Italian soccer’s revolutionary decade

title_english.gifKarl Marx was right after all. Capitalism corrodes all traditions, no matter how ancient and revered they are. It does not care about the sacredness of the institutions it turns upside down, contaminating them with the logic of “callous cash payment,” as the philosopher stated in “The Communist Manifesto.”

Italians might well agree. After all, in the last 10 years they saw the rituals of the country’s most cherished and practiced religion drowning “in the icy water of egotistical calculation,” as Marx would have put it. We are talking about soccer, obviously.

In this revolutionary decade “all that is holy [was] profaned,” and in place of the calm reproduction of the old rituals, one finds endless upheavals bewildering not only fans but even prominent social scholars. In 1990 sociologist Alessandro Dal Lago dedicated the introduction of his book on soccer to the continuity of the phenomenon from the early beginnings to our age. Ten years later he had turned to self-criticism.

In those years he admitted in his book “Descrizione di Una Battaglia: I Rituali del Calcio” (Description of a Battle: The Rituals of Soccer) that “soccer was conquered by the devastating logic of television market” and “the very same organizational (and to some extent technical) structure of the game has been radically transformed, due to the intrusion of television market.”

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Italians lack confidence, innovation: Report

title_english.gifItalians did not have to wait until May 25 to know what they have felt for months. But now they can back up their feelings with the rigorous statistical data provided by the Italian National Statistics Institute (ISTAT)’s Annual Report released last Wednesday.

It’s a somber picture painted by the Italian statistical bureau: a country experiencing “enduring stagnation” whose “public administrators, entrepreneurs and citizens” were not able to find “measures aimed at eliminating weak points and appreciating strong points.”

Such a situation comes as no surprise as the latest confidence index by research institute ISAE fell to 84.2, the lowest since November 2001, as Bloomberg reported May 25, another sign of the “air of distrust” mentioned in the report.

On the macroeconomic front ISTAT confirms what the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and other international organizations have been repeating: Italy is unable to keep up with the rest of Europe. Between 1995 and 2004, Italy experienced slower growth than her neighbors –1.6 percent per year compared to a less-than-excellent 2.2 percent for the EU.

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Italy faces an economic nightmare

title_english.gifROME (Italy) — Three pieces of bad economic news in six days are hard for many prime ministers to take. It is even harder if you are a battered premier who was forced to briefly resign last month after a poor performance by your coalition in regional elections. But if your name is Silvio Berlusconi and you were elected after promising Italians a miracle, it is perhaps too much to absorb.

Let’s recall what happened. On May 12 preliminary data released by the statistics office ISTAT said Italy’s gross domestic product (GDP) shrank 0.5 percent in the first quarter of 2005. That makes two quarters in a row, since Italian GDP shrank by 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2004.

On May 17 Domenico Siniscalco, Italy’s economy minister, says the government is ready to cut the country’s 2005 economic growth, adding that the deficit could violate European Union limits and implicitly admitting government’s forecasts were overly optimistic.

The next day, the OECD publishes its latest economic survey of Italy asking for “further structural measures” in order to “reach budget targets in 2005.” The organization “projects further falls in 2005 and 2006 on the basis of announced policy measures, with the public-sector deficit exceeding 3 percent of GDP in 2005, more so in 2006.”

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Media concentration: the Italian case-study

berlusconi-thumb.jpgod_anim_strap_rollover.gifSilvio Berlusconi already controls three of the four main private TV channels in Italy, but he is intent also on using patronage to dominate Rai, the public sector network. When the prime minister of a country and its most powerful media magnate are the same person, how healthy can its democracy be?

On 22 February 2002, after many arduous days of negotiation, the board of directors of Rai (Radiotelevisione Italiana), Italy’s state-run terrestrial television system, was finally appointed. That day the sixth largest economy of the planet, became an interesting case-study for media scholars and social scientists from all over the world. Italy, in fact, will give them the unique opportunity to investigate ‘in the field’ the effects on a capitalist democracy of a prime minister with control of the six biggest terrestrial television channels in the country (totaling more than 90% of the national daily audience).

Berlusconi’s handshake

It is widely known that Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s prime minister, is the main shareholder in Mediaset, which operates three out of the country’s four private terrestrial television channels. In 2001, they attracted 43.17% of Italian television viewers. Equally widely known is the political use that Berlusconi has made of his channels.

During the 2001 election campaign, for example, Berlusconi was on the screen of Mediaset channels for 1427 minutes, compared to the 887 minutes of Francesco Rutelli, his centre-left opponent (data quoted in G. Pasquino ed., Dall’Ulivo al governo Berlusconi, il Mulino, 2002). Continua a leggere

Trade unions, Berlusconi and the Italian press

zlogo.gifIn a lucid article appeared on January 15th’s edition of la Repubblica, the second largest Italian newspaper, sociologist Luciano Gallino analyzed the strategies employed by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to limit trade unions’ power. As Gallino points out, Berlusconi “and the classes supporting him” represents Unions as “a pre-modern residual”, a “demodé institution”, an “obstacle to country’s modernization”, an “enemy of freedom” who is “opposed to the new powerful course now followed by the world”. Gallino doesn’t fail to notice, with regret, how much this ideology has been shared by that part of the Left who surrendered to “the ideology of modernization”.

But there is one thing that goes unsaid in Gallino’s analysis and for obvious reasons. Berlusconi, “the social classes supporting him” and the modernized left are not alone in holding such an ideology. The biggest Italian newspapers share precisely the same view and vigorously contributed to propagate it. Even before Berlusconi became Prime minister. And Repubblica, the biggest center-left newspaper had a part (and not a minor one) in the chorus. Continua a leggere