Berlusconi and the Season of Love and Tolerance

Eleonora Mazzucchi (June 25, 2008)
It isn't exactly Woodstock all over again, but everyone, from the Prime Minister to nursing mothers to the gay community, is demanding that Italy re-consider its values. It's almost summer and the groups are all screaming for a little more than just ice cream

Chalk it up to the season, but it seems as though, along with the homeless and increasingly flashy baby carriages, spring brings out protesters and activists. Italy in particular has various groups itching to get a word in, fighting “the Man”, the government and the forces of conventional wisdom. The latest: a sit-in of breast-feeding mothers in Rome, the staging of the Gay Pride Bash in Bologna and—here’s the kicker—Silvio Berlusconi lobbying the Pope to let divorcees like himself take communion. Anyone who thought the old-fashioned row with a conservative institution was the province of radicals, may be surprised to see the Prime Minister lodging his petition with what is perhaps the only authority that stands in his way.

Berlusconi is divorced and remarried, and as such, forbidden from taking part in the Catholic rite of communion. In a trip to Sardinia on Sunday he asked a bishop there when the Church planned to change the rules. The bishop’s response was he “should turn to a higher power”. But a higher power, in the form of Pope Benedict XVI, confirmed at a recent Canadian conference that communion could only be received “in a pure heart”, by those without major sin. Ever since the Prime Minister, never one to quit or become demoralized (as evidenced by his ever-persistent political campaigns), has made it his mission to persuade the Church to change its policy.

Meanwhile in Rome, the Salvamamme (Save the mothers) association organized a mass breast-feeding on Tuesday. Some 1000 mothers bore their breasts and fed their babies to send out the message that breast-feeding in public shouldn't be taboo, especially when over-the-waist nudity is the norm in Italian ads and magazines. Salvamamme aims to fight the unpleasantness and squeamishness nursing mothers face from gawkers. The organization’s President, Grazia Passeri, said “It's ridiculous that showgirls can show theirs but mothers can’t”. Her statement spoke to a prevailing Italian attitude that accepts nudity only when sexualized, and not as a natural expression of the body. Liberating breasts is an act of women's emancipation--begging the question, have we learned nothing from the bra-burning movement?

More difficult is the objective set by Arcigay, Italy’s foremost gay rights organization. In the lead-up to its Gay Pride festival on Saturday, it announced a future event to promote the legalization of gay marriage. In the fall same-sex couples in 50 Italian cities will exchange vows in the hopes that their ceremonies will one day be recognized by the state—represented, ironically, by the same man struggling to have his own marriage blessed by the Church. Arcigay’s leader, Aurelio Mancuso, added that the unofficial weddings would be called “public pledges of union” and that they would also afford in- the-closet-couples the opportunity to come out. Saturday’s festivities, for the time being, will be hosted in Bologna by the Italy’s first and only transgender MP, the flamboyant Vladimir Luxuria. They are expected to create a potent surge of activism, drawing gays and lesbians from all over Italy.

These may be the seasons of free love, re-conceptualization of the naked body, and a Church laxing its archaic standards. If all of these were achieved or accepted, Italy could herald a revival of the summer of ’68. But then again, what would there be left to protest?





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