Of Italy's 58 prime ministers since World War II, you probably don't remember the name Lamberto Dini. He took office on Jan. 13, 1995, several months after uncertain general election results, as the country grappled with an ongoing corruption scandal and billionaire businessman Silvio Berlusconi"s recent entry into politics. The Italian establishment had turned to Dini, a sullen-faced economist and former Bank of Italy official, to lead a new government — and essentially save Italy from itself.
This week, it was the turn of another so-called "Super Mario."
Mario Monti filled that role 16 years later. A financial storm had battered Italy when the economics professor and former European Commission dashed to Rome in November 2011 to be appointed senator for life, then prime minister. This week, it was the turn of another so-called "Super Mario": former head of the Central European Bank Mario Draghi. Credited around the world of global finance with having saved the euro single currency in 2011, Draghi has been asked to take over from Giuseppe Conte — another technocrat who's formed two governments since the last election, in 2018.
Lamberto Dini in 1999 — Photo: Cezary P.
Reactions to the news that Draghi could soon be approved for the role by parliament ranged from delight to frantic excitement. La Stampa warned it was the "last call" for Italy. La Repubblica had all the hottest gossip about the totoministri. The right-leaning Il Foglio speculated about the "dietrologia," the backroom political machinations needed for Draghi to form a government.
For me, having been born in Italy but lived most of my adult life abroad, I've spent the last year getting reacquainted with Italian politics — and figuring out how to explain to foreign friends and foreign readers. I had forgotten the peculiar ways in which it is narrated back here at home. Every action seems decisive, every discussion heated, every moment pivotal. Will Draghi be able to form a government? Who will support him? Will Italy be rescued?
Don't get me wrong: This is a critical time for Italy. But focusing on these machinations distracts the deep-rooted sickness in Italian democracy, in which populist parties routinely leave the dirty work to technicians who fade away with the next election. Ours is a country where crisis is perpetual, and in constant need of being "saved" — so it changes government every other year.
Will Draghi be able to form a government? Who will support him? Will Italy be rescued?
Indeed, though we have accumulated more new leaders and reshuffled government coalitions than any of our neighbors, prime ministers who were actually elected by the people are increasingly rare. If he is confirmed by parliament, Draghi would be the sixth straight prime minister not to be chosen by Italian voters. And who was the last prime minister elected? It was Silvio Berlusconi — in 2008.