Guest contributor at SAIS Europe
As Italian politics have grown increasingly unstable in recent weeks, it has become popular to condemn former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as the primary culprit behind Italy’s struggle. Blaming the country’s political woes on Berlusconi is a convenient way to explain the serious problems that have afflicted the “country of the sun” recently. Yet, the root of Italy’s current problems can be traced back for almost a century, if not more, long before Berlusconi entered the political scene.
The precariousness of the Italian system is not something new or surprising. Unfortunately, it is something that became endemic, almost pathological, in the Italian political system even before World War II. From 1945 to 1998, Italian governments lasted for eight months on average. Berlusconi entered politics in 1994. While he certainly contributed to the pattern of instability, can we blame the previous 50 years on him?
The Democrazia Cristiana, Partito Socialista Italiano and Partito Comunista Italiano fought for almost 40 years and during this time introduced a series of damaging reforms. One famous reform from the 1980s, aimed at increasing employment in Italy, allowed employees of the public administration to retire at full salary even if they were under 40 years old. Berlusconi cannot shoulder the blame for these sorts of damaging policies. Nor is he to blame for the criminal organizations deeply embedded in the political and economic system since the birth of the Italian Republic.
To be sure, Berlusconi has done the Italian political system no favors, and he has made no efforts to change his predecessors’ flawed policies. I do not defend his actions and did not vote for him. Yet to blame Italy’s current political turmoil exclusively on Berlusconi is to ignore the country’s political reality. Italy’s current political situation is steeped in decades of flawed policy-making. The only effective approach to stabilize Italian politics is to look the current reality in the eye and address the underlying problems, rather than condemn Berlusconi as the obvious villain. It is not only naïve, but also dishonest to focus criticism on Berlusconi. Moreover, this narcissistic line of thinking absolves Italians of the responsibility of seeking alternative solutions.
Until Italian citizens understand that the attitudes they harshly critique in the political system are inherent in Italian attitudes, until we understand that we first need to change the national mindset in order to change the system, this country is condemned to remain where it is: mired in political turmoil.