The Truth About Italy: James Walston replies

James Walston replies:  Dante was indeed very concerned about discord in Florence and did suffer personally. He was also an authority on the consequences of lack of leadership, consensus and moral authority. Hence my use of his quote. Italy’s problem today is not that there are political factions or parties. Italy and Italians are as ...

James Walston replies: 

Dante was indeed very concerned about discord in Florence and did suffer personally. He was also an authority on the consequences of lack of leadership, consensus and moral authority. Hence my use of his quote.

Italy's problem today is not that there are political factions or parties. Italy and Italians are as capable as any other country of discussing issues; the medium-term problem is Silvio Berlusconi's massive conflicts of interest -- unique to Italy and unacceptable in any other western democracy -- and the ensuing concentration of power in the executive (not unique in the west but more pronounced and long lasting). These two factors have rendered a good part of Italy government "courtiers" rather than servants of the state. The point of my article was that it is the wholesale corruption of the institutions which is the "vulgarity", the prostitution of ideas and minds not the "tabloid" sex.

James Walston replies: 

Dante was indeed very concerned about discord in Florence and did suffer personally. He was also an authority on the consequences of lack of leadership, consensus and moral authority. Hence my use of his quote.

Italy’s problem today is not that there are political factions or parties. Italy and Italians are as capable as any other country of discussing issues; the medium-term problem is Silvio Berlusconi’s massive conflicts of interest — unique to Italy and unacceptable in any other western democracy — and the ensuing concentration of power in the executive (not unique in the west but more pronounced and long lasting). These two factors have rendered a good part of Italy government "courtiers" rather than servants of the state. The point of my article was that it is the wholesale corruption of the institutions which is the "vulgarity", the prostitution of ideas and minds not the "tabloid" sex.

Commenting on the laws passed to prevent the prime minister’s trials coming to verdict or the indictment of other politicians is a "partiality" shared with most of the western press, left, right and center; it is hardly "gossip". In these fundamental issues, Italy is out of step with the standards of the rest of western democracies. This is a concern for us all.

In the immediate past, moreover, Italy has indeed been without a helmsman with even Berlusconi’s own newspapers commenting on his lack of leadership.

The growth figure that Ambassador Terzi quotes refers an increase after striking declines in previous years and in any case should be analyzed together with other figures. However, whichever figures the ambassador cares to use, it is undeniable that Italy has been in relative decline for almost the last two decades (eight years of center-right under Berlusconi, seven years of center-left under Prodi and others, the rest technical or centrist).

As far as the record of Italy’s peacekeepers across world is concerned, I wholeheartedly support Ambassador Terzi’s affirmations and have said so in the past. They do sterling work in the Balkans and in Lebanon and as well as in Afghanistan — all are missions given almost universal support by the Italian Parliament and initiated by both center-right and center-left governments.

James Walston is professor of international relations at the American University of Rome and blogs on Italian politics.

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