“Sardegna possibile” sotto la lente della stampa internazionale

A Fight to Steer Sardinia


Schermata 2014-02-15 a 11.31.44In the run-up to this Sunday’s election for governor of Sardinia, there was a noteworthy exchange between the incumbent governor and the third-place candidate, Michela Murgia, a dark-horse independent not widely expected to win.

Sharp clashes are typical in the homestretch of any election, and this one will determine the direction that Sardinia, an autonomous island region with a distinctive culture and identity, takes in the next five years. Proposals are on the table to establish a business-friendly tax-free zone, and the incumbent governor is on trial for malfeasance. But most important of all, this uneven three-way contest pits Ugo Cappellacci, an incumbent member of Silvio Berlusconi’s newly refounded Forza Italia party, against Francesco Pigliaru, a representative of the center-left Democratic Party, who is tailing him closely, and Ms. Murgia, a long-shot scrappy outsider.

Ms. Murgia, a best-selling novelist and first-time political candidate, used her Facebook page to denounce Mr. Cappellacci, as the “Schettino of Sardinian politics.” Schettino is a name instantly recognizable to any Italian, and one that Americans will need only slight prompting before muttering, “Oh, that guy.” He is the former captain of the cruise ship Costa Concordia now facing trial for abandoning the sinking vessel; in this exchange, Ms. Murgia becomes that other guy, the Italian Coast Guard captain who famously shouted for Captain Schettino to get back on the ship. What Ms. Murgia was saying with her comparison was, “Allow me to take the helm.”

It was unquestionably a harsh attack, especially given the election’s island setting, where ships are a crucial lifeline. Moreover, there is an abiding strain of Sardinian exceptionalism. This island may officially be a part of Italy, but it thinks of itself as a separate nation. It has given Italy notable figures, both political and literary: the political thinker Antonio Gramsci, the Nobel laureate Grazia Deledda (the second woman to win the prize for literature), the Communist Party leader Enrico Berlinguer and the departing prime minister, Enrico Letta (on his mother’s side). In a very real way, Sardinia is Italy’s Ireland, right down to its intense and colorful politicking.

Still, it was the governor’s response that stood out. Asked about it on a political shock-jock radio show, he replied, “It’s odd that she, who is the Costa Concordia of politics, should call me Schettino.”

Questioned further by one of the two bantering moderators, Mr. Cappellacci explained the reference: “Well, first of all, when it comes to tonnage, she’s certainly got it all.” Though it’s a radio show, there’s video footage, and immediately after the governor’s response two female musicians in the background did almost simultaneous head-rolls and grimaces. Italy at large had much the same reaction: Il Corriere della Sera, one of the country’s largest papers, referred to a political atmosphere that was “decisamente non oxfordiano” — certainly not the climate of an Oxford debate.

To reply to accusations of political cowardice and incompetence by calling one’s accuser fat struck more than one observer as typical of the Forza Italia style, and I believe it is no accident that Mr. Cappellacci has recently abandoned the rebellious Angelino Alfano-led wing of the Berlusconi movement and moved closer to Il Cavaliere, as Berlusconi was long known. (“Il Cavaliere” means “knight” and refers to the conferring of “knighthoods” of industry in Italy; since the term also connotes chivalry, it seems to have been retired among all the bunga bunga lewdness of recent years.) As the election takes place, Mr. Berlusconi is facing a new trial for bribing a political opponent.

Ms. Murgia is a successful writer (her first novel, “The World Needs to Know,” is based on her own experiences working in a call center and was made into a movie) who has told her book editor — to that editor’s chagrin — that her first love is politics. Interestingly, polls show that while the incumbent governor leads in name recognition, Ms. Murgia is first in voter trust. Unfortunately, name recognition is likely to beat trust, hands down.

As is so often the case in Italy, behind the dust-up are issues that are both real and anything but clear-cut. Mr. Cappellacci was fined nearly $15 million for starting a Sardinian state-owned fleet of ferry boats offering service to the mainland; the four leading ferry fleets were also fined a similar amount for price gouging. But it was the decidedly non-Oxfordian style of Mr. Cappellacci’s attack that, fines and malfeasance aside, seemed to prompt the most indignation.

Still, perhaps one of the most important points has to do with the island’s most famous resident. Like the Medici, who were great patrons of the arts but also plutocrats and dictators, Mr. Berlusconi does a great deal of his political business out of his homes, one of which is outside Milan and another — an opulent vacation place — is on Sardinia. And it is this promiscuous mixing of personal and political power that is so subtly subversive. If Mr. Cappellacci wins and Mr. Berlusconi is confined to house arrest, as seems very likely, will the governor of Sardinia become the former prime minister’s accommodating prison warden?

Antony Shugaar is a translator and writer and Asymptote Journal’s editor at large for Italy.

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