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In fascisms shadow Mussolini R J B Bosworth 584pp Arnold 25 Italy and its Discontents 1980-2001 Paul Ginsborg 521pp Allen Lane25 Has Italy ever been a real democracy After unification in 1860 a political elite ruled by manipulating a tiny electorate and by repressing all dissent Most men were not given the vote until 1913 After the first world war Italy came close to revolution and fascism abolished this limited democratic system in the mid-1920s Mussolini was in power for more than 20 years All Italians were allowed to go to the ballot box in 1945 and since then the formal aspects of Italian democracy have survived despite serious pressure from both the inside secret service plots fascism red terrorism and the outside the cold war with all its ramifications was fought out most bitterly of all in Italy Yet although this was a democratic system from 1945-1996 only one side ever won - the Christian Democrats There are serious doubts as to whether the other side the communists would have been allowed to govern even if it had been victorious A peaceful change of government came only in 1996 with the election of a centre-left coalition under the premiership of Romano Prodi currently president of the European Commission This positive moment was threatened by the presence in Italian politics of a multibillionaire media magnate Silvio Berlusconi whose bizarre coalition of northern regionalists post-fascists ex-Christian Democrats and self-styled Thatcherites swept to power in May 2001 Since then many intellectuals have claimed that the democratic state is under threat thanks above all to the unresolved question of the conflict between Berlusconis public and private interests His first 10 months in power have been marked by laws helping him and his friends through a series of legal problems The new government kicked off in highly controversial fashion by beating torturing and even killing demonstrators at the G8 in Genoa in July 2001 The whitewashing of
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