian politics leading to the disappearance of traditional parties such as the Socialist and Christian Democracy. To try to understand a little the current situation, is with us Marcello Foa, journalist and university professor.

Q) Mr. Foa, before starting this interview proper, would do you remind the Italian readers but especially the foreigners what it means to be a journalist of the "Montanelli' school"?

A) Indro Montanelli was one of the few truly brave Italian journalists in a dramatic era for Italy, the terrorism of the Red Brigades and was a model of elegance and intellectual honesty for many young journalists who have had the privilege of working with him in "Il Giornale" which he founded. Montanelli invited us to always serve the reader and make an effort to make even the most complicated information understandable and clear. In my career I have tried to follow his teachings and always remain a free thinker and an independent journalist.

Q) After Mario Monti and Enrico Letta, the current Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, covers this maximum charge without that no Italian elected him to Parliament but rather due to political games anything but clear. A dangerous exception has become the norm: can we still talk about Italian democracy?

A) We can say that there is a formal democracy. There is a Parliament and there is a chance to debate, however, from 2011, Italy is a country with very limited sovereignty and in which the name of the prime minister is decided outside Parliament. It's a very worrying situation.

Q) In your opinion why is it that  no Italian demonstrates against this situation? What causes this apathy that, in my opinion, does not bode well?

A) There is a widespread resignation, there is no confidence in the leadership of the center-right and center-left even for the continuous scandals that undermine the credibility of the political class. And then there is still a substantial part of Italian that is still rich enough to live easily in a country in crisis. Italian are individualist, so long as they cope, they tend not to show solidarity with those in need. This explains at least partly the apathy of a part of the population. But we must note that the voters of the North League and those of the 5-Stars Movement seem not at all resigned and together account for over 40% of the votes. There is also an Italy that suffers, which is really angry, young people without hope or members of the middle class that does not make it any more; they react channeling consents to Salvini and M5S.

Q) Suddenly Matteo Renzi seems to have become obnoxious in Brussels and especially in Berlin. Is the honeymoon over and this unusual marriage will end in stormy fashion?

A) Matteo Renzi has realized that he cannot really change Italy, on the one hand for internal resistance but also to the constraints imposed by the European treaties that in fact greatly limits the actual powers of the government. He promised an economic revival mainly against "owls" and "rosiconi" [jinxes and envious] but the data show - and it's no surprise - that there isn't any the economic recovery here, while the EU demands that face other budgetary measures, thus imposing new sacrifices for Italians. In short, he realizes he's in a corner and then trying, however awkwardly, to convince the EU to change the rules, pointing her at the same time as the responsible of his current and future failures. He's not wrong, mind you, but his attacks do not fall into a credible strategy; his is a headlong rush and for this is ineffective.

Q) Recently, you've interviewed Silvio Berlusconi who recalled his political successes and his firmness against the International Monetary Fund and European Union. Should we expect a return of fire by the old President Berlusconi?

A) I do not think that Mr. Berlusconi could return to lead the Italian Government, he seemed, however, determined to win back again an important role in the center; in the belief that a his increased visibility could lead decisive consensus to the center-right. But he must overcome the obstacle of Ruby III trial in late February.

Q) Berlusconi did not spare criticism to Renzi accusing him, also and above, of trying to create a dictatorial regime. Maybe it will be the old Silvio to save Italy once and for all?

A) I found him very combative and far from disheartened as he was described in recent times. From here to say that he can save Italy, however, there runs. Berlusconi can certainly convey in a moderate center-right voters who until recently seemed ready to believe in Renzi. It would already be a good result if Berlusconi was able to build with North League and with  Brothers of Italy a ruling class qualified to govern Italy.

Q) The problem of the coalition that supports the current government of Matteo Renzi is the 5-Stars Movement that made the law his obsession. In the case of the 5-Stars victory, the investigation named Clean Hands will really feel like a walk as Beppe Grillo promised sometimes ago?

A) The theme of justice in Italy is really complex and prisons are bursting. You have to recreate a culture of legality, a new sense of the State and not limited yourself to the rattling of handcuffs. As always there is a difference between what you said when you are opponent and what you can do when at the government. We should ask: M5S is ready to govern? Just be fanatic of justice to solve the Italian problems?

Q) Let's come to the 5-Stars Movement then: a spontaneous movement moving towards political maturity or expression of a color revolution such an Otpor! Italian style?

A) In my opinion his supporters are motivated by genuine feelings, as the same Beppe Grillo. The true reference of the movement, however, is Gianroberto Casaleggio, man of undoubted intelligence and very capable. Hard to say whether he has external references. Some people think that may be a new Tsipras or a leader who promises change but then ranks. As a student of Montanelli, I learned to make judgments only when I developed deep convictions. I have no concrete evidence in this regard and therefore cannot accurately answer your question.

Q) None of the militants of the 5-Stars Movement has studied in Langley, in your opinion?

A) Same as above.

Q) There are many challenges and problems facing Italy in the short and medium term, and none of them can be avoided. What prediction do you feel to do about?

A) Pessimistic about the short-term: the Troika will not stop and this means that Italy runs the risk of "cures" such as those Greek or Portuguese that do not actually heal but make the disease worse. The low weight of Renzi makes Italy little influential at the international level and this means that wretched European policies conducted so far to Russia and North Africa will continue; which means strong tensions at the gates of the home and an increase in problems related to immigration. More immigrants in countries where the economy stagnates and unemployment is very high, in a context of international instability and lack of confidence, constitute a potentially explosive framework in the medium term. A framework that could lead to dramatic developments, or - there is hope so - the desire of the people to really change things. Anything is possible when you've got nothing to lose.

Costantino Ceoldo

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