If I were a pollster I would quiz you and me with the following riddle: “When several observers or politicians warn that an imminent danger menaces the Italian institutions, what do they mean? What are they afraid of?”
The trite answer -Berlusconi with his money, Tv channels and shady connections might make a try at dictatorship- appears kind of unplausible in view of the Premier’s difficulties after years of wear and tear. I am volunteering an answer: what the Cassandras prophesy is the coup d’état of somebody else than Berlusconi, somebody who in theory could even work for Berlusconi, but more probably would topple both the premier and his enemies.
Striking resemblances, I believe, exist between today’s Italian state of affairs and the situation of France in the twelve years of the Fourth Republic (1946-58), also the situation of Spain after the Annual (Morocco) military disaster of 1921, followed by the violent turmoil, both political and social, that tormented the domestic scene.
The health of France was restored by an illustrious physician called Charles de Gaulle. In 1923 Spain did not have such a great man; but a non-victorious general emerged, Miguel Primo de Rivera, who simply possessed the grit and the know-how to employ the customary tool of the 19th century in Spain- pronunciamiento, or military coup. For at least five years the success of Primo’s regime was strong. Even leftist historians concede that to general Primo (who assumed the official title of Dictador) went the almost unbounded consensus of the nation. Only intellectuals and militant fringes opposed the regime, until a financial crisis and the Spanish reverberations of the Great Depression erupted. F.Largo Caballero, a leading socialist who headed the nation’s most powerful unions and in 1937 will be the prime minister of the leftist Republic, supported Primo. In fact the political line and measures of the government favored the socialist movement, to the damage of the privileged classes.
Unlike past-century Spain, Italy does not have a tradition of top brass who practice politics. But her context shows some traits in common with so many emergent countries where often power struggles have been won by the sudden exercise of force by young colonels or junior generals, more or less connected with political groups but always enjoying popular support. The material, immediate tools of subversion are tanks and battalions, but the real force of the insurgents is popular dissatisfaction with civilian, normally corrupt and/or inefficient rulers.
Of course the frame of the European integration is hostile to any try at military intervention in civilian affairs. But would Brussels really mobilize international divisions to crush an hypotetical coup in a member State of the Union?
So my impression is: those who give notice of approaching danger to the Republic, really are conscious that a great many Italians are so fed-up with their politicians and institutions that they would acclaim a coup d’état. Some limited bloodshed could not be ruled out -not necessarily, though. Horse-sense would rather imply a wide and easy acceptance of new rulers. Isn’t such acceptance a millenary custom of the nation? Wasn’t Il Duce totally and willingly accepted in his first, say, 16 years in office?