Italy’s “Populist” Government

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By:Srdja Trifkovic | June 06, 2018
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In Italy’s general election on March 4, two parties routinely derided by the corporate media as “populist” won almost 70 percent of the votes cast. A coalition led by Matteo Salvini’s League (Lega, formerly known as Lega Nord, LN) won 37 percent of the vote and a plurality of seats both in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate; the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) led by Luigi Di Maio came second with just over 32 percent. The centre-left coalition, strongly pro-EU and led by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, came a distant third with 23 percent.

On May 31, after 88 days of negotiations and several impasses, Giuseppe Conte was appointed prime minister, with Salvini of the League and Di Maio of the M5S as vice premiers. The news of this unlikely coalition has been greeted with dismay by les bien pensants on both sides of the Atlantic. The German magazine Der Spiegel published a deeply offensive cover (“Ciao, amore!”) which featured a fork of spaghetti with one piece dangling as a noose. “Italy is destroying itself—and dragging down Europe with it,” was the headline. “At a time when the EU could be proving itself as an alternative to Trump’s unilateralism,” it wrote, Europe may instead be facing months, if not years, of squabbling:

“If the populists now govern in Italy, the country could steer itself on a course of constant confrontation with Brussels—by for example, expressing its solidarity on key issues with right-wing populists in France, Austria or Finland or with the EU-critical governments in Hungary and Poland. Or it could take the side of half or full-on autocrats like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and undermine European unity in the process.”

“The xenophobic League and the out-with-the-old-order Five Star Movement bring together bigotry and incompetence to an unusual degree,” a New York Times columnist pontificated on June 1. “They are a miserable bunch borne aloft on the global anti-liberal tide.” Another NYT commentator was horrified that the new Italian leaders want to expel illegal immigrants and “have already expressed their desire to improve relations and trade with Russia and its president, Vladimir V. Putin.” The ubiquitous George Soros joined the fray by accusing the new coalition of being on Putin’s payroll.

In other words, the news from Italy seems excellent—but can the new government stay the course, primarily on immigration and on reducing foreign (i.e. EU/German) clout? Can the process of Italy’s long economic stagnation, moral and spiritual decay, and demographic collapse be reversed? I asked Dr. Slobodan Jankovic of Belgrade’s Institute for International Politics and Economy—an alumnus of Rome’s La Sapienza and a leading expert on Italian politics—whether the new government will be able to end chronic instability which has plagued Italy’s political system for years.

Dr. Jankovic points out that the formation of Italy’s new government was preceded on May 27 by an unprecedented attempt by Euro-oligarchs to suspend democracy and effectively to disenfranchise the people of Italy:

“Initially, the Troika (the IMF, the European Central Bank and the EU Commission)—assisted by President Emanuel Macron of France and German Chancellor Angela Merkel—advised Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella not to approve the new coalition government, and to give the mandate instead to yet another unelected technocrat, IMF alumnus Carlo Cotarelli. This was de facto continuation of the coup which was carried out by international bankers and Eurocrats in November 2011 to remove Silvio Berlusconi from office. Mattarella claimed that the coalition’s designated finance minister Paolo Savona was an opponent of the monetary union and that he as head of state was duty-bound to prevent the formation of a government which would even consider Italy’s exit from Eurozone. This was absurd, but Italy’s corporate media readily supported this unconstitutional move by the President, and assailed the putative coalition’s growth-oriented economic program.”

Matteo Salvini is the ruling establishment’s particular object of hate, primarily because he dared announce that half a million migrants would be expelled and declared that his immigration policy would be guided by the principle “Italians first!” When he says, “God created man and woman, every child should have a father and a mother, and only father and mother can conceive a child,” liberal fanatics in Italian TV studios and in editorial offices suffer nervous breakdowns.

When Salvini calls the euro “a crime against humanity,” north of the Alps many powerful people cringe. Germany’s Günther Oettinger, the influential European Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources, opined that the markets would teach the Italians not to vote for populists. German Member of European Parliament Markus Ferber went even further and said that the EU Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund may have to “march into Rome” if the 5-Star Movement and League parties push ahead with their proposed program of tax cuts and spending rises.

In the end, Mattarella had to relent before a wave of threatened popular protests. As Jankovic points out, for four days (May 27-31) all major media outlets were trying to sell the story that it was impossible to accept a government led by the unexpected coalition of M5S and Lega:

When it became clear that on June 2, the Day of the Republic, would see massive demonstrations across the Apennines, technocratic elites decided to manage the risk and appease the people by allowing the formation of government led by majority. They succumbed to public pressure and decided to allow democracy to continue, for the time being. Prof. Paolo Savona, that harsh man from the harsh island of Sardinia, will be minister for EU affairs. His colleague Giovanni Tria leads Ministry of Economy. Another member of Lega, Lorenzo Fontana who defines himself as “Catholic and Veronese” from the city of Romeo and Juliet, will take charge of education. He seems intent to reform schools in a way that will return authority to teachers, bring back responsibility to students, and scrutinize moral messages. This is of course another cause for horror on the liberal left.

In the long run, the oligarchs in Brussels and bankers in Frankfurt now face serious threats on many fronts. Brexit, the new coalition in in Italy, growth of AfD in Germany and popularity of Ciudadanos in Spain, along with a defiant Victor Orban in Hungary and his like-minded colleagues in Poland, herald a new era.

The pressure from trans-Alpine lands will be strong, and the coalition will be hard pressed to stay together. Nevertheless, after seven years it is now at least possible that Italy will no longer be ruled by men who are devoid of popular support, whose sole ideology is power, and who are servile to supranational interest groups in order to enjoy the privileges that come with such servility. The battle will be long, the outcome is not certain, but it is a matter of survival.

As the latest political crisis in Italy reminds us, the cultural roots of the dominant elite are no longer discernible in what they cherish but in what they reject: they hate European nations founded on national and cultural commonalities, with stable constitutions and independent economies. They regard all permanent values and institutions with open animosity, which is why they support the amorphous fluidity of the European Union. And of course they oppose democracy if it produces undesirable outcomes—in this case a government that supports sovereign nationhood and control of borders.

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