Who is the soul of the constitution

The apparently most cheerful film by Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, the parable "Big Birds, Little Birds" from 1965, tells the story of a long excursion that a father (played by Totò, the Neapolitan comedian) and his son through the periphery Rome undertakes. They are joined by a speaking raven, jumping and wobbling. But soon the bird gets on the nerves of the two hikers. Because the animal is educated and can fly. All the events that should have remained hidden, not least for reasons of moral appearances, have not escaped him. The raven is a "left-wing intellectual", say father and son indignantly. Soon after, the bird's neck is twisted and only a few gnawed bones remain.

Erri De Luca, born and raised in Naples, once a member of the group "Lotta Continua", has been one of the most famous writers in the country since the nineties and is currently a staunch opponent of the great constitutional reform, a "left-wing intellectual" in the ancient sense of the word. which Prime Minister Matteo Renzi seeks to initiate. The constitution, he says, shouldn't be touched. It is "the secular equivalent of a sacred text". There are many Italian writers and scholars who think so. "The constitution is not just anything," explains the art historian Salvatore Settis, who until a few years ago was director of the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, the most famous university in the country, "it has to be everything."

Not only Matteo Renzi, the EU would also like Italy to be more stable and less complicated

They all appear as supporters of a good but unrealized state, as it is repealed in the constitution. It is true that the Italian constitution has been changed many times over the past few decades. But that doesn't matter now. Because on the other side of the "holy text" should be the usual culprits, that is, the ruling politicians and their entire caste. On December 4th, the Italian people will vote in a referendum on whether there should be a reform of the constitution. The first thing to do is to strengthen the executive: The two-chamber system that has existed for seventy years, in which the parliament is formed from the chamber of representatives elected at national level ("Camera dei deputati") and the senate elected at regional level, is to be broken up The influence of the Senate will be reduced and governance made easier. Such a decision would be very much in the interests of the European Union, which Italy would like to have more stable and less complicated.

But now Matteo Renzi not only linked his personal fate with the outcome of the referendum, he combined the reorganization of parliament with changes to the electoral law and the representation of the regions - whereupon the referendum turned into a vote on anything and everything. The consequences of failure would be fatal for Renzi and his center-left government - in order not to begin with prospects such as new elections, a victory for the grassroots Movimento 5 Stelle and a return to the lira.

Hopes for a rebirth of the country from the spirit of originality and purity now seem to be tied to this failure. "Democracy can only start from below," said Beppe Grillos, the founder of Movimento 5 Stelle, in a 2008 manifesto: "The new renaissance will have its origins in the communities." The sentence still applies. And when Matteo Salvini, leader of the Lega Nord, which has mutated into the Lega Nazionale, describes the future of the country, then it resembles the idealized past of a close relationship between small and medium-sized companies, in which resourceful minds and strong arms work together for the success of people and nation .

The Movimento 5 Stelle may be a later revenant of a communitarian left, along with the associated sacrificial romance. The nationally-minded, national-conservative Lega, on the other hand, may glorify small-scale industry as if all contradictions between capital and labor were abolished if only both served the good of the nation. To return to an idealized past and thus want to leave history 5stelle like Lega Nazionale.

In the years before Italy became a member of the monetary union, the country had prepared itself by all means for a competition that had long been dominated by competition: wages fell as well as pensions, while the costs of health care rose. The large state-owned corporations were dissolved, and subsidies for the south were largely suspended. But the effort was not worth it: Italy is the only country in the monetary union, including Greece, which is poorer today than it was in 1999, in terms of economic output per capita.

But there is hardly a public debate in Italy about the reasons for this failure that did not result in an assignment of guilt - that is, argued morally rather than politically and economically. It almost seems as if there is no competition between the states within the European currency, and as if the progressive decline of Italian industry was not the result of a direct comparison with the efficiency of the German economy in particular. There is no reason to assume that these relationships will change: the equality that Matteo Renzi claims with France and Germany is a fiction.

As everyone knows, the debate about constitutional reform is fundamentally in a way that goes far beyond any single political reason: "It pains me to see Italy diminished in this way," said Andrea Camilleri, over ninety years old and the most successful Italian writer, the newspaper last weekend La Repubblica. He blames himself for not having worked hard enough to rebuild the country.

And Tomaso Montanari, an art historian who, astonishingly enough, teaches a national audience in eight episodes about the sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini and the rebellious spirit of the Baroque on public television, explains in his pamphlet "Così No" ("So not like that"), Italy is a kind of new Troy, where the reform of the constitution stands like a wooden horse in front of the gate: If the republic submits to the market and its centralism, there will be no more citizens, only traders and consumers.

The homecoming and its (sometimes averted) failure are traditionally one of the strongest motives in Italian literature. When the damned in Dante's "Inferno" (1321) lament their fate, they appear as if they were banished from space and time and worry about what people think of them back home in Florence. In Alessandro Manzoni's novel "The Brides" (1840/42) happiness is at home in Lecco on Lake Como. It is achieved with great difficulty. Cesare Pavese's work revolves around returning to a small town in Piedmont that is supposed to be home, but never was.

But the story of the longing to be able to return to one's own circumstances has another side: that of the Spaniards, French, Austrians and all other powers who treated Italy as their territory. This story now seems to be returning in the judgment of the broader public, as a reaction to an alleged or actually unsuccessful career for Italy in the European Union, with Brussels - or alternatively: Berlin, or international finance capital - as the dominant power, for example for the Italian south (who will mostly vote "No"), Rome can also take on this role.

"How are we supposed to trust a government that allows Fiat to pay its taxes abroad?"

Such differences play a subordinate role at best for a person who, with a widespread but implausible misunderstanding of the actual circumstances, expects his state to be treated better than the rest of humanity. In a call to "no" in the daily newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano appeared and was signed, among others, by Andrea Camilleri, the philosopher Paolo Flores d'Arcais and the former constitutional judge Gustavo Zagrebelsky, it is said that the constitutional reform follows the program recommended by the American commercial bank JP Morgan for reforming Italy. And Matteo Renzi is the executor for the sale of the country: "How can we trust a government ... that allows Fiat (but also the state-controlled energy company Eni) to pay taxes abroad?"

At the end, the signatories quote the writer Riccardo Bacchelli, who wrote in his novel "The Mill on the Po" (1938/40): "Tutti siano padroni in casa propria e uno solo comandi in piazza" - "Let everyone be masters in their own house , and only one gives orders in the piazza. " That, say Andrea Camilleri and his colleagues, is not how they imagine democracy. But what should it be if not an empowerment?

"In a society where everything revolves around belonging somewhere," writes the British writer Tim Parks, who has lived in Italy for decades ("Italy: Writing to Belong", New York Review of Books, September 12, 2016), "People pay the utmost attention to who is worthy of inclusion in a family, group or community, while forced exclusion becomes a punishment that threatens to undermine the whole meaning of existence . " The small proportions seem to have gained in importance. And isn't Elena Ferrante's novel "My ingenious girlfriend" (2016) also about the return? With the question "Does Italy still exist?" Tomaso Montanari introduced his review of a large monograph in which his colleague Anna Ottani Cavina sought to answer the question of an authentic, Italian Italy in visual art ("Terre senz'ombra. L'Italia dipinta", 2015). Here, too, the answers are regional.

The film director and Oscar winner Roberto Benigni ("Life is Beautiful", 1997) carried its popular chairman Enrico Berlinguer across the stage in his thin arms at an event of the Communist Party in Rome in June 1983. He is famous in Italy for this act. But when he said in the summer that a failure of the referendum would have worse consequences for Italy than Brexit for Great Britain, Dario Fo called him a "traitor". If Roberto Benigni were a know-it-all raven, you could have turned his neck.