Monday 10 November 2008

Total eclipse of the brain

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has really dropped a clanger (more like the Bells of St Clements :-P ) with his description of Barack Obama, the next president of the USA (for those who've been on holiday on another planet!) as "tanned" (BBC News: Berlusconi says Obama is 'tanned')

Berlusconi was quick to deny that he was being racist. That's as maybe, but I'm afraid his defence really isn't made any easier by the fact that his Forza Italia party is governing Italy in coalition with the fascist MSI party and the horribly right-wing Northern League. (Ironically, although the Northern League want separation of their 'Padua' region from Italy, their closest UK equivalent politically is probably the Ulster Unionists). Or the fact that his government has taken a hard stance against immigration, and attacks on immigrants and Roma gypsies in Italy have increased massively under his rule.

Besides, I always thought there was something a bit dodgy about a party (Forza Italia) which is named after a football chant. Then again, it's perhaps just as well Berlusconi wasn't English, or he'd probably have named his party 'You're Shit And We Know You Are' ...

Over to America, I'm glad Obama won the election for a number of reasons. Firstly, the election of a black man as US President has given 'the bird' to America's racist past (epitomised by the 'Jim Crow' apartheid laws in the southern US during the early half of the 20th Century). It also proves beyond reasonable doubt that racism is not, as many on the right allege, an indelible part of 'human nature'. But perhaps even more importantly, Obama's election owed at least as much to grass-roots local campaigning by working class activists as it did to rich donors. Hopefully, the high illusions among many in Obama will be translated into activism to shift his administration, and America in general, to the left.

Back to Berlusconi, he is best known as a media baron who owns several TV and radio stations in Italy - a factor which no doubt helped his election campaign. Yet back in the 1970's, when he took on and broke the Italian RAI state monopoly in broadcasting, he was considered by some to be almost a liberator of the airwaves. By the 1990's, he was coming rather close to creating his own national TV monopoly - so, hardly surprising that soon after he came to power, Italian broadcasting was re-regulated and the first raids in decades took place on a number of unlicenced TV stations.

Yet, despite Berlusconi's media empire, he is not all-powerful. He was voted out of power after his first term in office, only to be re-elected when the centre-left Olive Tree coalition let down its supporters (sound familiar?) More importantly, his government and the Italian capitalist Establishment of which he is a part, can be broken by Italian working class activity such as strikes and protests.

Stuff Forza Italia - I'd rather be singing Bandiera Rossa :-)

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