Viva Verdi, Viva Italia!

As Italy has voted, I am, as the son of an Italian, and a practitioner in the arts, thinking of Giuseppe Verdi and of the country he helped to create. Verdi is mainly known as one of the greatest composers of opera, but though that was his main and great talent, he had one for politics too. At a time when Italy was a collection of small and to some extent, rival principalities and states, the Risorgimento movement he supported, was fighting, for a nation of Italy, a unified State, the country we now know. Some interpret this as a nationalist movement, in fact it was a liberal patriotic one, its main feature a belief in unity and diversity, in a more liberal and democratic society. Against the power of local monarchs and especially that of the often draconian church, it had much in common with the ideas of the enlightenment, with a very Italian flavour of romanticism and chaos!

Verdi became, briefly, a member of the earliest national Italian parliament. As a man he did significant good, a landowner with a farm, he gave land to well looked after tenant farmers, and along with many of the liberals in business in the nineteenth century, in Britain, like Joseph Rowntree, and Samuel Morley, was a capitalist, if at all, with a conscience, or a farmer with a sense of fairness. He, for example, also put a great deal of money to setting up a home for retired or poor musicians and singers, at a time when in most countries there was a workhouse!

What Verdi would make of today I do not know. I suspect, like me, he would have liked the moderate progressive stance of the Democrats, but related to the maverick qualities of The Five Star Movement. I know one thing, he would, as the creator of The Chorus of The Hebrew Slaves in his opera Nabucco, unlike his rival, the prejudiced Wagner, have been concerned with the extremist politics, in Italy as anywhere, above all. We as supporters of a United Kingdom, and unity in Europe, must be concerned that liberals, in the Democratic party, who have their own group in that more social democrat party, with a link to Liberal International, as well as to the Progressive Alliance, do well, and are in any coalition. A right wing, emerging that is worrying, could be very problematic, for Italy, and the EU. The poor handling by the EU, of the refugee crisis, and of countries in it, from the UK to France, and especially from the perspective of Italy, by Hungary, means the populist right are on the march, literally. Organisations like The League or The Brotherhood of Italy, offer no real solutions. We must be vigilant.

* Lorenzo Cherin is an actor, writer, and regular contributor to politics as a member of the Liberal Democrats. He is based in Nottingham.

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15 Comments

  • Katharine Pindar 5th Mar '18 - 9:59pm

    Buena sera, Lorenzo, e grazie mille! Sono molto contenta per questo videre! Mi piace molto la musica lyrica d’Italia, e anche i belli monumenti e il calcio! But I fear the composer of Tosca would not have liked the current election result, with the rise of the right-wing and populist parties. I have never been a fan of Italian politics, much as I love the country, and dearly as I long to go back to Firenze and Roma and the loveliest lake Como. However, I don’t see it as being as problematic as the rise of the authoritarian leaderships of Hungary and Poland, or as defiant of Brussels. I trust l’Italia will stay loyal to the moral and democratic leadership of the EU in the long run, and remain as treasured.

  • I’ve never been a fan of Italian politics either, having lived there for a few years in the 80s. In those pre-tangentopoli days, it was corrupt, mafia-ridden, stale, predictable, trite and superficial. The Prime Minister when I arrived was Bettino Craxi of the “Socialist” Party (co-founder B. Mussolini), spectacularly corrupt even by the standards of Italian politics, so much so that he had to flee the country and live out the rest of his life in exile in Tunisia. His main financial backer was a young financier by the name of Silvio Berlusconi (to whose children he was godfather).

    But, if anything, it’s worse now. The economic crisis has led to rampant populism, which was already there in spades in the form of Berlusconi, who history will surely see as a precursor to Trump. I too still like Italy and visit when I can, but it’s hard to be optimistic for its future right now. The main centre-left party (PD), led by the scheming, vain, and massively unpopular Renzi, has suffered a crushing defeat getting less than 20% of the vote. Right of centre one sees a deeply unappealing bunch of racists, fascists, populists, and Berlusconi hangers-on, some combination of which will presumably form the next Italian Government.

    Where did it all go wrong? I don’t think there was ever a golden age of Italian politics, or anything like it. Italy has never really come to terms with its fascist era. Sometimes it’s almost sought to portray itself somehow as a victim of fascism while at the same time carrying on regardless as if nothing had happened. While the denazification process in Germany was considerably flawed, at least it took place, and all laws, statutes, and decrees passed under the Nazi regime were declared null and void. Nothing of the sort happened in Italy. When I was there, two-thirds of laws on the statute book still dated back to the Fascist era. And they were used too, sometimes for political repression. Go to any souvenir shop in Italy even today and you’ll find Mussolini trinkets and other such tourist kitsch. Even today in Italy there are friezes in public places displaying Mussolini on a horse giving his fascist salute with the fascist slogan “credere, ubbidire, combattere” (believe, obey, fight). I really don’t know what Italy’s way forward is, but maybe they need to confront their past first.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Mar '18 - 1:11am

    Brava, Katarina, grazie!

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 6th Mar '18 - 8:01am

    Lorenzo, thank you for this thought provoking article.
    I have always been fascinated by Italy’s ancient history, and have studied it a good deal (albeit in an amateur way). but your article has made me realise that there are some serious gaps in my knowledge of Italy’s relatively recent history, and its current situation – something I am resolving to rectify.
    I also feel inspired to listen to some Verdi, and to find out more about the man himself and his life.
    There should be more articles like this on Lib Dem Voice. We are supposed to be an internationalist party, and the party is, currently, supposed to be very pro European. But, as I think was mentioned recently in comments on another article (sorry, I cannot remember who it was who made this point), the party’s supposed interest in Europe does not seem to go much further than the institution of the EU, and is focused on the supposed benefits to Britain of EU membership.
    We ought to take far more interest in what is happening in the rest of Europe – and also, of course, in the rest of the world beyond the EU.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Mar '18 - 1:34pm

    Excellent contributions, thanks to you for these.

    Katharine is so correct on the difference between the politics of the country that most of us would not like and the country which most do.

    Mersey takes this up in detail in a very important comment as someone who has spent time there. He is so right about the corruption and the influences.

    Catherine Jane makes comments much appreciated because these reflective kinds of articles are really my whole approach to politics.

    There are dark forces at work in Italy which are indeed a throwback to Mussolini. Casapound named after EzraPound the wretched American poet who was literally a traitor in the ww2 as he had gone to Italy and broadcast against the allies and campaigned for the defeat of his own country in support of fascism. This group named after him is on the scene with few votes and members , yet is there. However, remember throughout the era pre Trump, when the most extreme in national politics in the US was centre left or right wing was Reagan, at least civilised and decent in tone or attitude, the American National Socialist party led by the hideous Rockwell, was legal and is now.

    Can I recommend to my excellent insightful commentators Domenico Modugno. He, like Verdi, was a man of culture , a man in politics. The first great singer songwriter of the modern era in Italy, he wrote the well known song, Volare. He was an actor , a writer and a wonderful man of humanitarian instincts who in an era of corruption and division, contributed the reverse. He had a massive stroke that left him disabled, but became a social liberal mp, a campaigner for disabilities to be better understood. He died in his later sixties, nearly a quarter of a century ago but inspires yet.

  • John Marriott 6th Mar '18 - 5:27pm

    Let’s not forget that, up until the middle of the 19th century, a single Italian State did not exist, which was a bit like Germany until 1871. Just as we Brits find it hard to embrace continental Europe, having, as an island, been isolated from it for long periods in our history, so I imagine it must still be difficult to get the various former Kingdoms and city states of Italy, with their own distinct histories and traditions, to work as one.

  • I’m all for educated populism. I think that is how it works these days and it’s here to stay.

  • Rita Giannini 7th Mar '18 - 1:03pm

    I would like to point out that in this elections there was a list which was openly linked to the liberal family, +Europa. They didn’t do very well, but they still got 2.5% and elected 3 members of parliament, one of them in the Europe Constituency: a goof omen for the European Elections next year!

  • Nick Collins 7th Mar '18 - 3:13pm

    Lorenzo,

    Classic FM are plugging John Suchet’s book on Verdi. Have you read it? If so, a review here would be interesting.

  • Peter Martin 9th Mar '18 - 6:18am

    Many people tend to switch off whenever see someone like myself banging on about economics. Words like surpluses and deficits sectoral and balances often elicit sighs and groans.

    However, no-one should just expect any economic system to just work. They tend, no matter that some might say they should, not to be self regulating. When they go wrong they cause exactly the kind of social disruption we are seeing in Italy now and have seen in other countries too. The causes of WW2 were economic in origin.

    It doesnt matter how many changes of government there are in countries like Greece and Italy. If the govts are hamstrung by the rules and regulations of the stability and growth pact which are imposed by the EU as a condition of the euro, nothing can change.

    Voters become disenchanted with the mainstream and centrist parties. They turn to the the extremes or the left or right. Usually the right.

    The euro was set up by politicians who didn’t know what they were doing. The situation in Italy now is a direct consequence of that.

  • Nonconformistradical 9th Mar '18 - 7:39am

    @Peter Martin
    ¨Many people tend to switch off whenever see someone like myself banging on about economics. Words like surpluses and deficits sectoral and balances often elicit sighs and groans.¨

    Perhaps you should try harder to make it more comprehensible to ordinary human beings…?

  • @ Peter Martin I much prefer Verdi, thank you very much.

  • Peter Martin 9th Mar '18 - 9:08am

    @ Nonconformist,

    I do my best but it’s not possible to make it easier that it is. Although I’d say some try to make it appear more difficult than it should be.

    Try this for size. Many would say that Italy’s problem isn’t caused by economic austerity. Instead, it needs “structural reforms”. Then it could be like Germany. True, this is a way to make the SGP work for you. You have to become so efficient that you run a sizeable trade surplus. Then you’ve got euros coming into the country to keep the economy functioning properly.

    But it’s arithmetically impossible for everyone to be able to do this no matter how many “structural reforms” are implemented. If the authors of the SGP genuinely had the interests of the EU at heart, rather than those of certain individual countries, they must somehow have overlooked the very simple principle that trade has to balance overall. And that if some countries are in surplus, others have to run deficits.

  • Nonconformistradical 9th Mar '18 - 9:23am

    No Peter – that is nowhere near good enough. Start talking about concepts such as ¨economic austerity¨ in a way which actually means something to people struggling to make ends meet for starters (putting food on table and roof over head etc.).

    Stop living on some highbrow planet.

  • Peter Martin 9th Mar '18 - 9:45am

    @ David Raw,

    I’d prefer to watch the Italian side playing football myself!

    @ Nonconformist,

    As my comment above might indicate, I’m no “highbrow” ! But when people are looking for work and not finding any, or if they do, the wages on offer aren’t living wages, then we do need to put on our thinking caps and ask why this should be. The alternative is to start pointing the finger at say its all the fault of immigrants!

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