Anger boils up over Italy's politics

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The Independent Online
Neo-Fascists shouted 'Duce, Duce', shopkeepers and craftsmen threatened to 'march on Rome' over taxes, death blows were dealt to the politicians' control of television, and the new, reformist 'Democratic Alliance' was founded as discontent boiled up at the weekend, not just with the government but with Italy's whole political system.

These were the latest symptoms of the ferment that is building up in Italy now that the Communist threat, which had propped up the Christian Democrat-led ruling class since the war, has collapsed and revealed the system for what it has become: rotten, self-serving and discredited. With luck and good judgement the ferment could produce healthy, honest reforms, but things could go very wrong - Italy's President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro warned last week it could end in dictatorship.

The most immediate danger is the fury among the 5 million self- employed - the country's worst tax-dodgers. The government plans to impose a minimum tax on them, which will be increased according to what it thinks they earn, instead of what they actually declare. The aim is to make these people - shopkeepers, artisans, lawyers, plumbers, dentists, restaurant owners - share the burden of the drastic measures needed to cut the colossal state deficit run up by the ruling parties over the years, and keep Italy in Europe.

Their associations are threatening 'marches on Rome' - a phrase unpleasantly reminiscent of the pre-war takeover by Mussolini's fascists - strikes and demonstrations at what their leaders charge is 'an aberration'. The three main trade union federations have no sympathy with them, arguing that their members, mainly salaried workers, have to bear the burden of their cheating. Most cabinet ministers are also unmoved, although commentators are warning that European history is littered with governments brought down by tax revolt.

But the fragile government of the Prime Minister, Giuliano Amato, is divided, with Claudio Martelli, the Justice minister, claiming the tax was reminiscent of the Soviet system. The split does not look fatal at present but Mr Martelli's aim is to become leader of the Socialist party and dissent may suit his ambition.

Meanwhile, the neo-fascist party, the MSI - for nearly 50 years the pariahs of the Italian political scene - staged a march of about 50,000 supporters through Rome on Saturday as part of its efforts to change its image and stage a revival.

Many demonstrators wore white gloves, to show they had clean hands unlike the ruling parties, while their leader, Gianfranco Fini, fulminated against their new arch-enemy, the Northern League and its threat to split up the country.

Alessandra Mussolini, the decorative granddaughter of the fascist dictator and an MSI MP, was there to help with the new image - which, however, was cancelled out by the presence of numerous youths in black shirts, the old fascist uniform, and by the shouts of 'Duce, Duce' (Mussolini's title) as the demonstration passed the balcony in Piazza Venezia from which Mussolini used to harangue the crowds.

A much smaller and more motley demonstration that day, led by the radical politician Marco Pannella, protested against the control of the news programmes on the state television channels by the political parties - the first channel is run by Christian Democrat-appointed editors, the second by Socialists and the third by former Communists.

The journalists themselves, heartily sick of the situation, will stage a 24-hour strike today for the same reasons. Mino Martinazzoli, the new Christian Democrat secretary-general who has the unenviable task of cleaning up his corrupt party, has said the politicisation of television, a vital source of party power and patronage, must end.

On the positive side, the new 'Democratic Alliance' of parties and groups who want to clean up and reform the political system held its first meeting in Rome at the weekend. The alliance looks destined to remain, at least for the time being, a loose grouping determined to fight for electoral reform and to present common lists, first of all at local elections. Its possible development into a political party, leaders believe, may only come later.

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