of, resp. by
- "Staying permit" (Permesso di soggiorno), Italy
- "The ambassador dispute"
- "Protect your corruption by becoming a
politician !" (Italy)
In 1988, I had moved from Leoben University (Austria) to the University
of Milan (Italy), where I remained until coming back to Austria in 1999.
In '88, Austria was not yet member of the European Union. For living in Italy,
I needed a staying permit (permesso di soggiorno), to be obtained from
the division for foreigners (ufficio stranieri) of the police (questura di Milano).
Already at that time, foreign non EU immigration had become considered as a "problem"
in Italy, and the politically correct word had become "extracomunitario" (person
from outside EU), replacing the politically incorrect "marocchino" - a tag
resulting from the fact that many of those immigrants were illegal and coming from North
So together with those "marocchini", I became an "extracomunitatrio" in Italy.
For these human beings, entering the "ufficio stranieri" was similar to entering
one of the antechambers of Dante's Inferno.
There was an Italian law saying that foreigners could apply and be nominated
for professor positions in Italy under certain reciprocity conditions (an Italian
citizen should have the analogous possibility in the foreigner's country), which
had been certified to hold in my case. So, as a professor, I became a
regular functionary in Italy, while at the same time being "extracomunitario".
Of course, the officers ("marescialli", usually wearing fancy uniforms)
of the Questura di Milano had never heard of that law, and neither had
the head of of the "ufficio stranieri"). In fact, they only knew one procedure
how a non-EU foreigner could obtain a working and staying permit in Italy, namely
that before that person could enter the country, the employer ought to have
settled all the issues via some complicated burocratic procedure. However,
that procedure could at no point be applied to the other procedure
for the selection and nomination of a university professor as a functionary
of the Italian state. Indeed, I just had received a formal letter saying that
I had to start my work at the university on a certain day, while otherwise
I would loose my nomination ("pena scadenza dalla nomina").
The people at Questura di Milano were extremely puzzled that my employer
(the university, i.e., the state himself !) had already employed me without going
through that procedure. So they just gave me a staying permit for three
months as a university visitor - a type of figure they were acquainted with.
The main point is that the law regulating the admission of foreigners for professor
positions had come from
the ministry of education, while the rules which the people at the foreign
division were used to obey came from the ministry of Interior: it is of course
absurd to believe that in Italy, a subject subordinated to one ministry would
know, or accept, laws that were elaborated at another ministry.
So I was forced to return to the antechamber of the Inferno for repeated renewals
of my staying permit,
which caused me anxious heartbeat and similar distress.
Well, it is true that one could always find some solution - this is Italy !
At a later state,
a puzzled maresciallo had sent me to the secretary of the head ("capo") of the
ufficio stranieri. I told this guy (in Italian, at which I'm fluent) that I was a
functionary of the Italian state like he was one ("Sono un funzionario dello
Stato Italiano come Lei !"), at which point he looked at me like wanting to send me
to a mental clinic immediately. Then I even spoke with the "capo" in person,
who also was unable to believe that I was right. But my institute's director
(Italian citizen, whence recognizable as a functionary of the state) phoned
the "capo", after which I got a staying permit for a whole year (wow !) for
my permanent position. It was still under the title of a temporary visitor.
I had to go on like this until Austria joined the European Union in 1995,
after which things got significantly simpler for me.
Given these very absurd experiences, I started a small enquiry among other
foreign mathematics professors in Italy about their different experiences
(not just "permesso di soggiorno"), whose results I even published
in the newletter of the Italian Mathematical Union (mid-1990s).
I found that all of the other "professori extracomunitari" in different
Italian cities had had to face similar problems, and at no stage had
it been possible to obtain a clarification from the involved ministries
(Interior, Education, and also Foreign affairs). One of the funniest
examples was that of a Polish colleague at University dell'Aquila,
where even the Rector of the University had tried to explain those things
to the Questura, without success. As a tenured full professor, the Polish guy
had permanently had to
go on with three months' staying permits as a University visitor (like myself
at the beginning, before the upgrading to a year's duration), and nobody at
the "ufficio stranieri" had the courage to sign a regular long term staying
permit. This went on until the day when the colleague met a young employee
(of lower rank) at the office, whose boyfriend happend to be a student of that
professor. Only because of this, she took the (utmost) personal responsability
to issue a long term staying permit. Apparently she was not fired, and probably
nobody in the Questura even became aware of her extremely courageous act.
Linked with this story, there would be further absurd ones, relating to the
abovementioned reciprocity, needed at that time for foreigners to become
professors in Italy...
Back to table of contents.
In 1999, university professors in Austria formally were still functionaries
in the higher administration of the republic. All nominations of higher
functionaries had to be approved by the council of ministers and signed by
the president - including my nomination as a full professor at TU Graz.
One knew that the official nomination decree would usually arrive only
shortly before the scheduled commencement of duties, and all necessary steps
had to be completed before that, anyway. Thus, in late spring
1999, I already had comunicated to University of Milano-Bicocca that I'd quit
by September, I had signed a pre-contract for selling our house near Milano,
and a contract for buying a new house in Graz. At this point, by chance, I came
to know of the "ambassador dispute".
For this, you must know that Austria is being governed since decades
(with an unhappy period of a right-wing governement at the beginning of this
millennium) by a "big coalition" of the social democrats and the people's party, who
profoundly hate each other but can hardly avoid governing together and
(simultanesously) against each other. In 1999, the position of the Austrian
ambassador at the European Commission had become vacant. Typically, any such
position is owned by one of the two parties. The EU ambassador had been from
the people's party, who claimed the new ambassador for their party again.
On the other hand, the Austrian member of the EU commission, Franz Fischler
(one of the very few competent Austrian politicians), also was a member of the
So the social democrats said: "now we should get the ambassador, you already
got the commissioner".
Reply of the people's party: "not even dreaming, that ambassador belongs to us",
then social democrats: "NO", then people's party:
"OK - then we block the nomination of the EU
ambassador in the council of Ministers", then social democrats:
"well - then we block all ambassador nominations in the council of Ministers",
and finally people's party: "in response, we block all nominations of
functionaries in the higher administration".
So, at that point (late June 1999), with one house being sold, another
being bought, subject to valid contracts, and already having resigned from
my position in Milano, I learned that it was completely unclear if
I would be able to receive my nomination decree in due time, or at any time.
Well, I got really angry, and without any hesitation I phoned
the offices of the minister of science, Caspar Einem (one of the last
social democrat intellectuals in the government; usually
the social democrats in the government carefully avoid any suspicion of being
intellectuals) and the vice chancellor, Wolfgang Schüssel (popular
party, soon later leader, with some Machiavelli-Fouche'-type aspirations,
of the unpleasant right wing coalition with the "freedom party"). Of course,
my intervention had no effect at all.
At this point, I remembered that the Austrian EU commissioner Fischler
had been a distant study colleague of my sister, who also knew his wife
quite well. So I phoned my sister in Innsbruck, who phoned Fischler's wife,
and it turned out that Fischler was a true gentleman. Coming home from
Brussels only for a short weekend, with hardly any time for his family,
he had political obligations to attend events such as maybe a
parade of a Tyrolean
Schützen company, a fire brigade feast or a performance by the brass
music band of some village. Nevertheless, I could speak with him personally
on the telephone, and he explained the situation quite clearly: namely,
that for solving my case, Einem should approach Schüssel asking
for an exception to the blockade, but that Einem would be too proud to do this,
while Schüssel would say no anyway. Fischler promised me that he would
speak with one of his friends in the government (the minister of agriculture
Molterer, at this time still a bearer of hope for his party), and that
I could phone him again on the next day at a certain hour. Not only did Fischler
keep that promise, but he phoned me back by his own initiative ! Result: maybe there
would be a general solution of the ambassador dispute in the next council of
ministers. Otherwise, he might suggest to Molterer to undertake some step.
Well, luckily, in the next council of ministers, they solved the dispute
(the social democrats gave in, as so often), and in the end I did receive
my nomination decree still in time. But anyway:
ISN'T IT RIDICULOUS HOW POLITICAL PARTIES ARE WILLING TO PUT AT
RISK THE FATE OF CITIZENS WHO HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THEIR
CHILDISH QUARRELS !?
Back to table of contents.
The next true story regards real history,
of CAF, Tangentopoli, Mani pulite and Berlusconi - nowadays I realise
that even young Italian friends and colleagues do not know too well
this part of recent history.
When I moved to Milano in 1988, Italy was governed by the CAF,
Craxi - Andreotti - Forlani, the leading trio of the Pentaparito,
a 5 party coalition of Christian Democrats (DC), Socialists, Liberals
and 2 more, very small parties. Andreotti and Forlani where the
leading figures (which does not mean friends) of the DC, while Craxi
was the boss of the Socialists, second biggest party in the Pentapartito with considerably
fewer seats in parliament. However, Craxi was very clever in exercising
much more governmental power than would correspond to his party's size,
because the participation of his party was crucial for keeping the
coalition alive. He had been a very smart and successful politician.
In the case of mister C, I believe that the - already
apparent - missing moral was lived as a pleasant side effect of the games
of political power.
The mentality of the politicians of that period is very well described in
movie from 1991, "Il Portaborse" by Daniele Lucchetti and with Nanni
Moretti in the role of a politician who makes one think of mister C - whose
friends, indeed, protested with indignation against the film.
Unfortunately, that movie (highly recommended !), even though it has not lost
its actuality at all, has been forgotten by many Italians and was never
synchronised in any other language.
In that period, a successful entrepreneur had erected a modern satellite city
nearby Milano: Silvio Berlusconi. He also was a media tycoon, owning
three nation-wide TV channels plus the daily newspaper "Il Giornale".
The acquisition of
the publishing house Mondadori (with many journals and magazines)
against the other aspirant De Benedetti was accompanied by bribery and
various disgusting events that became visible in the early 1990ies.
In a long series of trials, some collaborators
of mister B were definitively condemmned, but not mister B himself because
his lawyers had - as so often in other cases - succeeded in protracting the
lawsuits until they fell under prescription. This was the
first clamorous and very well visible case (probably preceded by others)
of the corruption surrounding mister B.
Already in the late 1980ies, democratic institutions became aware of the
fact that it did/does not foster democracy if a single person or group owns
several public TV channels, because of the possibly partial impact on public
opinion. The parliament prepared a law that was to limit to one the number
of nationwide channels owned by a single person or group. At this point, mister B
sought help from his friend, the powerful politician: At the last moment,
Craxi blocked the decision in parliament, and that law was not enacted.
One may guess that the friendship between misters B and C had
various other mutual benefits.
At the beginning of the 1990ies, the lasting CAF government(s) gave many
Italians a feeling of deadly stagnation. At this point, a new populist - separatist
movement emerged in the northern parts of Italy, the Lega Nord, which in the
regional elections of 1992 scored a first success that was dreadful for the CAF
That very moment also marked the beginning of the Mani Pulite (clean hands)
era that ended in overthrowing Italy's political system completely.
In February 1992, the director of the old-age home "Pio Albergo Trivulzio",
Socialist party member Mario Chiesa was arrested in flagranti while
taking a bribe of 7 million Lire for a public contract for a private cleaning
enterprise. (Italian has the illustrative mathematical-geometrical term
tangente for this type of bribe.) The enquiry was conducted
by the public prosecutor Antonio di Pietro, who gained fame with the
subsequent avalanche of enquiries against corrupt leading politicians of almost
all Italian parties. In ordinary circumstances, an enquiry such as the one
against Mario Chiesa would have come quickly to a halt: the public prosecutor
would unexpectedly receive a promotion and/or order of transfer to another
unit or town, therefore having to leave the enquiry behind which then would end
up in some drawer below many other documents. (For this, Italian has the
illustrative term insabbiatura - putting sand into, or over the
enquiry.) However, in that moment, the Socialist leaders and their assistants,
like those of the rest of the Pentapartito,
were staring immobilised at the Lega Nord and her success like the rabbit staring
at the snake, and missed the
right moment for the insabbiatura. The enquiry gained too much momentum
to be stopped anymore.
What followed was a domino effect: when some lower party rank was found
to have been involved in some activities of corruption, his leaders would take
their distance, with statements of the type: "these misdeeds were committed against
the purity principles of the party by an isolated smaller figure, of course without
our knowledge, it is a misfortune that he could become a party member, and
he will of course be expelled" and so on and so forth. At that point, the lower
rank would unveil some facts he knew about some higher rank and/or some member
of some other party. In this way, higher and higher party ranks, first of
the Socialists, then of the Christian Democrats and soon the others,
received an avviso di garanzia (notification of enquiry, something
the Italian prosecution was obliged to send to any citizen against whom some
enquiry is taken up).
At that time, at least the political moral was such that a politician who received
a few avvisi di garanzia would step down. Nowadays, thanks to the
devastating effects that mister B had on the public moral, no member of parliament
or senate (protected by immunity) cares at all about a giuridical sentence,
let be just any kind of notification of enquiry.
In the course of the enquiries, some high party ranks such as the Socialist
Sergio Moroni and the Christian Democrat treasurer Severino Citaristi committed
suicide. Soon, the enquiries reached mister C himself: in February 1993, Bettino
Craxi resigned from the Socialist party lead (secretary). In 1994, he escaped
from all lawsuits and convictions by moving to his villa in Hammamet, Tunisia.
(He did not return to Italy before his death in 2000.)
At this point, Berlusconi had lost his principal political protector.
He could expect that the enquiries would reach also him sooner or later,
and that after the elections of 1994, the number of nationwide TV channels
owned by himself and his group might be limited to one by a new government.
He decided to
enter politics. With help of his newspaper, three TV channels, an elaborate
electoral campaign and promises of a future wealth reminding the tales of
1001 nights, he and his newly founded party won the elections.
Many Italians seemed to happily believe those fairy tale - promises. I also had
the impression that there was another motivation behind this: at first,
it was pleasant to see the mighty politicians fall under the Mani Pulite
accusations. But after two years of scandals and enquiries, not only a
certain saturation of that pleasure was gained. It became clear that after sweeping
through the political caste, the new requirements of correctness were also
about reach the doorsteps
of all ordinary Italian citizens. This was maybe not so well perceived
in a country where the civil responsibility, the acknowledgement of a "res publica"
is in part painfully underdevelopped. Mister B became the voice and
spiritus rector of this part of the Italian people.
The new role as a politician, and in particular as the prime minister, suited
mister B perfectly. Soon the first avviso di garanzia,
followed by many more as well as summons to appear in court, lawsuits, and
so on arrived. Every day of the year is close to a recent, current or imminent
political activity: thus on each occasion, mister B could claim something like
"it proves the obvious partiality of the public prosecutors that they deliver
this notice exactly today, in this moment of very delicate political
issues" and so on and so forth. On every day, he could (as he still uses to do)
transform judiciary actions against his (presumed or proven) corruption
into "political attacks of judges who are biased by communism" or similar.
Also, he could - as he did - change laws in his favour, such as tightening
the rules for prescription (mister B's lawyers have been very successful in
delaying his lawsuits beyond any such limit) or transforming false accouting
into a minor delict.
The first Berlusconi government did not even last for a year, because the
Lega Nord left the coalition with the Berlusconi party (re-entering in 2001).
There are different
interpretations for the motivation. My idea has been that this was in part
due to a "trap" of the Christian Democrat leader Rocco Buttiglione towards
the Lega boss Umberto Bossi: the aim seems to have been to replace the Lega
with the former Christian Democrats, at that point re-baptised Partito Popolare, in a coalition
with Berlusconi's Forza Italia. However, this lead to a division of that party
into two pieces, after the party's majority rejected an orientation towards
Forza Italia, so that Buttiglione's activities signed the end of the Christian
Democrats as a major political force on their own in Italy.
After a one-year "technical" government led by Lamberto Dini, a middle-left
government under Romano Prodi came to power. It had to face three main issues:
(1) the restoration of the economy, and in particular, the path towards
the European Monetary System, (2) the resloution of the "conflict of interests",
i.e., a law regulating private possession of TV channels and other mass media,
(3) an electoral reform aiming at the reduction of the presence of the many
small political parties in parliament which are one of the main
obstacles for stable governments. Already prior to 1992,
the constitution had allowed for the presence of too many of such tiny parties;
after the Mani Pulite scandals, this number had again increased.
Indeed, every former portaborse (suitcase porter) of some dismissed
high rank politician believed to be an important new politician once he
managed to fill a large audience hall with his applauding fans - but the
subsequent elections would prove that the nationwide echo was not so impressive,
and there was another tiny parliamentary fraction.
Prodi managed bravely to conduct Italy into the Euro zone, fulfilling task
(1) for the time being. But after 2 years, he was overthrown by the withdrawal of
the left-wing communists in the coalition (maybe with some secret help of his
successor), and followed by Massimo d'Alema from the Democrats of the Left
(the former communists). A character with a certain attitude of superiority
(as may be typical for some former disciples of Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa),
he preferred not to face issue (2) from above immediately, but postponed it
while entering into constitutional consultations with the opposion leader
Berlusconi. This went on until the d'Alema government approached its end in 2001,
at which point Berlusconi withdrew from the consultations.
Thus, today Italy is still at the point where the main issues to be resolved
are the same as above.
In 2001, Berlusconi managed to become prime minister once more, maintaining this
position for 5 years. In those years, in addition to his three TV channels,
he gradually extended his grip on the three state-owned channels RAI1, RAI2,
and (maybe a little bit less successfully) RAI3. Before the 1992 events,
there had been "natural" affiliations RAI1 - Christian Democrats,
RAI2 - Socialists, and RAI3 - Communists. Thus, in those years, mister B "owned"
at least 5 of 6 nationwide channels. Many good journalists were gradually
expelled. Mister B kept on attacking the juridical system, the tax moral,
and the opponents, whom he uses to call "communists". For his
purposes, he never needed physical violence, such as the mafia organisations:
With a public that to a small extent reads newspapers, but to a large extent
obtains "information" via TV shows, the people could be influenced by
The period 2006-2008 saw a government of the new Democratic Party,
again led by Romano Prodi. In 2008, Prodi lost the confidence of the senate.
As one recently learned, a senator of his government coalition confessed
to have received a substantial bribe from mister B for changing sides on that
While until the first years of this millenium, I kept following Italian
politics quite closely, I must admit that I'm somewhat less attentive now.
Nevertheless: as I had predicted since 2011, the ongoing juridical pressure
after various scandals (new and old) prompted mister B to return once more.
Once more, with a professional electoral campaign, his TV power, and promises
taken from the 1001 nights' fairy tales, he obtained enough votes in the
2013 elections in order to perpetuate the Italian catastrophe.
It will take decades for Italy to recover from the damage inflicted on its civil
society by the enormous propaganda machinery and political power of one
rich man with the primary (if not only) aim - this is my belief - to safeguard
his own dubious
activities, not to speak about the economical damage resulting from
the acompanying stagnation.
There are two associated mysteries that I can't resolve.
Mystery 1: Mister B appears to be convinced of himself, to really believe
that he has been having a beneficial impact on Italy, to an extent that goes
beyond the capabilities of an even very good actor. How can this be ?
Mystery 2: How is it possible that mister B found so much support by persons
that can be considered intelligent, honest, civilized, educated, intellectual ?
Added in October 2013: so finally it seems that Berlusconi is being
expelled from parliament after finally being convicted in one of
the many lawsuits. While I would wish him a peaceful retirement in
Hammamet or an analogous place, I'm afraid that this still won't be the
end of this everlasting story.
In this text, you could read my thoughts about misters B and C, while
I have omitted my thoughts about mister A (Andreotti), nowadays a bit
more out of date.
I'm sure that each of my Italian friends will have some different viewpoint
on some lines of this text. Nevertheless, this is my true story on how I
have been perceiving this part of Italian history and politics since 1988.
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Last modified on October 4, 2015.