Letter: Old habits will die hard despite Italian reforms

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The Independent Online
Sir: While it is to be hoped that Italy's reforms will bring better government (leading article, 9 August), there are limiting factors, all interrelated.

First, Italy's public and private insolvency has been constantly underestimated and often hidden. At the same time, Italy launders the profits on half the world's drug traffic and has also probably been the biggest 'black hole' yet for EC funds. After the scandals comes the day of reckoning, and the social strains could be traumatic.

Second, Italy's Christian Democrat and Fascist parties retain their power base in the south, and no one should suppose that the Mafia will shut up shop. Italy's shadowy power elite has already started issuing terroristic warnings, aimed at the heart of Italy.

Third, as Italian psychologists and sociologists have pointed out, Italy's corrupt, far from having any sense of 'guilt', suffer only the 'shame' at having been exposed. It is said that the Mafia is born in the close-knit Italian family. Allegiances tend to be with relatives, friends, and local party and business bosses. Thus the corrupt MP, minister or business baron is simply the local boy 'made good'. Corruption is endemic at all levels of society, and old habits die hard.

'Civil society' in Italy is historically weak. Italians look back for reasons beyond 1945, or Mussolini, or even the 'risorgimento'. Italy, for example, had a Renaissance, but not a Reformation. Martin Luther lived, Giordano Bruno did not. Even now, the Vatican exhorts the faithful to obey traditional authority rather than their own consciences in important personal and political matters. On the other hand, the new parties - the Northern League, the PDS (Democratic Left) and others - speak a new language containing a more 'Protestant', secular and universalistic ethic.

Italians need a state that they believe will foster their rights, and to which they feel inclined to fulfil their obligations. The old political and social mould is being challenged, but the dangers, as elsewhere in Europe, are considerable. As Noberto Bobbio said recently, '. . . our destiny as a civilised country is at stake'.

Yours faithfully,


Rhyl, Clwyd