On the left, too, is Nichi Vendola, currently president of the Puglia region. Gay, communist, with an earring and slight lisp, Vendola has frequently been a refreshingly honest voice in a bland landscape. The only doubt is whether he could ever become sufficiently mainstream for national elections.
The real vacuum is on the right. Berlusconi and Umberto Bossi, who has resigned as leader of the Northern League, leave big boots to fill, and in their absence anyone else looks like a political pygmy. Berlusconi has, officially at least, handed over the reigns of his party to Angelino Alfano, a bald Sicilian who, born on Halloween, looks like something from the Addams Family. Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, an aristocrat, former Confindustria (CBI) chief and now chairman of Ferrari, has an “association” called Italia Futura, but it has explicitly endorsed Mario Monti for a second term in office.
In many ways the situation is remarkably similar to the unstable period between the first and second republics. As happened then, a tidal wave of corruption scandals — this time involving the presidents of Lazio and Lombardy, among others — have disgusted, if not surprised, the electorate. There is a controversial president of the republic (Giorgio Napolitano). There is a longing for fresh faces and new ideas.
However, that very similarity should act as a warning to those who hope that this new republic will be any different from those that came before. Everyone in Italy knows about gatopardismo, the notion made famous by Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard, whereby superficial personnel changes allow everything to remain exactly as before.
The other perennial habit of Italian politics, trasformismo, means something comparable: that left and right are forever blurred and that change merely masks continuity.
One Italian historian, Guido Crainz, wrote recently about how all opposition in Italy eventually gets coopted into the mainstream, sucked into compromise and the marmellata — the “massive jam” — of Italian political life. Never, it seems, is there a clean break with the past and its practices.