Commentary. Suffering from a double presidential term, Italian democracy, Mattarella says, must be on guard against other issues that are bleeding it dry and emptying it of meaning.

Mattarella issues an appeal to the country on behalf of democracy

When Sergio Mattarella, in his speech before the assembled Houses of Parliament, said the name of Lorenzo Parrelli—the boy who died at work, because instead of being at school he was in a factory—his words came at the end of a long, insistent and stubborn reiteration of what “dignity” means.

It refers in particular to those who are brutally, ferociously deprived of it, like young people, because they are “poorly paid and relegated to the existential peripheries.” Dignity, and then rights: of women, the elderly, the disabled, prisoners, victims of the Mafia and crime. The hellish world where the weakest live.

Dignity, rights and, above all, the inequalities that, as Mattarella says, are not a necessary price to pay for high GDP (as the precarious employment produced by this government seems to entail), but exactly the opposite: “an impediment to growth.”

It may be that these words will soon be forgotten, with the same insouciance with which they were wildly applauded by Parliament.

However, our impression is that this time it will be more difficult to put away on the shelf a speech which had a clear and assertive tone, very close to a government program.

This was both at the specific level of national policies (on three fronts: health, economic and social) and at the level of Italy’s international role. Because, even without mentioning the crisis in Ukraine, the reelected President of the Republic has made the issue clear.

That is to say: “it is unacceptable that now, without even the pretext of competition between different political and economic systems, the winds of conflict are rising across a continent that has known two world wars.”

The Montecitorio bell which tolls when, every seven years, the presidential procession leaves the Quirinale, seemed to resound more loudly on Thursday, as if to accompany not only a ceremony in solemn and dignified tones, but also an event doubly charged with meaning due to the distinct features of institutional anomaly that distinguish it.

Mattarella wanted to clarify right away that “the new call was unexpected,” and to explain why “I cannot and have no intention of withdrawing,” as these are “troubled times for everyone, including me.”

So he had to, and chose to, accept the will of Parliament, which called on him to serve for the second time, as the “highest expression of the will of the people.” He did so on the basis of his “awareness” of the expectations of the citizens “that would have been strongly compromised by the prolongation of a state of profound political uncertainty and tension.”

He could have added that the outcome of two consecutive presidential mandates is, in any case, a wound to the institutional equilibrium, and he could have pointed this out to the assembly in front of him (in his time, Giorgio Napolitano used to pull out the whip), but he did not do so. It was a gesture of benevolence.

Beyond the fact that it is suffering from a double presidential term, Italian democracy, Mattarella says, must be on guard against other issues that are bleeding it dry and emptying it of meaning.

On the one hand, the speed of change, “increasingly quick in its demand for timely responses,” without which “supranational economic powers tend to prevail and impose themselves, bypassing the democratic process.” And, on another level, those “authoritarian and autocratic regimes that try to appear more efficient than democratic ones,” while the opposite is true, because in democracies “free consent and social involvement lead to more solid and effective decisions.”

The appeal to the “quality” and “prestige” of representation, that is, to the political parties, could not sound more urgency-filled—a final appeal to political forces and intermediate social bodies without which there is no citizenship, no participation, and the replication of every ugly moment in history is possible.

Just as harsh and direct was his tirade against the judiciary that is sowing mistrust and discontent among citizens, leaving them without certainty of law.

In the end, while the last year of the legislature is already giving us a glimpse of the race to the polls, it is certainly a good thing that the letter and spirit of the Constitution are in the hands of this President of the Republic. He was able to please everyone—with a standing ovation from the left to the center to the right—and not through sweet words and complicity, but with strong and clear calls to politics to rise up to the level of being worthy of the country it claims to represent.

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