Here’s a quick thought on democracy.
This morning I woke up to the news that a president exercising his constitutional rights is to be forthwith considered as “undemocratic”. He even deserves to be impeached, if one accepts Luigi Di Maio’s definition of the much-abused word.
I love Italy. I do. Not only did the country provide a substantial part of my gene pool but it also gave us spaghetti, Nutella, Modigliani, Buffon, Ms. Bellucci and an interminable list of excellence that makes life infinitely more pleasurable. Now, it seems, it is trying to give us also a new definition of “democracy”.
If social media is anything to go by, many around Europe also agree: “the President is standing, alone, in the way of the Italian sacrosanct vox populi. He is imposing his own will.” Some Facebook posts (that ultimate vehicle of democracy) also called him a dictator.
So, here are a few reminders to chew on:
1. Italy has a constitution (I know, right?!)
It might come as a surprise to some but the constitution remains the basis of any democracy that is worth the title. That 70-something-year-old document gives Sergio Mattarella the right to reject the appointment of a populist minister of finance. I have not yet reached such state of boredom with life that I would read the Italian constitution. However, I would be seriously surprised if it reads: “We shall appoint a nice chap and call him President. His sole role will be to nod his consent to the other nice chap, called Prime Minister, and his each and every whim. Should the President entertain the notion of tightening his neck muscles and resist such an assent, he shall no longer be considered as a nice chap. As a consequence he shall most definitely be impeached and possibly stoned to death, whichever is the cheaper option”.
The omission of this phrase is the very thing that makes Italy a democracy (and, I guess, its constitution a serious document). The President is a failsafe against those extreme personages that from time to time burst on the political stage and woo the electorate into stupid choices. And Italy has already produced one of these in living memory. It has exhausted the quota. Basta!
2. It’s a coconut argument
The Italians did not elect a 5 Stelle/Lega Nord government. They elected several parties and none of them got an absolute majority. 5 Stelle missed it by a hair, I know, but tough luck. Elections are a bitch! So the cry that Mattarella’s actions ignore the will of the people is as hollow and short-sighted as a myopic coconut.
3. Euro in, Euro out
In Mattarella’s assessment, Paolo Savona is not fit to be Minister of Finance. Now, it may be that the President, succumbing to atavistic totalitarian impulses, simply didn’t like Mr. Savona’s aftershave and despised the idea of having to smell it too often. However, something tells me that Mr. Savona’s predilection to pulling Italy out of the Euro at his earliest convenience (and it would have had to be ASAP given his ripe age) also had something to do with the President’s decision. If memory serves me well, pulling out of the Euro is not what the Italians voted for. So when you think about it, Mr. Mattarella is actually being very democratic!
4. Pot, Kettle?
Before the elections, there were no indications that 5 Stelle and Lega Nord would be ready to rule together. Mr. Di Maio has been quoted as considering the previous Letta-Renzi duo as a betrayal of democracy for the same reasons. Now, I know we can all change our minds, but…
The truth is that I don’t give a flying toss about who governs in Italy. I am sure that the long list of great things for which this beautiful country is known will outlast any Italian government. But I do care about what European democracy looks like. It is a common heritage that has cost millions of lives. Lest we forget.
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