June 28, 2007
JERUSALEM GAY PRIDE BUCKS RIOTS, HATRED
The following article was written for Gay City News -- New York City's largest lesbian and gay weekly newspaper -- which published it today:
Defying anti-gay rioting (left), threats of bloodshed, opposition from Israel's prime minister and Jerusalem's mayor, a vote by Israel's parliament, and rabbinical curses, some 2,000 courageous people staged a dignified Gay Pride march (right) in central Jerusalem last Thursday, June 21.
At least 130 anti-gay protesters had been arrested in the week leading up to the Pride demonstration, as homophobic rioting by the ultra-Orthodox engulfed religious neighborhoods of Israel's capital and the nearby ultra-Orthodox suburb of Bnei Brak, according to a police spokesman. The rioters set vehicles and trashcans ablaze, blocked traffic, and threw stones at police, 24 of whom were reported wounded.
Another 19 ultra-Orthodox protesters were arrested at the Pride march last Thursday, including one man who tried to bomb the parade route.
"In his bag, we discovered a homemade explosive device. He admitted he planned on planting it on the route of the parade," police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said, the news agency Deutsche Presse-Argentur reported.
And 15 more anti-gay protesters were arrested (left) in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearun for throwing stones at police after they had blocked the streets and brought traffic to a standstill.
Others arrested had tried to physically attack the Pride marchers, and one man had attempted to pour oil on the march route along King David Street, presumably to set it alight.
Last year's attempt to hold a Pride march in November had been annulled by police after two weeks of violent anti-gay riots, and instead a Pride rally of 4,000 was confined to a heavily-guarded soccer stadium.
This year's march was significantly smaller than expected; representatives of its principal organizer, the Jerusalem Open House for Peace and Tolerance - the city's LGBT community center - had told police to expect at least 5,000 demonstrators.
"The numerous reports of violent protests by ultra-Orthodox and far-right circles had made people think twice whether they wanted to show up for the event," prominent gay activist and journalist Yoav Sivan (left) told me in explaining the low turnout, "especially since the violence was well demonstrated. Everybody remembers that two years ago a religious Jewish fanatic stabbed three participants in the Jerusalem Pride parade."
Sivan is a board member of both Jerusalem Open House and of Aguda, Israel's national LGBT association, and helped organize last Thursday's Pride event.
"However," Sivan went on to say, "the gay-bashing and the strong opposition to the parade also made the event into one of the most important protests for human rights in Israel, and it triggered LGBT people and allies to come to Jerusalem from all corners of the country."
The Pride marchers were vastly outnumbered by the 7,000 police guarding the parade route, which was only a third of a mile long, and a fleet of ambulances were positioned nearby in anticipation of possible violence. As the 2,000 Pride marchers slowly walked the short route, passing under arches of balloons in the colors of the gay rainbow flag and past the historic King David Hotel, their mood was sober and subdued.
"I admit I would have liked the march to be of a longer route, but don't read too much into that because here, size doesn't really matter," gay activist Sivan told this reporter. He added, "The street where we marched, King David Street, is known as the cultural mile - although it's not even half a mile - and turned out as a very respectable choice for the parade. It's downtown, central, and when you saw the rainbow flags that the municipality of Jerusalem was forced to hang, waving between the YMCA building and the King David Hotel, two of Jerusalem's landmarks, it was really inspiring."
Sivan said that Palestinian and Arab marchers were scattered throughout the Pride contingent.
"They were part of the crowd, just as they are part of the fabric of the Jerusalem Open House," Sivan told me.
A group of religious teenage girls blowing whistles, insulting the marchers, and crying, "Disgrace! Disgrace!" at the Pride parade were quickly escorted away by armed police. A protester armed with eggs he intended to hurl at the parade was also removed by police, as was an ultra-Orthodox demonstrator who "disguised" himself by carrying a rainbow flag, according to Israeli radio, and began cursing the marchers.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (right) had declared his opposition to holding a Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem - but his openly lesbian daughter, Dana Olmert (left), in an interview the day before the Pride event, compared the right to march in the Jerusalem parade to the right to vote.
Speaking of the Pride parade, she said, "The question of 'Why in Jerusalem?' is like asking why we need to give people voting rights. The Gay Pride parade is a political event, an expression of political activism - you don't need to ask permission to do it," the Jerusalem Post quoted her as telling Israeli Army Radio.
Olmert's daughter went on to say, "In every place that there is subjugation, resistance is created. Even if it is embryonic at this stage, it will get bigger, because even in [ultra-Orthodox] haredi society, there are gays and lesbians."
She expressed the hope that "all this ongoing controversy between the gay and lesbian community and the haredim has caused these people to feel that they are not alone, and that they can, in any number of ways, break out of this ghetto of oppression in which they live."
Also last Wednesday, Israel's High Court of Justice - the country's supreme court - rejected three petitions to block the Pride parade from taking place. One of the petitions was filed by Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox Mayor Uri Lupoliansky (left), and another by Israel's minister for Trade, Eli Yishai (right) of the ultraconservative religious Shas Party, which is a member of Prime Minister Olmert's ruling coalition.
Minister Yishai argued in his brief that the Pride parade was a "vulgar event that offends and violates the sanctity of Jerusalem."
A third petition was filed by Orthodox activists who said the Pride parade "would lead to public disturbances and riots on an unprecedented scale."
Led by its president, Dorit Beinisch (right), the High Court of Justice wrote, in rejecting the three anti-gay petitions, "Authorizing the Gay Pride parade allows for the realization of the right to expression and demonstration... It allows the marchers to voice their message by virtue of their right to equality and social recognition. Additionally, the permit affords deserving priority to the principle of the rule of law, and to the perception that violence is not to be rewarded nor succumbed to."
The Sunday before the Pride march, ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews held an anti-gay protest rally (left) that drew 10,000 - far fewer than the 100,000 its organizers had predicted. Haaretz, the most respected Israeli daily newspaper, headlined its article on this rally: "ULTRA-ORTHODOX PROTESTS AGAINST GAY PARADE FALL FLAT."
Seven police were injured by the anti-gay protesters at the rally.
Also in the week before the Gay Pride march took place, the Orthodox Righteous Court of Law (Badatz) placed a curse on the parade's organizers and participants, and on police officers assigned to protect the march.
Prominent Orthodox rabbis published a declaration which read: "To all those involved, sinners in spirit, and whoever helps and protects them, may they feel a curse on their souls, may it plague them and may evil pursue them; they will not be acquitted of their transgressions from heavenly judgment."
"The government should initiate this; these people are dangerous and we must keep an eye on them," Ze'ev said, adding that gay people must be made aware of "how their lifestyle is destroying our existence."
Ze'ev, who said he would submit a bill that would ban gay sexual relations if he thought the Knesset, Israel's parliament, would approve it, added that those who broke such a law would, under his proposal, be assigned to a two-year "rehabilitation period."
"We must set up special teams of psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers who will help them return to a normal life, just like in a drug rehabilitation center," the MP said.
On June 6, a Shas party bill to ban any Gay Pride march anywhere in Israel passed the Knesset on its first reading by the overwhelming margin of 41-21 (see this reporter's June 14 article, "Israel's Sharp Right Turn on Gays," ).
As the Pride marchers walked down King David Street, an anti-gay rally across town (left) organized by ultra-Orthodox Jews drew 4,000 people. Israeli public television Channel One broadcast the Pride event and the anti-gay rally simultaneously on a split screen.
A Pride rally at the end of the march was to have been addressed by the pro-gay, left-wing Meretz Party's chairman Yossi Belin (right), who had been a cabinet minister in the previous governments of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Ehud Barak -- but the rally was canceled because a firefighters strike led police to conclude security could not be assured.
Following the Pride march, gay activist Sivan told me, "What you cannot really understand afterwards is why such a peaceful political demonstration has drawn so much fire and opposition. What's really mind-boggling for me is that Jews constantly use anti-Semitic lingo against LGBT people without even realizing it. It seems almost like the best route for us to walk in Jerusalem would be the Via Dolorosa, and indeed many of the city's population would have loved to see us crucified at the end."
Sivan added, "You don't really get used to hatred. There were some incidents when a few young girls - Orthodox Jews - started calling swearwords at the crowd. And you see the hatred in the eyes of a young girl and see how different people in the parade react differently. One man even told her, 'I love you, despite your despising me.'"
Nonetheless, Sivan told this reporter, "The march provided a triumphant feeling, a shared feeling of a united community and it empowered us to continue our fight for gay rights throughout the year. In November we had a rally, a couple of days ago we had the march. Next year we'll have a rally and a march!"
RECOMMENDED READING: Not to be missed is the three-part dissection of CIA Director Robert Gates (left) which the always excellent Roger Morris (right) has just written for TomDispatch, the invaluable blog for The Nation Institute edited by my old friend Tom Engelhardt. Part One is "The Gates Inheritance." Part Two is "The World That Made Bob." Part Three is "The CIA and the Gates Legacy." Morris not only skewers Gates, he provides the much-needed background on fifty years of covert action and the politics which give the context for the CIA's "Family Jewels" revelations this week. Morris is one of our smartest chroniclers of contemprary history, as I've said before on this blog (also, if you didn't catch Roger's monumental slice-and-dice on Donald Rumsfeld, which I recommended earlier this year, click here.).....The first-rate e-zine Sign and Sight.com -- which provides English-language translations of the best and brightest from the German press on a daily basis -- has a very perceptive article today on Algeria from the Süddeutsche Zeitung . This colorful piece describes the censorship and resistance which accompany the annointing of Algiers as the "cultural capital of the Arab world" this year, a year-long festival with a budget of 51 million Euros -- and, in the process, this piece captures perfectly the ambiance in an Algeria in which President Bouteflika (right) is merely the front-man for the military brass who've really run the country for years. The degree to which censorious Islamist cultural standards engendering fear and self-censorship have gone hand-in-hand with Bouteflika's "reconciliation" policy that has brought the Islamist party into government is painted clearly by the voices of the Algerian intellectuals and artists interviewed in this piece, which you can read by clicking here. And if you don't have the Sign and Sight.com habit, you don't know what good stuff you're missing -- visit their site and sign up for their e-mail alerts.... My friend Janet Afary (left), the distinguished Iranian scholar-in-exile who is president of the International Society of Iranian Scholars and a prof at Purdue University, has written a very smart review-essay of five new books on Iran together with her partner, Kevin Anderson, another Purdue prof with whom she wrote the superb book Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism. This latest review-essay lifts the veil on Iran under its fundamentalist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (right), and explains precisely why the hawkish Bush policy of sanctions and invasion threats has backfired and is helping Ahmadinejad's effort to destroy the democratic forces in Iran. You shouldn't miss this article from the new issue of The Nation, and you can read it by clicking here.....The prescience of Karl Marx (left) as a journalist is celebrated in a review for The Guardian by none other than Christopher Hitchens (right), my old friend (and lately sparring partner on Iraq and other issues, on which we shaply diverge). The occasion is the publication by Penguin Classics of "Dispatches for the New York Tribune: Selected Journalism of Karl Marx", edited by James Ledbetter, who also happens to be an old colleague and comrade of mine from our days together as columnists for the Village Voice. 'Sieur James (below left) has done a noble service by disenterring Uncle Karl's decade of dispatches for Horace Greeley and Charles Dana's New York newspaper, and on everything from Lincoln (of whom Marx was practically the only supporter in England, as no less than Henry Adams pointed out) and the U..S. Civil War to the inevitable implosion of Queen Victoria's Emprie in India, Marx was devastatingly on target. With his usual elegantly mordant style, Hitch writes in The Guardian, that "when journalists today are feeling good about themselves, and sitting through the banquets at which they give each other prizes and awards, they sometimes like to flatter one another by describing their hasty dispatches as 'the first draft of history.'. Next time you hear that tone of self-regard, you might like to pick up Dispatches for the New York Tribune and read the only reporter of whom it was ever actually true." Read all of Hitch's tribute to Marx's Grub Street years by clicking here. -- it will inspire you not to be tardy in buying Ledbetter's timely reissue of the Marx dispatches.
June 16, 2007
Letter from Rome: ROME'S GAY PRIDE TODAY ENDORSED BY GOVERNMENT--SORT OF...
The following dispatch on today's Rome Gay Pride March was written exclusively for this blog by DIRELAND's Rome correspondent, Judy Harris. A veteran expat journalist who wrote from Italy for years for TIME and the Wall Street Journal, Judy now writes for ARTnews and this month published a new book (right), "Pompeii Awakened: A Story of Rediscovery" (I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd.) Judy also has her own website.
ROME -- Arriving by plane, train and 200 special buses, over 100,000 men and women converged today on the Eternal City for Gay Pride Day, with some optimists predicting twice that number. The anti-homophobia event, in open defiance of the Catholic Church, is being celebrated today, one week later than in other countries, to avoid its coinciding with President George W. Bush's visit to Rome June 9. (Left, a banner opposing civil unions as illegal in front of St. Peter's this spring.)
As transgendered member of Parliament and LGBT rights activist Vladimir Luxuria (right) of Rifondazione Comunista led the parade, slogans were chanted, among them: "Prodi, Prodi dove sei? Oggi Roma e' tutta gay" ("Prodi, Prodi, where do you stay? Today all of Rome is gay." ) Banners proclaimed, "For a more European Italy," "Rights for All," "More Freedom, Less Vatican," and "Equality, Dignity and Secularism," the official Rome Pride slogan. (In addition to Luxuria, there are two out gay men and one out lesbian in the Italian parliament, plus one openly bi-sexual MP: Alfonso Pecoraio Scario, president of the Italian Green Party, who marched today.)
Today's two-mile-long parade route studiously avoided all monuments of historic Rome save for the Coliseum, and never approached St. Peter's Square. Beginning at 4 pm on this sultry Saturday, the paraders, with 40 floats and hundreds of colorful balloons, were snaking their way from Piazzale Ostiense toward the Aventine Hill and onward to the huge square in front of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, a major Roman Catholic landmark. This vast piazza traditionally hosts mass events, and indeed a rival rally, organized to promote the traditional family, attracted hundreds of thousands there on May 12. (Left, the official Rome Pride poster)
In a coup for the organizers, for the first time in Italian history the national government figures among Gay Pride's institutional sponsors, who already included the governments of the Lazio region and of the province and city of Rome. This week, the government's council of ministers formally voted to support Rome Pride. But a nervous Prime Minister Prodi (right) ordered that no minister could march in the parade or ride on one of its colorful floats, but several cabinet ministers, including Paolo Ferrero (left), Minister for Social Solidarty, participated anyway. Addressing the crowd at its departure, Minister Ferrero said that, "The DiCo [civil unions] were in the coalition's program, and the Union [the government political parties' umbrella organization] took votes on this."
The delicate and controversial negotiations for government co-sponsorship of Rome Pride were negotiated by Equal Opportunity Minister Barbara Pollastrini (right) of the DS party (Democratici di Sinistra), who began her political career in the local Communist party organization in Milan. However, watering down the significance of cabinet sponsorship, she explained that, "Sponsorship is limited to the cultural aspects related to the event, not to the event itself."
Many Pride marchers weren't buying the government's tepidity and its distancing itself from the demonstration. ""We are heteros, gays, lesbians and bisexual and we want Romano Prodi to give the same rights to all. Where are all the promises the government made? Evaporated into nothingness?" one cross-dresser on a float told AFP.
Many expected that the walkup to Gay Pride Day would turn into a frontal clash with the Church, but the Italian bishops were told in no uncertain terms that they are to keep a low profile and avoid conflict today. But others spoke for them, with government semi-sponsorship of Rome Pride the pretext which irritated the more rigidly Roman Catholic Church politicians, collectively known as "i teodem" (the theo-democrats).
"This government discriminates against the family," charged Isabella Bertolini (left), MP with Berlusconi's Forza Italia conservative coalition. "The government sponsors Gay Pride but would not sponsor Family Day. What a terrible disgrace for the State." She dubbed the trio of government ministers who openly support Gay Pride day "nothing but hypocrites -- they save face by supporting the event which they choose not to attend." Echoing her words was Lorenzo Cesa (right), secretary of Casini's UDC, who declared that "the support the government is giving to gay pride through its ministers, and which was not given to Family Day, is an insult to the Italian family."
Silvio Berlusconi excepted, the most prominent conservative leader in Italy today is Pier Ferdinando Casini, 52, of the Unione Democratici Cristiani (UDC). The Hon. Casini (left) is a former president of the Chamber of Deputies and a front-running candidate to succeed Berlusconi as leader of Italian conservatives in the (at present still unlikely) case that Berlusconi bows out. Like most conservatives in Italy, Casini opposes legislation that would allow civil partnerships, even though he is on his own second family. His partner is Azzurra Caltagirone, the daughter of the powerful businessman cum publisher Francesco Gaetano Caltagirone. From his earlier marriage Casini has two children; with Azzurra he has one.
Among today's Gay Pride goals is the promised law on civil partnerships, but Prodi's government itself is divided on the issue. Little progress has been made, and, as center-left cohesion dwindles, passage of civil unions seems more unlikely than ever.
If security becomes an issue, clashes may erupt tonight in the Villaggio Italia park on the Via Tiburtina outskirts, where a benefit party to finance today's event is organized. According to Rossana Praitano, spokesperson for Gay Pride Roma 2007, organizers arrived this morning to find walls of the park scribbled with swastikas and slogans like "La Roma fascista non vi vuole" (Fascist Rome does not want you). The Mario Mieli Club of homosexual culture and today's event have been the butt of daily harassment by anonymous small bands of fascists," Praitano said. (The late Mario Mieli, right, 1952-1983, was a brilliant young radical poet and the founding theorist of Italian gay liberation in the early '70s. In 1971 Mieli launched Italy's first gay liberation group, FUORI! -- the Fronte Unitario Omosessuale Rivoluzionario Italiano. "FUORI!," which also means "Come Out!" in Italian, was also the title of Mieli's pioneering 1971 book of gay liberation theory.)
Pride spokesperson Praitano added, "Evidently the fascists feel protected because of the incautious statements made by some politicians. We are appealing to the Interior Minister Giuliano Amato and to the Rome Prefect Achille Serra to guarantee the personal safety and security of the participants."
(Left, today's Rome Pride march passes by the Coliseum.) Legal recognition of gay and other civil partnerships in Italy, known here as Dico (de facto partnerships), was one of the unkept promises made by the faltering Center-Left government headed by Romano Prodi. In a draft bill presented to parliament on May 17 and signed by over a dozen MPs from four progressive parties, the 22-year-old national Italian LGBT organization Arcigay wrote that, whereas progress on that front has been made elsewhere, "The reality in our country is different," and went on to say that Italy lacks, among other things, anti-discriminatory legislation.
True--and the stony silence being observed by the Church in Italy ignores the bullying and violence which continues against gays, particularly young boys. Last April a 16-year-old, Matteo, tormented by his schoolmates in Turin for allegedly being too girlish, committed suicide. (Matteo's needless death was cited in the European Parliament's sweeping resolution on homophobia passed in April.) Last week the Italian press reported that another adolescent was beaten to a pulp by his father for being gay--family values, as it were, in action.
It is all the more sadly ironic, then, that the Church in Italy is not winning its battle in favor of its restrictive version of family values. The numbers of first communions and confirmations are in slight but constant decline, with the former shrinking from 9.9 to 8.4 per thousand Catholics and the latter, from 22.2 to 8.6 per thousand, during the five years 1991-2004. The aging population is one reason, but so is "an increasing alienation from the Catholic religion, as numerous research shows," according to researcher Silva Sansonetti. And the percentange of Catholic marriage is similarly shrinking, from 87.7% to 79.5% for the same period (the most recent statistics available).
Curiously, it was in the neighborhood of San Giovanni where, in 1581, a group of Portuguese Catholics founded what amounted to a male confraternity in which marriage rites were held. All were burned alive as punishment. What has changed in the centuries since then? According to a new book by University of Bologna Sociology Professors Marzio Barbagli and Asher Colombo, Omosessuali Moderni, published by the distinguished Il Mulino, Italy is among the last countries in Europe to have changed attitudes. The law and politics have lagged behind public perceptions of homosexuality, the authors demonstrate.
For the record, the Church position on homosexuality was codified by John Paul II in a book he published: Theology of the Body, a compendium of his addresses between 1979 and l984. In it, the late pontiff maintained that, while homosexual attraction is not sinful, it "is more or less a strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder." Since then the Church position has further hardened--not coincidentally, with the pedophile scandals which have rocked the Church in both the U.S. and Europe, from Ireland to Austria, and not excluding Italy itself. -- by Judy Harris (right) in Rome
Judy's previous, most recent Letters from Rome for DIRELAND:
June 08, 2007
Letter from Rome: AN AGENDA FOR BUSH'S ITALIAN VISIT
The following dispatch was written exclusively for this blog by DIRELAND's Rome correspondent, Judy Harris. A veteran expat journalist who wrote from Italy for years for TIME and the Wall Street Journal, Judy now writes for ARTnews and this month published a new book (right), "Pompeii Awakened: A Story of Rediscovery" (I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd.) Judy also has her own website.
ROME -- The choppers are already buzzing about overhead. Residents are terrified their cars will be towed away. Already they know that their phone service will be cut off, that they can't drive since roads will be cut off, and that they can't have a cappuccino, since cafes will be closed. American students here have been advised to go to the beach. Police are entering, willy-nilly, every home and hovel in the colorful across-the-Tiber district of Trastevere to inventory who lives where, as shown by passport and permit. And bemused shoppers in downtown Rome boutiques are finding that the clerks don't know the stocks or how to run the cash register: the clerks too are plainclothespersons -- watching you.
Yes, in the wake of the 2 million tourists who invaded Rome last month, George W. Bush is on his way, planning to spend a lively Saturday, June 9 in the Eternal City. Some are nervous; Rome hosted the lanzichenecchi in 1527, when their sack of Rome destroyed half the city's best buildings (they were the mercenaries of Germany's first emperor, Maximilian I, in his war against Italy). Learning the lessons of the chaotic and violent demonstrations of the July 2001 G8 summit meeting in Genoa, which ended with 600 injured, 200 arrests and one death, Rome's Mayor Walter Veltroni (right) has been negotiating with the organizers of the expected demonstrations and has opted not to have a sealed-off area, since we have never had one, as he said pointedly; the sealing off of a district in Genoa is now admitted as a grave error, which increased the violence.
The primary objective of President Bush's day-trip to Rome will be his photo-op session with Pope Benedict XVI (left, known among real insiders, for a variety of interesting reasons, as "B-16") and with the leaders of the interesting Roman Catholic community of Sant'Egidio, whose headquarters are in Trastevere. The talks with the Church representatives will focus on Darfur, Kosovo and, above all, aid to Africa and the fight against AIDs (but sans condoms.) [UPDATE: At the last minute President Bush's meeting with the Sant'Egidio, which runs what is basically a parallel foreign policy to that of the Vatican itself, has been cancelled. Insiders were asking whether the Vatican preferred not to share Bush with Sant'Egidio.]
On the official secular side, President Bush will have to shift ideological gears when he meets with Premier Romano Prodi (left) and with the President of Italy, the dignified former Communist Giorgio Napolitano (right). Prodi's year-old center-left coalition includes a couple of Communists, of both the red-flag-waving as well as cashmere bespoke variety.
In the talks with the Italians, the U.S. will shy away from Iraq. A former partner in the Coalition of the Willing, Italy managed to withdraw its troops there last winter, so the Americans are left to pressure Italy into remaining a presence in Afghanistan. Hovering in the background, not by coincidence, is the U.N.-hating former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John R. Bolton (left), who spoke in Rome Friday at Palazzo Corsini -- today a museum -- at a conference on U.S.-Italian relations sponsored by Magna Carta Foundation and the right-wing American Enterprise Institute. For some time a Bush meeting with former Premier Silvio Berlusconi (right, several years ago, showing off his naked form for the cameras back when he was still in office) was discussed, then dumped. But the meeting with Berlusconi is now back on the agenda as Bush's last stop in Rome, for a late-afternoon tea party (the official agenda speaks, however, of coffee) behind the well-guarded high walls of the Ambassador's sprawling residence with a park of ancient ilex trees, Villa Taverna in Parioli.
What will be the substance of their talks? We have an agenda to suggest. To begin with, Bush should ask Berlusconi about his health, which is what interests the rest of us. Berlusconi is seventy, and the longer he waits and hopes for a return to office, the older he grows, and the more frequent his health scares. Just two weeks ago, Berlusconi collapsed on-stage during a speech (left). He has a Rolls Royce of a new pacemaker, thanks to the Cleveland Clinic, and apparently it is ticking along just fine, as a recent photograph taken in his Sardinia villa, where he was lounging about with a bevy of young girls, was intended to demonstrate.
Berlusconi's obviously impatient rivals, who also happen to be his partners in his House of Liberty coalition -- Pier Ferdinando Casini (left), leader of the Catholic UDC party; and "post-fascist" Alleanza Nazionale leader Gianfranco Fini (right) -- are fully aware that his age is working against him, in the long run, and so Berlusconi must try to force new elections as soon as possible. But the budgeting process tends to shift new elections to springtime. Besides, as cynics remind us, those elected to the two houses of Parliament must remain 24 months in office in order to ensure their right to the generous pension. That means spring 2008; shut down now, and many will lose hard cash.
Although both Fini and Casini are itching to be premier, Berlusconi is still far more powerful and popular throughout the country. He remains the sole center-right candidate for premier, but in a broader coalition of antagonistic parties the choice might fall on Casini. And even if Berlusconi would win out, such an unwieldy coalition would be tough to dominate, despite his undoubted sales skills
After discussing Berlusconi's own health, George and Silvio can cheer themselves up by talking about the obviously weakening Prodi government coalition. Its health worsens daily; even Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema (left), the brightest of the lot, is in hot water as news leaks of his apparently compromising private phone calls are about to spill all over the news pages. The transcripts show the sort of political manipulation of appointments which D'Alema, former head of the Party of the Democratic Left, had long criticized in the right. Said our contact: "The newspaper editors already have the verbatims. They're just waiting the okay to print."
Among the proposed solutions for future governments is to overturn what has only recently become a biparty, right-left system of alternating governments. This so-called "Anglo-Saxon formula" is fairly new for Italy, with its 45-year history of cozy centrist and center-right coalitions. In such a case, the left-leaning partners would almost certainly abandon their more radical and red flag-waving mini-parties. Early last year Berlusconi himself had actually considered something of the sort, but was turned down; reportedly he now sees little interest in this.
But come springtime, expect sparks and thunder as the government crashes down.
Turning to lighter topics, Bush and Berlusconi might have a good laugh over the murder of Roberto Calvi (left) a quarter century ago. (Calvi -- corpse at right -- was known as "God's Banker" because he handled the Vatican's financial dealings as chairman of the Vatican-owned Banco Ambrosiano, whose billion-and-a-half dollar collapse was one of Italy's biggest political scandals, involving the Mafia and (it was rumored) the Propaganda Due -- or P-2 -- Masonic lodge, a hotbed of right-wing plotters, police and military chieftans, and big-time industrialists, including Berlusconi. Calvi was found hanging from London Bridge in 1982 -- a murder portrayed in the Francis Ford Coppola film "The Godfather III.") After twenty-five years, justice finally has been served, and all those accused of his murder were -- surprise! -- acquitted.
It would be best to avoid talk of the newer scandals, since these are over Bush's head, and ours, too. The present government is awash just now in a secret service fog of wrong-doing so impenetrable that even the Italian commentators are scratching their heads. The tip of the iceberg, debated today in the Italian Senate, is the firing of the head of Italy's Guardia di Finanza, General Roberto Speciale (right) -- who also irritated the present incumbents by publicly greeting Berlusconi as "President" (which he was before Prodi became president of the council of ministers) and saying, loudly, "At your orders."
If all other conversational gambits fail, the once and future premier and the (nearly) lame-duck president can share amusing and instructive anecdotes about their mothers. Obviously, W's frosty Barbara and Berlusconi's 95-year-old, typically Mediterranean mother differ. "Mamma Rosa," as she is known (right, with son Silvio), made headlines last month by making a pilgrimage down to San Giovanni Rotonda in Puglia to visit the shrine dedicated to Padre Pio, a saint particularly popular all over Italy; our fishmonger's shop has no less than three devotional photos of him. Devotion is her stock in trade; as Mamma Rosa says: "If he were another man, my son would tell them all [i.e., his critics] to go to the devil. He loves everybody, and instead of enjoying the fruits of his work he has put himself at the service of the nation and in exchange has received only insults." Barbara could learn a thing or two from such unconditional motherly love.
The kaffe klatch conversation might quicken if among the guests is the governor of the Bank of Italy, Mario Draghi (left), a sharp mind if ever there was one. The governor's 350-page year-end analysis of Italy, an annual event, was presented in Rome last week. In it Draghi synthesized today's Italy, based upon the gleanings of the official statistics office, ISTAT.
Draghi can boast that the Italians' much-admired propensity for savings remains higher than elsewhere in Europe. But on the downside, he would have to admit that his countrymen and women have begun to reduce their savings, increase their indebtedness and spend beyond their earnings. Last year disposable income rose by 2.7%, whereas spending rose by 4.5%--that is, 1.5% faster than inflation. And in order to spend more than they earned, they dug into their piggy banks, so that savings dropped from 13.3% of 2005 to 12% in 2006. Put another way, in less than a decade, Italy will be a nation of debtors.
The most disquieting thing he might tell Bush, however, is that the gap between North and South has not decreased, and that Italian education is pushing the country to the bottom of the charts. A graph in Draghi's report showed that, where Northern Italian students received a failing grade of 4 out of a maximum of 10, in the South students who received a high grade on the same examinations actually knew less than the Northerner who flunked. Shocked commentators here also are asking themselves why the Italian education system puts the high school graduates in the bottom ranks of Europe, particularly since Italian spending on schools is not inferior to others. One reasonable hypothesis: that in the decades after 1970, when mass schooling was introduced, Italy thrived on manufacturing, and hence had little interest in paying attention to its schools. As manufacturing has moved out of the country, school administrators and teachers failed to keep pace.
To understand this, for those of us who love and try to understand Italy, is to understand a great deal -- including why Mamma Rosa and posing with teenage beauties makes for good politics, at least in Italy. -- from Judy Harris (right) in Rome
Judy's last Letter from Rome for DIRELAND: "Rome's Anti-Gay 'Family Day' " (May 12, 2006)
June 06, 2007
ISRAEL VOTES TO BAN GAY PRIDE IN JERUSALEM
Both bills were introduced by ultra-right religious parties. One bill -- introduced by a deputy from the right-wing National Religious Party, a Zionist party associated with the Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories -- amends the Basic Law on Jerusalem to "enable the Jerusalem municipal council to ban parades and rallies in town for considerations of disturbance to public order, offending the public's sensitivities or for religious considerations," the Israeli news agency YNet reports. It passed on first reading by 40-23. Jerusalem is currently led by ultra-Orthodox Mayor Uri Lupolyansky (left).
The second bill, introduced by deputies from Shas -- an ultra-conservative party representing hyper-Orthodox Sephardic and Misrahi Jews -- "is more comprehensive and calls for a ban on pride parades throughout the country." This bill also passed on first reading by 41-21.
The left-wing Meretz party bloc in the Knesset was the only party group to vigorously oppose both bills. The head of the Meretz Knesset bloc, Zahava Gal-On (right), said in response to the vote on the two bills: "The government has revealed the extent of its ineptness by allowing the coalition members to vote freely, banning the gay parade in Jerusalem and thereby denying the gay community's freedom of expression."
She went on to add, "A double-sided sword has been turned toward the community. The Knesset is crazy, with a crazy government where the tyranny of the majority is more important than human rights," she added.
An attempt last year to hold a Gay Pride march in Jerusalem provoked two weeks of violent riots by ultra-Orthodox Jews, and the march was banned. Instead, a gay rally was held in a soccer stadium.
The two bills had been denounced by Jerusalem Pride organizers. "The pride parade is an expression of our coming out of the closet. An attempt to prevent it is actually an attempt to shove us back into the closet," Noa Sattath, chairperson of the Jerusalem Open House -- an LGBT organization and principal organizer of the Gay Pride march -- said this past Sunday.
After the bills' passage yesterday, Sattath told the Jerusalem Post: "This is a dangerous bill, which could damage the bedrock of Israel's democratic principles because of narrow political interests. We will continue to fight it in parliament and through the Gay Pride Parade...I feel that we and democracy in general are being harassed."
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert - who has a daughter who is openly lesbian - said that he did not believe Jerusalem was the "natural place" for the Gay Pride Parade because of the city's "special sensitivity." But while refusing to support the banning bills, Olmert "also declined to direct the coalition on how to vote on the bill, giving all the coalition members freedom of vote. All of the presidential candidates, who are currently vying for the support of the religious MKs ahead of next week's vote, were absent from the vote due to the sensitivity of the bill," according to the Jerusalem Post.
At the end of May, Jerusalem Police gave conditional approval for a gay pride parade in the city, but said that the event was subject to restrictions based on the situation on the ground.
"It is within the district commander's jurisdiction to determine, according to intelligence ... he may have at hand, any restrictions he sees fit [for] the event, its location, and arrangements," Jerusalem District Police Chief Cmdr. Ilan Franco (left) wrote in response to the organizers' request for a permit, according to the website Israeli Insider.
Both the bills passed yesterday require two more votes for final passge, although some Israeli media say there is doubt about the two bills being passed before the scheduled June 21 Pride march in Jerusalem, given the preoccupation of the Knesset with its task of electing a new Israeli president.