Post-Berlusconi: Italy Has No More Time To Waste

Op-Ed: Silvio Berlusconi tried to avoid the inevitable for far too long, as the Italian (and world) economy suffered the consequences of political stalemate. Now that Berlusconi has announced plans to resign, whatever comes next should come quick - and cl

We might find ourselves wondering how much time has been wasted for nothing. More to the point, we might start adding up how much all this wasted time has cost Italy, in both economic and political terms. At the very least, for the last two months, the situation has put the country in a clearly compromised position. Still, weeks and weeks have gone by waiting for a miracle that was never going to happen. Finally, Italy's government – following those in Spain and Greece - surrendered.

Of course our country has many troubles, and many of them are not recent. Fiscal health and economic growth are among them. Italy suffers - maybe most importantly - of a lack of authority and credibility, which the current government and its premier deepened.

Until the end, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi denied it. He denied it despite several serious warnings from the European Union and from Mario Draghi, the new head of the European Central Bank and former governor of the Bank of Italy. Berlusconi denied it even after the offensive public smirks exchanged by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, when asked about his reliability.

For too long he has hoped to survive thanks to people like Domenico Scilipoti, a Parliament member who left the opposition party in December 2010 in order to support the government in a narrow confidence vote.

Berlusconi had hoped to continue surviving just by pointing out the flaws of the center-left opposition. Only at the very end, did he finally surrender in the face of the rigor of the President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano, and some rare clever maneuvering among opposition forces that exposed Berlusconi's lack of a parliamentary majority. Better late than never, we might say.

Nonetheless, Berlusconi has not yet resigned. Even if the President of the Republic considers Tuesday night's communication with the Prime Minister a guarantee of his forthcoming resignation, Berlusconi only announced that he will step aside once the austerity measures are approved.

In the history of the Italian Republic, this is not the first "post-dated" resignation. And there is still a considerable risk of the tables turning yet again. In the face of the current critical economic situation, this could be very dangerous indeed. 

After all, Silvio Berlusconi has already said that another government led by some one else is not practicable and that early elections are the only option. On the other hand, many, even members of his own Freedom party, are pushing for a new government supported by a large coalition to face the economic emergency and potentially push through a reform of the current election law.

Sure, both options are legitimate, but after months of confusion, clarity is the most important objective now. 

Is it possible to form a government led by someone with top credentials, both nationally and internationally? Let's have an open debate about it, but let's try to move quickly. And if instead, there is no parliamentary majority to support a transitional government, let's allow the country to elect a new one. Wasting more time is not unacceptable, while the merciless market keeps churning.

Brussels will not tolerate Italy wasting more time. Above all, the country -- exhausted by economic crisis, arrogance and endless in-fighting – cannot endure more wasted time from politicians of any stripe.

Read the original story in Italian

Photo – Jos van Zetten

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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