The problem with talking about events in Italy, particularly political events, is that, as they move forward, often at a great rate and with considerable fluster, they nonetheless drag their significance behind them, fanning out into an endless murk, so far behind them and in such confusion that what we are faced by is nothing, a bagatelle, a minor scandal, and so we don’t know where to start, which thread to begin to unpick, which rumour to substantiate or set aside, which name to name, which reputation to save or besmirch. In other words, they’re rather like the previous sentence, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you were tempted to give up and wonder why I hadn’t just posted a photograph of my dog again. So thank you for getting this far.
The event that triggered this post is the news that Clemente Mastella, Italy’s minister of justice, is being investigated for a series of crimes, including the abuse of his office and membership of secret associations (read: masonic lodges), in connection with an inquiry into the activities of one of his chums, a certain Antonio Saladino, a powerful entrepreneur, connected to the world of politics, the church and, it’s said, organised crime, as well as being ex-owner of a temping agency called Why Not. Why not indeed?
In a normal country a minister of justice who found himself under investigation would, at the very least, remove himself until the investigation was concluded. But Italy isn’t a normal country. Mastella’s first reaction was to attempt to remove not himself, but the investigating magistrate, Luigi De Magistris. In a normal country, De Magistris would have sought redress within the structure, and probably found it. In Italy, he went on prime-time television to defend his position. In a normal country, this would have been seen as inappropriate. In Italy, it’s absorbed into political discussions of a Byzantine complexity as to how long the Prodi government can survive. Because, of course, if Mastella goes, or is forced to go, he’ll take his 1.4% (yes, that’s right – 1.4%) with him and the government will fall. At this point, his innocence or guilt is irrelevant. In a normal country, a man whose party contrives to win 1.4% of the popular vote and whose attitude towards the morality of the state and its representatives is notoriously elastic, would not be minister of justice in the first place.
In Italy, he is. In the meantime, De Magistris has been taken off the case.