Interview With Fabio Cavalera, Corriere Della Sera London Correspondent

I meet Mr. Cavalera just outside Kensington High Street tube station. He  has a copy of the ‘Corriere’ in hand, and the look of the journalist who has been through lots. He shakes my hand and takes me to a nice bar. The place is owned by Kosovars who stutter a few words of Italian. He takes a double espresso, I take a single, and we begin to talk.

I start by asking about how one becomes a journalist in Italy these days; I ask how he started, and if he has any advice for us, youngsters. He tells me everything in a convincing and logical manner, and makes me realize that, unfortunately, in Italy it isn’t simple. There is a high road (the graduate school of journalism), but it is difficult, if not impossible, to make it through the selection process. We talk about the British and Italian University systems, the romanticism that used to pervade journalism, and then we move onto the heavy topics:

AI: So, these 35 ‘Wise Men’ (senior members of the Italian Parliament appointed by Prime Minister Letta for constitutional Reforms), are they necessary?

FC: Italy is a difficult country to reform: deep changes are needed, but I don’t see any will to actually follow through with reforms. These 35 ‘Wise’ men will get together, quarrel, and then everything they come up with will be closed in a box and thrown away. Politicians on both sides have been speaking about constitutional reforms for 30 years. They should spend that political capital on other priorities, for example the electoral law. However, as a disillusioned center-left voter myself, I understand that it is convenient for the main parties to keep it (the electoral law) the way it is. Before expressing an opinion on the ‘Wise’ men, we must ask ourselves: what can we realistically expect from this ruling class?

AI: What do you propose then?

FC: You have to wipe out the ruling class of both parties. I do not belong to those who make moral judgments on Mr. Berlusconi, but I think that as a political leader, he is not helpful to the country. The left needs a partner on the other side to have a serious debate with, and the left itself has to be more rigorous with its political claims.

AI: What do you think of the Italian anomaly, by which the right campaigns on Keynesian economic policies, while the left campaigns on fiscally conservative ones?

FC: In Italy this has always been the case. On this point, we must recognize that the Berlusconi-Tremonti government did not dismantle the welfare state, and indeed executed policies to support jobs during the first part of the economic crisis. Now it must be made clear to us [voters]: 1 – Who still wants austerity; 2 – Who wants to stimulate the economy, and where to get the money for these reforms.

AI: Let’s move onto London: you often write on Islam, the article on Hanan Al-Shaykh (which you can read here ) comes to mind. Here in London resides the fastest-growing Muslim community in the world. Do you think that Islam will one day be represented in highest institutions of the UK?

FC: Islam is already represented in this country’s institutions, and many MPs (members of parliament) represent the interests of the Islamic community. One is reminded of Baroness Warsi, already chairwoman of the Conservatives. Nevertheless, I do not think that we will ever have a Muslim Prime Minister.

In Italy, the Islamic community does not expand as quickly because of the Vatican’s Influence, and the resistance of Italian Catholics to this type of migration. When discussing immigration in France and England, there ‘s also the issue of Colonialism as a historical reason for this migration.

AI: Do you think that the strong Vatican presence does not leave space for the discussion of important matters such as the liberalisation of prostitution or the legalisation of drugs?

FC: The Vatican’s presence is felt more in Italy than in the rest of the world. The separation between secular and ecclesiastical powers is a formality in Italy, but not perfectly executed. However society changes, young people change and the Church changes. The new pope has already made revolutionary statements. For example he referred to the role of Nuns as a ‘motherly’ one, which represents a huge revolution in the way of thinking of the old order.

AI: Are you a Catholic man?

FC: I do not actively practice, and I am not a man of the Church. My family has always been secular. However I do not hold any kind of prejudice toward Catholics. I see a very curious evolution happening in the Vatican’s positions, and I believe that the Pope should be listened to, if only because he is a moral guide to so many people. You have to pay close attention to what he says, even though his positions can sometimes be very conservative.

AI: On the parallel between the UK and Italy: Chris Huhne resigns as MP for a speeding ticket, and for attempting to mislead the judiciary using his position of power. In Italy, this does not even stir.

FC: Here in the UK stands a principle: If you lie, you gotta go. Even if you tell a lie about the most stupid of things, you have to leave. In Italy there is no ‘social sanction’, whereas in the UK there is a very strong sense of this. The politician who is thought to have done wrong is immediately set aside by public opinion.

AI: In Italy there is the Berlusconi- anomaly. Up to 9 million Italians voted for Berlusconi in the last General Elections, and believe that the judiciary is corrupt. You therefore have a situation in which there are two contradictory types of social sanctions resulting from two dichotomous groups of voters, the Berlusconi supporters and the non-Berlusconi supporters. The former punishes the magistrates, the latter Berlusconi’s behavior.  How do we get out of this deadlock?

FC: In Italy we have a huge distortion in our political system. A media tycoon with great power, taking advantage of the systemic crisis of Italian politics in the 80s and 90s, used his power to convince Italians of his ideas. He has been so persuasive in the way in which he set out to do politics, using television and other media, that his opponents started doing the same. Politics then became sensationalised. Think about it, which parties are truly in touch with their voter base?

AI: Maybe the 5 Stars Movement?

FC: Yes, movements like M5S and the Northern League, at least in its beginnings, were both despised by the popular media, but held firmly in touch with their physical voters. The other parties have lost their direct relationship with the voter, and the ability to understand what people want, because of this new culture that Berlusconi introduced us to.

AI: Maybe that ‘s why we had poor turnout for the final campaign speeches in the Rome Communal Elections?

FC: Absolutely. You have to remember that the election of a Mayor is much more based on the physical relationship with the citizens. The skill of a Mayor can be measured in small daily things – benches, roads, water fountains, etc.. However, when we get to the general elections, other factors come into play, and Berlusconi is extremely good at campaigning. Look at his success on Servizio Pubblico(a politics show that is very critical of the right wing leader), where he clearly came out victorious against ‘enemy’ journalists like Santoro and Travaglio. In Italy, there is no more ‘social sanction’. This leads to the rise of populist phenomena that give only short-term responses. Berlusconi is a populist, Grillo is a populist, and also the Democrats often campaign on populist positions.

AI: Where did Bersani go wrong in the election campaign?

FC: Bersani lost because of the lack of serious proposals on cutting political parties’ finances, and the cost of politics in general. He also failed to make concrete proposals on a law to regulate conflicts of interest. He said too little. And now the Democrats are collecting ‘own goals’. On the electoral law, for example, where even a proposal coming from the very Democratic Party, with the support of 5 Stars Movement, was rejected by parts of the same Democratic party!

Because of this chronic indecision, magically, the PDL has lost 6 million votes since the last general elections, but is actually perceived to have won the election. Bersani also failed in proposing himself as candidate for the premiership. If he would have opted for Rodota’ instead, he could have joined forces with 5 Stars and created a reformist government. As a last point, the Democratic Party’s decisions on Romano Prodi’s nomination for president of the republic were just right out indecent.

AI: On the university system: for the young this is the focal point of any debate, but no party talks about it. Would it be a smart move to open the Italian university to the free market, make it possible for companies to step in where the public sector can’t, to get rid of nepotism and to encourage meritocracy?

FC: Yes, I believe so. One must be careful on how to go about this debate, however, because some on the left will cry out against the privatization of education. We must encourage private investments, and Italian companies must believe more in investing in research instead of hiding money abroad. We must also be sure that there are resources such as scholarships for students of poor backgrounds, and student loans as there are here in the UK. Unfortunately, in Italy we lack the reformist culture to make these changes.

AI: Last question: Is London better than Italy in terms of living standards?

FC: London is London, you can live very well here. It’s an open-minded city, very alive even in a difficult time like this. In the city, you can sense the rule of law. I feel sorry every time I go back to Italy because whilst it is undeniable that ours is a beautiful country filled with culture and nature, it is decadent, especially for young people. I think of my daughter’s future when I say this.

wake the f#*! up

A.I.