A Polish Explanation of the Italian Election

The intricacies of Italian politics have baffled the rest of the world for many centuries. Nonetheless, what's past is mere prologue, compared to the stunning near-victory of Silvio Berlusconi in last week's election.

Berlusconi's career  has been, to put it politely, controversial. He has been the object of over twenty court cases, a conviction for tax evasion, several sex scandals, and innumerable accusations of fraud, media monopoly, shady political maneuvers, and pro-Mussolini remarks.  Nonetheless, he has been Prime Minister of Italy three times-for more years than any other post-WWII Italian PM.

Numerous explanations and analyses of this paradox have been published but their vagueness merely reveals that the media are as bewildered as you and I about the psyche of the Italian voter.

I would like to suggest that irony and cynicism may be contributing factors. Berlusconi would have been a shoo-in candidate for prime minister of the Babin Republic, a satiric realm which one historian described thus:. 

In 1568 a Polish gentleman named Pszonka founded on his estate, Babin, near Lublin, a satiric society, called the Babin Republic. It scourged contemporary manners in a peculiar fashion, sending to every man who became noted for some crime or folly a diploma by virtue of which he was admitted to the 'Republic' and had an office conferred on him. Thus, for example, a quack was appointed physician, a coward general, and a spendthrift steward.

As the Encyclopedia Americana notes: "The Polish kings took interest in the humorous republic, and the Latin writings of the Babin Republic exercised quite an influence on the politics and the literature of the time". This may have been because Babin pronouncements had a wry logic beneath their satire.  For example, they might have explained their appointments to public office by saying "we wish to push our scoundrels out into the open, where we can watch them."

One wonders if the ironic spirit of the Babin Republic might not be alive today in Italian voters.