A Letter from Italy,
by Natalia Sarkissian
On Sunday, February 13th, thousands of women and men in 200 piazze across Italy demonstrated against Berlusconi and his excesses. Late night parties with underage escorts (“Rubygate”). Questionable political appointments. Etc.
You may have heard.
Another Egypt? Perhaps not quite yet. Berlusconi still has support (although he barely survived two no-confidence votes last December).
In Rome, 500,000 people (according to organizers) attended Sunday’s demonstration in the Piazza del Popolo. Giulia Bongiorno, a member of the Future and Liberty party, was applauded when she said to the crowd, “I’m not here to criticize porno parties in and of themselves, I’m here to criticize them when they’re used by the ruling class to make choices (referring to some political appointees).
In Milan at least 100,000 people (according to organizers) attended and overflowed Piazza Castello into via Dante all the way to Piazza Duomo. Around 3:30 pm the crush of animated demonstrators was too much; people escaped to side streets.
Some of the signs on view yesterday in Milan near the 1000-year old Sforza Castle:
“A worthy Italy is indignant,”
“The dignity of women is the dignity of a nation,”
“Are we women or prosciutti?”
“Veronica is free (Berlusconi’s ex-wife), why not us?”
According to the Corriere della Sera, similar demonstrations (on a smaller scale) took place in Tokyo, Brussels, London and Geneva.
One minister in Berlusconi’s cabinet, Mariastella Gelmini, claimed that the demonstrators were motivated by the desire to see Berlusconi thrown out of office not for substantive reasons but because the idea is “radical chic”. According to another supporter, “the women in the piazze today are the daughters of the women of 1968, those who said ‘make love not war.’ But today they’re making war on those who make love.”
Opponents say that Italy has become the laughingstock of the Western World. They want dignity to be the catchword. Dignity for the people, dignity for democracy.
It’s about time.
How can it be, many non-Italians ask, that Berlusconi is still in power?
As The New York Times explains:
In Italy, where a facade of Roman Catholic morality masks a high tolerance for illicit romance, Mr. Berlusconi has weathered scandals for years.
But this time, with the prime minister facing possible criminal charges and with wiretaps presenting a picture of a sordid world of orgies and of blackmail by call girls, things are beginning to look different. Mr. Berlusconi only narrowly survived two no-confidence votes in mid-December, and could be forced to call new elections if any one of the allies in his shaky coalition pulled out.
Above all, Italians are increasingly alarmed by the divide between the country’s ills and the prime minister’s priorities.
“It’s not important what he does privately, but what he doesn’t do as a head of government,” said Simone Calvarese, 41, a bus driver in downtown Rome, who said he had voted for Mr. Berlusconi in the past but like many Italians had lost patience.
(In addition to eyewitness accounts and the two linked NYT articles, the preceding was based on “Donne e uomini in piazza per la dignità,” and “‘Basta!’ In Piazza del Popolo per un paese che rispetti le donne,” Corriere della Sera, February 13, 2011 as well as “Cosa Rischia Silvio Davvero,” by Alessandro Gilioli, L’Espresso, Jan 15, 2011.