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My Impressions of Politics in Italy

Before examining the government of a country, there first has to be an understanding of the history and culture of the land. The Italian nation is relatively new term, still not quite understood by even those living in Italy. Historically, jutting out into the Mediterranean, Italy has been a very important checkpoint for supplies being trafficked across this Sea. Because of it’s geographical importance it has seen and been forced to abide by many types of governments. Italy understands that the more powerful organization will always have the final say in all governmental decisions. It is because of this cultural acceptance that Italian government has become the system that it is today.

Some have described Italy as, ” a nation without a government,” this is quite a shocking statement describing a country with a political system very similar to that of Great Britain. When only taking a glance Italy’s government one would see a unified country ruled by a parliamentary based democracy, a style of government that shares some of the same values as Americans. But when a closer look is needed, this vision of Italy becomes distorted and blurred. Slowly an underlining system begins emerge, a dual system operating with parliament in order to dictating the actions and policies of government. At yet a closer examination of politics in Italy reveals the parliament acts only as the figureheads, voting on policies the way that they instructed. The level o f corruption in Italy’s elections questions even the loosest definitions of democracy. After realizing these facts Italy begins to resemble this “nation without a government,” a nation where a government is in place but someone else makes the rules. What would cause a nation to resort to this system when an operative government seams just within reach. To understand why Italy has such a system in place, a much closer look at the formal government needs to take place.

Italy operates under a working parliamentary government system, granted it is not a very effective system, but it does exist. The reasons for this weakness are very simple and easy to see when thought of in a practical sense. Italy’s elections have upwards of twenty parties running, each representing a portion of the population. With numerous parties with separate values and platforms all running in the same election, a plurality is near mathematically impossible to achieve. Therefor these twenty separate parties are forced to compromise their platforms to form with similar parties, forming coalitions. The simple fact that these coalitions have even a slight difference on what needs to be accomplished causes the potential for disagreements within the coalition. These disagreements slow the decision making process down considerably. At some point these disagreements could reach a level where a compromise in not an option and the coalition disbands. This system of coalition formed government’s poses a problem in that if the politics at hand always involve the foundations of the government itself, not much will be accomplished in the nation. The people of Italy were frustrated with how the government was operating.

Italy’s history has not helped form a singular country and therefor makes it difficult for Italians to agree on an issue that would effect the country as a whole. Up until the unification of Italy in 1861, Italy had not been a complete nation ruled under the same government since the Roman Empire. After the fall of the empire, Italy was divided by Spanish and German mercenaries under the political control of the Pope. Northern Italy would often be forced to defend its boarders during a continuous war known as the Gothic Wars. These invaders were never able to reach middle or southern Italy, therefor the Gothic wars only effected the cultures of those living in northern Italy. Throughout this period of multiple influence, Italy was in a form of Roman city-states each governing in the manor that suit them the best. It was for these reasons that shortly after unification, philosopher Massimo d’ Azeglio declared “We have made Italy. Now we must make Italians.”

Italians, in the naturalistic sense of the word were hard to come by. The fact that the people of Italy had a different past for each geographic location. Each location separated from each other, influenced by different groups of rulers, imposing different types of governments. Therefore, a unified Italian cultural did not exist. It is no wonder that when Italians from the north were placed in a government with representatives from the south, disagreements took place in the form of cultural variances. The north, influenced by the technological advancements of invaders developed with the Industrial Revolution. The overall economy of Italy was nothing impressive, however when the just the economy of the north was compared to the rest of the world did very well, and in fact, was almost equal to the economy of Great Britain. Despite the fact that raw materials and cheap labor was imported form southern Italy, a feeling began to emerge that the northern economy was pulling the weight for all of Italy and therefore superior to those in the south. This feeling of superiority only added to the tension between north and south Italy. This tension between the coalitions virtually stopped all governmental decisions every few weeks in order for new coalitions to form. All the while, the economy of southern Italy was in a steady decline.

When the government fails to come through, the people are forced to turn to other means in order to have their views heard. The few who possessed some small wealth soon found themselves in a position where they had the potential to rise in the social standing. In this time of economic despair, money was the key to gaining respect. Many realized this, and without hesitation, took advantage of this.

In Peter Robb’s novel, Midnight in Sicily, Robb deals with how power was in direct correlation with the wealth of a organization.., Robb uses a quote by the great artist Renato Guttuso to express how the political definitions of money and power can be thought of as synonyms.

Money is one of the fundamental elements of power. Money gets power. Power gets money. But the power that derives from money is a very bitter thing, because one no longer knows who is friend and who is an enemy. Power insulates you from the true feelings. Even love.

To some, the taste of power was so sweet that they would stop at nothing to achieve it. Many saw the advantages that came with an increase of political power, they also knew how to get it; they had to get rich.

The powerful always influence the government, in Italy governmental power no longer was in the hands of the parliament and elected officials. Italians felt this shift in political and social power and adjusted their lives accordingly. The Italian population knew that with power would almost always lie protection. The Mafia, experiencing first hand what the benefits of this control could offer, wished only to become more powerful. Each family wished to rise higher than their Mafia neighbors. The key to gaining this increase of power and therefor an increase in the governmental functions of Italy, was wealth. The Italian people wished to have protection from outside Mafia groups while at the same time allying themselves with a important player in the government of Italy. A bond was formed between the Mafia, the patrons and the public of Italy, the clients. This bond was in no way equal. A client would have to have something to offer the Mafia in turn for their protection, the Mafia was only interested in two things. First, if the client had a skill or something that would be considered valuable to the Mafia that would increase the wealth and therefor power of the family. Second, if the organization was not in a strong demand for money, the client paid of his protectors in the form of votes. This system was a very effective way to make sure that a family would stay in power for an indefinite period of time.

This patron would serve many clients; where as a village of clients would only be dedicated to one patron. This loyalty proved to be most useful when a change needed to be made. If the Mafia wished for something to be changed, rather than revise the policy, a client was called upon to do a favor for the Mafia. By dealing with individual persons, one at a time, the Mafia was able to chip away at potently problems unnoticeably, without making a huge scene. A change in the policy of the Mafia would have been noticed and would have drawn attention to the actions taken by the organization.

Along with influencing Italian policy corrupting the politicians already in office, the many members of the Mafia used their social power to obtain political power. A number of methods were used to guarantee the Mafia landslide victories. As was previously mentioned, the Mafia would substitute a payment in money, for a vote in an upcoming election in favor of a family member. In this way the Mafia would achieve its goal of political power without having to use any of its wealth, only the protection a name was needed. Other wealthy political figures, not always necessary members of the Mafia, would use money to bribe the voters to cast their ballots in his favor. Peter Robb gave such an example of a corrupt election in his novel, Midnight in Sicily.

Acchliie Lauro, millionaire who made his fortune in the shipping business, ran for mayor of Naples. To ensure victory, Lauro purchased and distributed a large supply of much need pasta and shoes. Lauro told the people of Naples that his first task as mayor was to distribute the matching shoe.

Despite the Mafia’s competitive desire to be the wealthiest and most powerful, they occasionally had to work together in order to stay in power at all. A complex game of chess was constantly being played with the lives of Italians. A Mafia organization needs a few things in order to maintain both social and political power. To keep the organization in high standings with respect to the Italian society it needed money. Like was mentioned before, money equals power, the more money the more power. An organization slowly going broke was organization quickly loosing power and the respect of the public. They would ensure that money would continue to flow by monopolizing the sale of a product. For example one organization would make it known that they were in charge with the sale cigarettes in a given area. After staking a claim on a product the organization would not deal lightly with anyone trying to sell cigarettes without the permission of the before named organization. If such an act of disobedience would ever occur, the Mafia would treat it as if someone had been stealing not only from the organization, but from their own pockets. In order for the organization to retain its powerful image, an example would have to be made to pay for the injustice.

This is a simple concept, “never give an inch, for a foot will be lost.” The angered organization would stage attacks that would avenge their disgrace, and prove that they were a power that should not be taken lightly. By responding in violence, the Mafia forced to population to live in a constant fear their own safety and the safety of loved ones. A person would feel little and weak when facing an angered Mafia superpower alone. For the safety of themselves and loved ones these people would be forced to align themselves with a equally powerful organization. In return for protection the organization would not require a payment in the form of money, for there was a steady flow of money already entering the organization. The currency became offered in the form of a vote for the organization, thus ensuring the Mafia with political power.

Why would the people of Italy choose a system of government that in order to maintain political balance forces its people to live in constant fear of violence? Especially when a governmental system that operates in a much more democratic fashion. It is true that the all forms of government other then Mafia rule are ineffective and do little for the country. Perhaps, however, over time Italy may be able to do away with its present system and embrace a government that can operate without the use of coalitions. Until that day Italy is faced with having a duel political system. In this system, policies are based solely on the values and beliefs of the most powerful individual, he who has the largest bank account.

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