Q&A with journalist-filmmaker Bill Emmott
Bill Emmott, the former editor of The Economist, appears in a new documentary about Italy called “Girlfriend in a Coma.” In it, Emmott and co-writer/director Annalisa Piras examine what ails the nation known as much for its beauty, culture, food and art as for its dysfunctional politics.
The movie will be screened 6 p.m. Nov. 10 at the Sottile Theatre, part of the Nuovo Cinema Italiano Film Festival, with Emmott in attendance and available to answer questions. In anticipation of his visit, The Post and Courier asked him about Italy.
Q: During your tenure as editor of The Economist, the magazine was forceful in stating its positions on a variety of issues, including the Iraq War and gay marriage (which it supported), the Euro experiment, the English monarchy and that particular media mogul who dominated Italian politics. The Economist was unrelenting in its criticism of Berlusconi. What was it about him, and Italy in general, that was so dangerous to the EU?
A: Berlusconi represented to us two big dangers, common to several EU countries: first, the danger posed by a capitalist power crossing over into government and becoming his own regulator. In other words, a player becoming his own referee, and changing the rules in his own interests. Second, the danger of the erosion of the rule of law by people powerful enough to flout it. This is especially severe in Italy, but exists elsewhere too, including in the USA.
Q: You seem to be something of an Italophile. What is it about Italy that fascinates you?
A: It has so many things that I admire — strong families, a caring, long-termist capitalism, creativity, individual enterprise — that I find myself angry and frustrated and puzzled over why it proves unable to exploit these strengths and to be truly great and prosperous and an example to the rest of the West. It is not just unable to exploit its many strengths; it actively blocks them. But why? I am always trying to answer that question.
Q: Do you think Berlusconi is a cause of Italy’s woes or a symptom of them?
A: Berlusconi is a symptom, an inheritor of many damaging traits, but one who has amplified and preserved Italy’s woes and weaknesses. He entered politics at a time of hope, in the early 1990s, when it seemed as if a revolution was possible. And he not only blocked the revolution but he steadily made things worse, especially in 2001-10. He is not the only reason why Italy’s growth in GDP per head in the 15 years from 1997-2012 was by far the worst in the G7 industrialised countries, but he bears a heavy responsibility for it.
Q: Your movie, “Girlfriend in a Coma,” made with director and co-writer Annalisa Piras, explores the legacy of the Berlusconi era and ends on an ambiguous note that leaves unresolved the question of Italy’s future. Can it change (systemically) and become a positive political and economic force in Europe or not? What is your assessment?
A: Annalisa and I believe that Italy can change, if Italians want it to. The potential for a cultural revolution is there, and plenty of Italians are pressing for it. We have been incredibly inspired by the many civic action groups that have contacted us or have got started only recently. But are they the majority, and will they be strong and determined enough to overcome all the obstacles, all the resistance to change? We hope that they will, and believe that it can be done. But the current situation remains bad, full of negativity, of paralysis, of obstacles. We are journalists: we have to wait and see.