Sunday, November 13, 2011

Addio Silvio

"Goodbye Silvio!  We won't miss you!"

Several of you have asked how the current political situation in Italy is affecting us.  The answer is that so far it hasn’t very much.  As the calls for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to resign became more strident and actions in the Italian parliament and Europe as  a whole generated uncertainty, the value of the U.S. dollar against the euro has fluctuated, and we see that at the ATM (known here as il Bancomat).  But beyond that little has changed thus far.

Last night was a climax in the drama as Berlusconi went to the Palazzo Quirinale to tender his resignation.  The Quirinale is the residence of the President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, who is the lawful head of state.  (For a pretty good description of the Italian political system, see the article in Wikipedia.)    There were thousands of Italians in the piazza in front of the Quirinale celebrating the departure of a man who is seen by many as both a national embarrassment for his personal behavior and largely to blame for Italy’s precarious national finances.  Although he left his own residence to cheers of “Silvio, Silvio” from remaining supporters, his arrival at the Quirinale was met with jeers of “Buffoon” and worse, and his car was pinged by small change (monetina) being thrown at it as insult.  There was even a chorus (and orchestra!) that rendered the Hallelujah Chorus in celebration of his resignation.  I borrowed these pictures from on-line newspapers:

The jubilant crowd outside parliament Saturday night.

They were so happy by the time they climbed to the Quirinale 
that a choir and orchestra delivered the Hallelujah Chorus.
How many street demonstrations include cello and bassoon in their music-makers?

Sunday morning all was calm, and the piazza looked like this, sunny with people strolling around and lots of news media equipment scattered about.  On one corner I found a correspondent taping a broadcast in English, holding up the morning papers one by one, translating the headlines.

Mostly tourists Sunday morning in the piazza of the Palazzo Quirinale.

Lots of news crews still set up.

Reading the Italian newspaper headlines for an English-speaking audience.
This is Corriere della Sera, the most even-handed paper, which has a
respectful photo and a headline of "Addio di Berlusconi, via libera a Monti."
(Goodbye to Berlusconi, the way is clear to [Mario] Monti.)

A left-leaning paper,  la Repubblica has an unflattering photo through the car window
and says, "Berlusconi lascia, la piazza in festa." (B. leaves, the piazza has a party.)

Libero is a far right paper and Berlusconi supporter.  The scare tactics start already:
"Arriva il signor tasse. OCCHIO AI PORTAFOGLI"
(Mr. Tax is arriving. WATCH YOUR WALLETS.)

il Giornale is owned by Berlusconi.  The photo shows a serious Silvio  as he leaves parliament.
The headline is Monti, Il Precario  ([Mario] Monti, the interim—implying uncertain results.)

There is a lot of fear and skepticism being voiced over what the new government must do, will be able to do, and what will happen if it fails to reduce the national debt and the nearly 7% interest rate it currently must pay on the debt bonds.  The hope is that a so-called non-political technocrat, Mario Monti, will succeed where political deadlocks caused failure in the past.  The fear among many is that the extreme right, strong Berlusconi supporters, will manage to block necessary reform by using scary publicity and refusing to join any moderating coalition.  Not so different from American political tactics, I’m sorry to say.

There are two direct effects we might see from future actions of the government.  If the valued-added tax (VAT) is raised, prices will go up.  (The VAT is generally incorporated into the shelf prices rather than shown as a separate line item because the rate varies by product and specialty.)  The more painful effect is likely to be strikes by the big unions.  I’m sure they think they’re making a point with the politicians when they do it, but mostly the transit strikes impact the commoners (like us) who depend on the buses and trains to get to work or shops—and the tourists who are a critical part of the economy.  We’ve had our plans disrupted a couple of times so far this year by transit strikes.  If the street cleaning and garbage pick-up crews strike it will really be unfortunate, but it won’t help Italy out of its financial hole.

If you want to know more about Silvio Berlusconi or his exit or Italy’s financial situation I would recommend the London Guardian.  Here’s a link to start you out.  Meanwhile we’re going to continue ignoring as much of the political chaos as possible.  I think a glass of vino and a bit of formaggio  would be good about now.  Or maybe the bye, bye berlusconi cocktail.


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