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April 04, 2005


In Italy's regional elections, for which voting was held yesterday and today, Silvio Berlusconi's governing coalition has apparently suffered a huge defeat. According to Italian exit polls (as just  reported in the daily e-bulletin from the French newsweekly, the Nouvel Observateur), Silvio's coalition has been defeated in six of the eight regions it held going into the elections. Those losses include the important regions of Lazio--which includes Rome; Piedmont; and Liguria, in the rich industrial north. As the BBC noted in its pre-election survey, "The former centre-left Prime Minister, Massimo D'Alema, resigned after a poor showing at the last regional elections in 2000. This paved the way for Mr Berlusconi's victory at the general elections a year later.Mr Berlusconi's centre-right ruling coalition has lost every major mid-term election - European, by-election, regional and local - since storming to power in 2001." It thus appears that the handwriting is on the wall signaling a defeat for Berlusconi - George Bush's Iraq war-supporting ally and buddy -- in next year's general elections. The Sgrena affair made widespread Italian anger at the war--and at Silvio's participation in it -- red-hot, among right-wing as well as left-wing voters (including the botched way the affair was handled by Berlusconi's military, as well as Silvio's "I'll-withdraw-our-troops-No-I won't" priouette, after getting a phone call from Bush, in the middle of it) and undoubtedly had an influence on the regional voting against the governing coalition's parties.

The elections brought more good news: in the region of Puglia, in the south of Italy, Niki Vendola--openly gay and a member of the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista--has beaten the incumbent regional president who was a member of Berlusconi's party, Forza Italia, these same exit polls say. This makes Vendola the most significant elected openly gay public official in Italy, which has up until now lagged behind most other Western European countries in electing gays to public office.

We'll post more details as they become available, but there's nothing as yet on the wires. For continually updated hard numbers, you can check out the reports on the voting from RAI24, the Italian public station, by clicking here.

P.S. Update at 5:45 PM EST: Reuters, in a dispatch posted 27 minutes ago, is now confirming Berlusconi's massive defeat. Reuters reports that "Francesco Storace, the pugnacious centre-right president of the Rome region Lazio, conceded defeat and said the elections around the country had been 'a massacre' for the centre-right....Prior to the vote, Storace said defeat in Lazio would herald a centre-left general election victory: 'If we lose in Lazio the successor to Berlusconi can only be Prodi.'"

Che liberazione! Buttate fuori Silvio!, says DIRELAND...

The Italian news agency AGI is also reporting (in its English version) the Berlusconi defeat....but my transAtlantic friend Richard Seymour, the proprietor of the literate blog Lenin's Tomb, is dyspeptic about the Rifondazione Comunista's having joined the Olive Tree center-left coalition now headed by Romano Prodi: he thinks it's an inevitable sellout. Richard has a permanent disdain for "bourgeois electoral politics," but I, for once, see this glass as half full--joining the Olive Tree has provided more elected officials for the Rifondiazione, to pull the PDS-led coalition to the left on economic issues, the social safety net, and defense of the unions, where it's been lagging. Moreover, my dear Ilyich, as Rifondazione leader Fausto Bertinotti pointed out this afternoon to AGI, the primaries the Olive Tree held among its partners worked to the radical left's advantage. "I do not know why they would be made useless. In any case I insist: we didn't ask for the primaries, they were proposed by Prodi, we did them in Puglia and they went well," Bertinotti said. And without the Rifondazione's participation and those primaries, we wouldn't have seen our poof elected in Puglia...Moreover, I doubt, Richard, that you would have opposed the Popular Front against Fascism in the 1930s--but Italians today are confronted with a menace to their liberty nearly as grave, since Berlusconi's two puissant coalition partners can accurately be described as fascist: Gianfranco Fini, head of the Alleanza Nazionale (built from the old neo-fascist MSI, of which he was a youth leader) and now Berlusconi's Vice Premier, may have tactically withdrawn his chracterization of Mussolini as "the greatest statesman of the century," but the brown shirts remain neatly pressed in his closet; and Umberto Bossi's Movimento Politico Lega Nord is clearly fascist in its racist and xenophobic demagogy. The concerted assault on liberty by the Berlusconi coalition--including its bringing the justice system and the courts to heel to prevent corruption convictions of Silvio and his co-conspirators, and the total control of Italy's audiovisual media Silvio has engineered, are only the most visible and pernicious evidence of threats to real democracy. The Rifondazione, in joining the Olive Tree, recognized these facts, and the need to form an alliance to evict Berlusconi and dismantle his most noxious works. The right choice, in my view. It was also smart electoral politics, as these regional elections have demonstrated...There's one more potent argument for a united front against Berlusconi: this is a crucial moment in the construction of the European Union, and removing Berlusconi from power substantially weakens the conservatives in the EU in general and the European Commission's current president, Jose Manuel Barroso--the Portugese ex-Maoist turned capitalist enforcer--in particular. We've already seen the malign influence on Europe Berlusconi would like to have when he appointed the clerical fascist Rocco Buttiglione as the European Justice Commissioner (an appointment which Barroso was forced to cancel after Buttiglione's diatribes against gays and women (whom he wanted to send back to the kitchen). Removing Berlusconi from power helps the  European workers fight to resist social dumping and retain the social state, while insuring there is no European-wide relapse on civil freedoms. Finally, those of us who live in Western democracies that have never been under the boot of real fascism should not be so quick to judge as "sellouts" those in countries which, in living memory have, when those folks decide its circle-the-wagons time....Don't forget that, as my friend Norman Birnbaum--an expert on European politics--has just reminded me, "Bertinotti put Berlusconi in power at the last national election by rejecting a common candidates list for the Senate." I, for one, am glad Bertinotti has seen the error of his infantile leftist ways...

...AND THE POPE IS FINALLY DEAD: If you've been nauseated, as I have, by the wall-to-wall, hagiographic Popeaphilia leaking from the little screen for the last three days--Wojtyla took longer to croak than Franco-- take some heart from a new poll revealing that a lot of U.S. Catholics would like a Pope with different politics. The daily Polltrack from the National Journal tells us today that the latest Gallup Poll on the subject shows 78 percent said they thought the next pope should allow Catholics to use birth control, and 63 percent said he should allow priests to marry. Fifty-five percent also said they supported a new pope who permitted women to become priests; slightly fewer than half wanted a leader who would allow Catholics to divorce and remarry without an annulment, and 37 percent said the new pontiff should loosen church rules on abortion.

I wish we'd seen on U.S. TV the kind of cry of outrage at this socially reactionary Pope that came from the admirable Peter Tatchell, the indefatigable gay and human rights activist who heads the British gay group named, appropriately, OutRage. Tatchell declared:

"History will judge the Pope harshly. His opposition to the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV has contributed to millions of people dying an agonising, needless death. Millions of children in developing countries are orphans; having lost their parents to Aids because of the Pope's anti-condom dogma. Pope John Paul II waged a ceaseless war against the human rights of women and gay people; opposing the right of women to control their own fertility; blocking women's equality in the church; and endorsing state-sponsored discrimination against lesbians and gay men."  Not even our spayed U.S. gay groups had the guts to say this. The BBC has a critical piece on the Pope of the kind you won't find on U.S. TV, and it quotes Tatchell, too. You can read the BBC's take  by clicking here. And, in today's Guardian, Terry Eagleton has a sharp-eyed dissection entitled "The pope has blood on his hands," which you can read by clicking here. ...

CONGRATULATIONS to Nigel Jaquiss of the alternative Oregon paper Willamette Week for winning a Pulitzer Prize--he uncovered a three-decade-old sex scandal involving then Portland mayor, later Governor Neil Goldschmidt, who served in Jimmy Carter's cabinet, who was having it off with his 14-year-old babysitter. It isn't often the Pulitizer board recognizes the alternative press....Nice going, Nigel...

Posted by Direland at 11:40 AM | Permalink


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Against Mr Berlusconi... Beppe Grillo's blog now also in English
Beppe Grillo is a top Italian comic, famous for being politically outspoken in his shows. He is considered the Italian Michael Moore. Expelled from Italian TV (under Italian premier Berlusconi's control), he created a popular blog, where he writes his opinions every day. Grillo's blog is now also in English language: http://www.beppegrillo.it/eng/

Posted by: Alessandro | Oct 19, 2005 6:33:21 PM

You said it Charles. Let's hear it for Pope Benedict XVI!

Posted by: Fritz | Apr 19, 2005 3:56:10 PM

I've posted this good news in the GLBT Forum at Democratic Underground, here: http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=221x9828. The Italians may lag in electing openly gay politicians, but they are ahead in seeing through the right-wing hypocrites.

Posted by: Nothing Without Hope | Apr 6, 2005 3:26:46 PM

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