Italy – the Art of Twisting Part II

By | October 22, 2021

The art of arranging

” L’arte di arrangiarsi ” – the art of twisting – is a key concept for understanding Italian society. Although the differences are great between the rich north and the poor south of Italy, there is a widespread tendency for a lot to go “on acquaintances” . 50 percent of Italians get a job after a personal recommendation, 39 percent through a personal contact and only 3 percent after responding to an ad or other publication.

In this reality, the family plays a very important role . Although the traditional family has weakened somewhat in recent decades, more than 90 percent of Italians still say that the family is “very important” to them. A typical figure in Italian society is the so-called mammone – “mammadalten”, who lives at home until he is well over 30. Often he also chooses the same profession as his father or close relative.

According to IAMHIGHER.COM, 50 percent of engineers and 40 percent of dentists in Italy “inherit their parents’ profession.” It is certainly nice, but hardly a model for social mobility and competition. Many critics have pointed out that the Italian system makes young people less hungry for careers, and that they are less inclined to risk, initiative and develop new ideas than young people in other European countries.

The self-service state

Many of the problems in today’s Italy developed during the so-called “first republic” – that is, the decades after the Second World War. The fear of the big Communist Party led the other parties to form a common front , with the Christian Democrats (DC) as the leader. DC had its main support in the Catholic Church, among the self-employed, in the public bureaucracy and among small farmers, and the party was involved in all governments from 1946 to 1992.

During this period, the party and its partners, primarily the Socialist Party (Social Democratic), developed a culture in which the state became a kind of ” self-service shop ” for politicians. An important expression from this period is lottizazione – distribution – where state goods and privileges were divided between the parties. In the state TV channel RAI, the Christian Democrats had control over RAI 1, the Socialist Party over RAI 2 and the Communist Party over RAI 3. There were similar distributions in the ministries and state agencies.

And even though Italy experienced great economic progress in the post-war period, the self-service system eventually became a crucial obstacle to further growth. Weak competition, a lot of cartel activity, little willingness to take risks and little dynamism led to a deep structural crisis that characterizes the country to this day. In the last 15 years, there has been virtually no economic growth in Italy.

5: Clean hands

Between the post-war “first republic” and today’s Italy lies a lot of drama. It started in February 1992. At that time, a prominent member of the Socialist Party in Milan was taken with a large sum of corruption money. He laid the cards on the table against the promise of a penalty rebate, and he revealed an extensive political culture , with the powerful party leader Bettino Craxi – the “champagne socialist” at the helm.

From the 1970s, Craxi and his political friends had developed a system of bribery aimed at the public sector. Every public contract – from airports and roads to hospitals and sports facilities – triggered payments, so-called tangenti , shares to politicians . All parties participated in the fraud, and the system was so ingrained that it was hardly seen as a crime, rather as a way of life.

But in the spring of 1992 it was over. A wave of arrests and indictments stunned Italy and the world. Around 5,000 politicians and business leaders were investigated, among them 200 members of the National Assembly. The action was called mani pulite – pure hands – and it left an entire political epoch in the grave: the first republic. The party system that had dominated post-war Italy collapsed, and new parties emerged.

6: Berlusconi arrives

The “mani pulite” trial was led by a famous interrogator, Antonio di Pietro . After the extensive revelations, he became a folk hero. But that was soon to change. After the first enthusiasm among the Italians had subsided, more and more people began to ask critical questions: What do these judges want with Italy? Can anyone feel safe at all? And many reminded of the benefits of a culture where one could solve the problems for a small fee.

It was in this situation that the sugar-rich businessman Silvio Berlusconi saw his big chance. He claimed that the Mani Pulite judges had their own political agenda, and he urged people to turn their backs on the “red judges”. At the same time, he formed his own political party, Forza Italia (Heia Italia), and he launched himself as an “anti-politician” – a clever move in a country where “politician” for many is an insult .

Italy - the Art of Twisting 2