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Italy’s Government Completely Broke Down and Nothing Changed

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“Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga com’è bisogna che tutto cambi.” (“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”)
—Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Il gattopardo (1958)

Everyone saw it coming. The coalition government between (now former) Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini’s nativist Lega Nord party and Luigi Di Maio’s anti-establishment Movimento Cinque Stelle (M5S) was never going to see the end of its five-year term—but nobody imagined that its end would be quite so spectacular. Yet on August 20, politics and spectacle joined hands in a dramatic duet on Italy’s most prominent political stage. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, a hand eerily placed on Salvini’s shoulder, scolds him in front of the Senate, now a cacophony of jeers and applause. “Matteo,” he says, lacks institutional responsibility and constitutional culture, his campaign demand for full powers is worrying, and his use of sacred symbols shows “religious foolishness.” Salvini, in response, sips coffee, shakes his head, and kisses his rosary. Minutes later, Conte resigns.

Fast forward just shy of a month later, and Conte has returned to his seat, this time leading a coalition between M5S and the center-left Partito Democratico (PD). Mainstream media reports have made much of the fact that the new government has authorized 82 migrants to disembark in Sicily from an NGO rescue ship. But di Maio himself has stated that this authorization represented no change with the former government, and he only accepted it because the European Union (EU) promised to accept redistribution. PD and M5S have thrived for years off a widely publicized hatred for each other; their alliance is a testimony to the opportunism of a political class and the fragility of the government that has come out of it. The future remains uncertain, yet to imagine where we are likely to go we must first understand how we got here.

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