Responding to some ill-defined public outrage (in part manafactured by newspapers owned or close to the Berlusconi family), both Prime Minister Berlusconi and the speaker of the house of deputies, Gianfranco Fini, called for swift and decisive action – not against builders responsible, in Abruzzo, for using shoddy materials and cutting costs, nor against civil servants who had either failed to control public structures with respect to seismic protection regulations, or had been negligent; their unified call to action was not against those who, in all likelihood are responsible for the collapse of buildings in Abruzzo more-so than the earthquake itself; their demand for justice was, instead, against a cartoonist who, on a hard-hitting (and thus, according to the logic of left/right politics prevalent in Italy, obviously biased) tv broadcast satirised the proposed Piano Casa (Plan House) which prior to the earthquake had been the Berlusconi’s main response to the ongoing financial crisis.
Cartoonist Vauro, who regularly lampoons the lampoonable on Michele Santoro’s Anno Zero program, presented a series of extremely uncomfortable cartoons on last week’s program. In particular the cartoon below caused offence – at least in government circles.
A brief explanation. The Government’s plan, which was already controversial before the tragedy in L’Aquila, in essence allows for home owners to effectively bypass Italy’s planning regulations and bureaucracy in order to build extensions to their homes, augmenting the surface area by a certain amount. The cartoon has the slogan ‘aumento delle cubature in cemeterio”, or increase in the surface area in the cemeteries. Certainly not a cartoon for the faint of heart, but satire is rarely meant for the faint of heart.
The cartoon aside from ignoring the public sensibility – where the deaths in Auila should be treated solely with sentimentality – is also guilty of being openly political. In the wake of the earthquake the message is that the country must unite and put aside political differences. Regardless of the fact that several planks of the Government’s policy are thrown into serious question by the earthquake.
No wonder then that Vauro received a slap on the wrist, and was suspended from last night’s Anno Zero show (though, mindful of how other censorship efforts backfired in the last Berlusconi administration, the suspension is a temporary one).
But his point about the government’s Piano Casa have been taken on elsewhere, and the debate continues as to a) how beneficial the plan actually will be to the economy, and b) how appropriate it is to relax controls and regulation on building work given the very obvious problems highlighted by the collapse of new and public buildings in the earthquake (i.e structures that should have been in strict accordance with seismic protection rules, and which should have been subject to strict examination). The plan, which was hastily revised after the earthquake, includes a new paragraph which determines that all building work must conform to current legislation – but this can be auto-certified by the builders/architects, without requiring inspection.
Another central plank of Berlusconi’s program has been the swift re-introduction of Nuclear power stations. Am I completely mad to be worried about the safety of such structures being built in a country which, apart from Sardinia, has no region completely safe from the risk of an earthquake? Put aside the legitimate questions about where nuclear waste will be put (under the carpet in Campania?), and consider that yet again – though we were told, just six years ago, it would never happen again, after the earthquake in San Giuliano di Puglia which saw a school collapse on its children – a public structure housing young students (let alone the Palazzo di Governo and the local hospital) collapsed. Can a government (either left or right wing) that can’t be trusted to ensure all it’s schools – or at the very least those in the highest risk zones – are stable and safe, be entrusted with building nuclear generators?
And of course there is the pharaonic project long discussed and faithfully re-proposed in 2006 by Berlusconi during the election campaign – the bridge over the straits of Messina, to connect the Italian mainland to Sicily, albeit with a huge bridge over one of the most at risk zones for an earthquake in the whole world (the earthquake in Messina, and subsequent Tsunami, of 1908 killed up to 100,000 people). From a financial point of view the cost of the project is huge, and based on the recent history of major structural projects in Southern Italy liable to be subject to Mafia infiltration – which in turn usually leads to cost-cutting (who’s going to check up on shoddy work done by a Mafia Don?) and structures that have all the seismic stability of a house of cards. And all the while we’re told that there’s not enough money to ensure that Italy’s hospitals and schools are made safe.
So what’s more offensive? Vauro’s cartoon, or a political class that learns nothing from past mistakes?