Welcome to Draghistan – POLITICO

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ROME – Last month, a group of university professors, human rights activists, politicians and public intellectuals gathered at the Norman Palace in Palermo, seat of the regional parliament of Sicily, for a conference entitled “De democracy to dictatorship, the role of memory ”.

The real subject of their gathering: Mario Draghi.

Participants in the debate, which compared COVID-19 regulations in Italy today to totalitarian states of the 1930s, were united in what is so far a minority opinion in Italy: opposition to the prime minister and what they describe as his increasingly bossy behavior.

While polls currently put the Prime Minister’s approval rating at 65-70%, with the majority of Italians trusting his personal credibility and ability to unlock EU funds and deal with the pandemic, a minority resistance group in Italy – made up of liberals and intellectuals – is increasingly expressing concerns about the decline of democratic rights in the country.

The main one of their complaints is Draghi’s vaccination rules – some of the strictest in any democracy. All workers in Italy must either have a digital health passport, known as a green pass, proving vaccination, or a negative test every other day – which comes to € 150 per month. Those who refuse are suspended from their work without pay.

Conference organizer Gandolfo Dominici, professor of marketing at the University of Palermo with an attentive ear to sound clips, renamed Italy “Draghistan” in light of these developments, a name that protesters and politicians alike opposition groups have since appropriated themselves as an Internet meme and hashtag.

Dominici told POLITICO the word was meant to refer to Turkmenistan, one of the only countries with compulsory vaccines, and Afghanistan, because forcing people to get vaccinated amounts to a theocracy. “We clearly live in a totalitarian regime,” he said.

Dominici also organized a petition which has since been signed by more than 1,000 university professors and researchers who insist they are not against vaccines, but they reject the green pass as unconstitutional, discriminatory and source of division.

One of its signatories, prominent historian Alessandro Barbero, argued that the government should be upfront about what is indeed compulsory vaccination instead of “blackmailing” its citizens. “They say, ‘the vaccine is not mandatory, it’s just that if you don’t have it you can’t live, you can’t go to work or go to college.’ Dante could have filled the circle of hypocrites in hell with today’s politicians, ”Barbero said at a festival in Florence.

Giuseppe Cataldi, professor of international law at the University of Naples L’Orientale and expert in human rights declared: “If a worker does not want to be vaccinated, and at least formally retains the right not to be vaccinated vaccinate, but in the end is forced to do it because he supports his family and cannot spend 10% of his salary on tests, it is not good.

Some of the petitioners claim that making people pay for tests in order to be able to work is incompatible with the Italian constitution, which begins with “Italy is a democratic republic based on work”.

“The constitutional right to work cannot depend on a certificate of obedience to the government,” Dominici said.

Daniele Trabucco, a constitutional law professor who also signed the petition, says that by creating an indirect obligation instead of legislating to impose vaccination, the government “surreptitiously circumvented the constitution”.

Beyond the vaccine passport, philosophers and intellectuals have also begun to worry about the crippling effect that the government’s modus operandi has on democracy – in particular, the practice of governing by decree, the state of protracted emergency, disregard for minority rights and the silence of dissent.

In the city of Trieste, erected as the capital of resistance against the green laissez-passer by striking port workers, demonstrations are banned the rest of the year. In universities – by definition institutions meant for the exchange of views – group thinking has taken over, according to these academics, with anyone who voices their concerns being overruled or demonized as anti-vaxxers on. social networks.

Interestingly, at the heart of many of these concerns is Draghi in particular.

Given the dual economic and health crisis, it is natural that citizens look to a strong and competent leader. But from the rebel point of view, people should be aware that Draghi’s leadership, while reassuring, also resulted in the concentration of power under one individual and the sidelining of parties and parliament.

Since World War II, Italy’s proportional representation electoral system has led to a succession of fleeting and unstable governments, with unelected technocrats like Draghi regularly called in to the rescue.

Unlike his predecessor, Giuseppe Conte, who frequently negotiated between ruling parties, Draghi made decisions independently from the start. He didn’t even check with the parties when determining the makeup of his government, choosing his ministers instead with the approval of President Sergio Mattarella.

Moreover, Draghi’s large majority, coupled with the personal authority that has resulted from his distinguished career, means ministers are reluctant to challenge him, even when he dismantles flagship policies.

This grand coalition with almost everyone inside the government tent “strangles the debate,” Cataldi said, and leaves no room for those who think differently. Parties have struggled to get their messages across to voters, leading to upheavals in the Democratic Party and 5-star leadership since Draghi took power. Parliament has been reduced to a role of approving decrees taken by the executive. “It’s like a notary who marks decisions taken elsewhere.

Among the most alarmist critics is the philosopher Giorgio Agamben – his work has long focused on biopolitics and the denial of rights during states of emergency, including the creation of institutions like the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. He was widely criticized last year for suggesting the pandemic was a convenient government invention. Last month, he addressed the Senate Constitutional Affairs Committee, saying the vaccination passport was a tool for greater state oversight.

Others are more measured in their criticism. While acknowledging the need for emergency government action during a pandemic, they asked how long it is justifiable and necessary to suspend democratic freedoms.

The philosopher Massimo Cacciari, former mayor of Venice, observed that successive emergencies – terrorism, economic crisis and immigration – have justified governments being appointed by the president rather than chosen by the electorate. The pandemic has exacerbated this situation, “particularly in Italy” which had an unusually strict lockdown and was the first to require vaccination to work, “he said. And while the pandemic has generally strengthened the governments of the day, a “great authority” leader like Draghi is likely to further strengthen the executive office.

While the official state of emergency, which was declared by the government on January 31, 2020, cannot be extended beyond two years, the government is already signaling its intention to extend it, which would likely mean declaring that ‘a new and different emergency, so restarting the clock.

For Cataldi, there is no doubt that the government will find an excuse to do so. “If the cases go up, they can say we haven’t reached 90% vaccination, we don’t have herd immunity, we haven’t beaten the virus. . . But we in the [academics] group thinks that we cannot continue like this in a democratic country, we are not Turkey in a dictatorship. (Ironically, in April, Draghi himself accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of being a dictator.)

The counterpoint to all of these concerns is that in any democracy, rights are not absolute and must be balanced against the rights and interests of others. Carla Bassu, associate professor at the University of Sassari and expert in constitutional law, argues that the green pass is “completely compatible” with the constitution.

“The constitution is not only based on the right to work, but on rights such as solidarity and equality,” she said. “The green pass is not a tool of punishment, it is a tool of public health care in the collective interest.

Comparing Italy to an authoritarian state “is offensive”, she added. Authoritarian states target a person’s identity, such as ethnicity, race, gender, and ability, while the green pass does not discriminate. It is a prerequisite like a driver’s license, to ensure the safety of others.

Of course, democracy remains a minority concern when things are going well.

While the economy is expected to grow by up to 7% this year, the vast majority of Italians shrug their shoulders at these alleged threats. Draghi has already secured a cross-party deal for reforms with a wave of the pen and EU approval for Italy’s economic plan, freeing billions of EU money for investment , tax cuts and thousands of jobs. But how is it going to play out in the months to come?

In January, MPs are due to vote for a new Italian president, and Mattarella could – if he can be persuaded to stay – guarantee the continuity of Draghi’s government and Italy’s long-awaited takeover until the 2023 elections. Some , including Andrea of ​​the Democrats. Marcucci and centrist Carlo Calenda even suggested Draghi lead another government coalition after the 2023 election.

However, if Mattarella declines, as seems almost certain, Draghi himself is the most likely candidate for the presidency and could potentially appoint a new prime minister in his image, such as Economy and Finance Minister Daniele Franco.

The good news is that, as the rate of people over 12 years of age who have received at least one dose of the vaccine approaches 90%, and new cases of COVID-19 remain much lower than in many other European countries, the Italy is in a better position than many others. to avoid severe bottlenecks, which would harm the economy.

For many Italians, Draghistan, despite its harsh criticism, is likely to emerge as the best hope for overcoming the country’s long-term crises and finally putting it on a steady path to recovery and growth.

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