Opinions - 28.02.2014 - 00:00 

“Scrapper of old elites”

Italy has a new prime minister and hopes that this marks a turning point. Renato Martinoni, professor of Italian language and literature, on the recent transition of power in Rome.

28 February 2014. Some time ago, the word “rottamare”, meaning “to scrap”, came into fashion in Italy. The “scrappers”, those who clean things up, have become everybody’s darlings.

Everyone knows that the “new” is fascinating and promotes confidence in politics. Together with a majority of his moderate left Partito Democratico (PD), Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi rudely kicked fellow party member Enrico Letta out of office and thus became Italy’s new prime minister. Renzi, who has no parliamentary experience, gives a good account of himself. He is personable, has charisma and a huge talent for playing to the gallery. His speeches are not free of populist tones, but Italians are used to that since Berlusconi entered the playing field.

Reforming a powerless system

Italy’s biggest problems are the economic crisis that includes a high rate of youth unemployment, and the need to reform a gridlocked, powerless system. But the slogan is always the same: “Family, work, economy” and is now framed by two buzzwords: “simplicity” and “courage”.

It may seem harsh, but it is not surprising, that Berlusconi, who lost his senate seat because of his many legal issues, is still politically active and appears on TV talking about a “responsible opposition”. Renzi, of all people, the self-proclaimed “scrapper of old elites”, pays court to the oldest that the old political caste has to offer and may even want to work with him.

Eliminating old rivalries

Certainly, the country must establish new compromises and eliminate old rivalries. Renzi is a man of clear words, he speaks in the name of “the Italians” and not in the name of “those who agree with him”, as if a politician could represent the collective’s wishes. Before him, it was Berlusconi who acted and talked exactly like that. Meanwhile, not everybody is happy. This is already the third recent government (after Mario Monti and Enrico Letta) that was not formed through democratic elections, but was appointed by the republic’s president, Giorgio Napolitano.

The old differences between “right” and “left” no longer seem to exist. Just like Enrico Letta, whose career started in the Christian-Democratic faction, Renzi’s brilliant career began in the Catholic ranks. Communism and the “historic” Left are only faded photographs to them, though. While Letta is a centrist, serious, reasonable person and is accepted abroad, Renzi is still unknown in Europe and has no international experience.

A turning point for Italy?

Immediately after the swearing-in, Renzi convened the new cabinet that includes eight women and eight men. Half of the Italians are convinced the new government can be a historic turning point. Meanwhile, the media have celebrated the 39-year-old Renzi as Italy’s youngest prime minister. If one thinks of the Republican Italy, this statement is correct. If one thinks of the 20th century Italy, one is drawn to the comparison with another prime minister who also was not elected by the people and who came to power at age 39. His first name was Benito. Let us hope that the young age and a certain rhetorical agility will be the only similarities.

Photo: Photocase / buschbrand

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