On 17 March 2011, Italy celebrates its150th birthday. The movement for independence known as the Risorgimento - forged out of years of wars, revolutions and rebellions - led finally to the proclamation of an Italian nation in 1861, with its first parliament in Turin.
It is natural then that the most prominent anniversary celebrations are taking place in that city, including many cultural events - as well as a special anniversary edition of Gucci-Fiat’s production of the Fiat 500, raising the criticism that an unfailing preference for style over substance is reinforced by Italy's current vacuum of political statesmanship. There are also concerts in Tuscany and firework displays in Rome. Elsewhere, however, there is little enthusiasm. The occasion finds Italy scarred by social and economic fractures, worried about rising immigration, buffeted by international criticism that focuses on its government but extends to the country as a whole, and strained by the conflicting ambitions of its various regions.
In fact, many Italians no longer believe that Italy works as a united political entity.........
Today, Italy’s lack of unity threatens the quality of democratic life more than at any time since the fascist era. In a twisted way that is appropriate, for Silvio Berlusconi has divided Italy like no other leader since Benito Mussolini. But his work is in its way even more insidious, for the new divisions he has created are only in part ideological, between right and left. At a profound social and cultural level, Berlusconi’s apparent belief that he is above the law displays a contempt for Italy’s constitution that has had dire consequences for the health of Italy’s public life. There have been voices of opposition.
Over the weekend preceding the anniversary, on 12 March 2011, up to a million Italians gathered in 100 piazzas across the country to demonstrate in defence of the constitution. They embody Italy’s best civil-society and democratic traditions, and provide a vital contrast to the current spectacle - grotesque to so many Italians - of an Italian prime minister who continues to rule by sleaze and intimidation. Among the most energetic and committed voices present were those of film directors and satirists, who sounded far more statesmanlike than the politicians responsible for the vacuum at the heart of Italy’s public life - even if they still lack the leadership necessary finally to defeat a discredited prime minister.
It is revealing that at the very moment when he is facing his own series of trials, Silvio Berlusconi has the audacity to attempt to “reform” the judiciary. This is the action not of a statesmen or a leader with a sense of public duty, but the desperate mission of a troubled man whose excessive private interests have for nearly two decades conflicted with the public good and the desire for national reconciliation. Italy’s 150th birthday finds the country a long way from the self-confident identity of a unified and sovereign nation.