Police are tossing tear gas in the streets of Rome today, as riots break out in the wake of Silvio Berlusconi surviving as Prime Minister after surviving a close confidence vote. CNN reporter Dan Rivers says the protesters are “clearly very angry,” no doubt prompted by the rocks and bottles whizzing past his head.
What are they so angry about? Well, Italian unemployment and public debt are very high. Berlusconi is under political assault from Gianfranco Fini, who formed his own party after getting kicked out of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party. Fini’s insurgent movement is called the Future and Liberty Party. Whoever comes up with the names for Italian political parties is worth every lira. Er, euro. They use euros now. That might be one of the reasons they’re throwing bottles.
Another important reason is the same one that made London so lively last week: budget cuts for universities. Today’s unrest was apparently started by a group of students who separated from a peaceful march. There were other protests before various Italian landmarks last month. If you look carefully at any given group of student protesters, you find all sorts of interesting people mixed in with them. The London riots turned into an anarchist jamboree.
Berlusconi is a colorful figure who spends his weekends coming up with reasons for people to be furious with him. CNN includes a messy divorce, allegations of tax fraud, misogynist insults at a female political opponent, turning up at the birthday party for an 18-year-old girl without his wife, turning up at other parties with women other than his wife, and telling Holocaust jokes among his misadventures. He accuses those who don’t agree with his policies of “betrayal,” but recent electoral losses for his party are said to be forcing him to “do some horse trading” and compromise. He’s like a weird fusion of every American politician. If he starts complaining about being “taken hostage” by his opponents, he’ll end up like William Hurt at the end of Altered States.
One of the problems with multi-party parliamentary systems is that you have more people yelling insults at each other on camera, but less actually getting done. There’s a lot of high political drama as smaller parties, more focused on specific interests, work to keep their supporters fired up during endless negotiations to form and maintain coalitions. The entire reason for the Future and Liberty Party’s existence is hatred of Silvio Berlusconi, a platform that obviously doesn’t sit well with Berlusconi. Now both of them are fighting for the support of the Christian Democratic Union, currently in the Future and Liberty Party’s camp. I just threw a bottle after writing all that. I can imagine how the people who actually live in Italy feel.