Conspiracy theories are alive and well in post-Berlusconi Italy.
A Nov. 30 editorial by Marco Travaglio in the daily newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, headlined "Giù il cappuccio" ("Off with the hood"), makes the point that the new junior ministers in Prime Minister Mario Monti's government have political pedigrees (and sometimes not very clean ones) behind their much-touted "technical" qualifications. This is all fair enough. But it is a little strange when he goes on to infer that many of them are masons wearing hoods. Freemasons have always been the Church's bogeymen, but even in secular Italy they carry a whiff of sulphur and there have long been murky reports of maverick lodges that live outside the law.
Travaglio is an investigative journalist who for a decade or more has been the country's conscience on corruption and malpractice, mostly focusing on former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. So why is he now trafficking in conspiracy theories -- and about Monti, who many people see as a competent technocratic savior (not to mention the anti-Berlusconi) for Italy?
From the moment Monti was given the job of forming a government in mid-November, there have been a swirl of insinuations first around him, then around his cabinet, and now, around his junior ministers, too.
Monti's background and demeanor make him an ideal target for conspiracy theories. He is apparently a man of power but always understated, quiet and confident with a subtle sense of humour. This in a country where power is usually advertised loudly. This was certainly true in Berlusconi's case; but long before that, ministers and cardinals in Rome generally had costumes and cars that ostentatiously showed their status. Monti in contrast, chose an older car from the prime minister's fleet and is, personally, very low key. In the past, the only downplayed power in Italy was the mafia, the ultimate conspiracy.
Monti's power too, is hidden, so the conspiracy logic goes. He comes from Italy's most elite university, the Bocconi in Milan, where he has been a student, teacher, rector, and president. He also went to Yale. A good proportion of his cabinet are also Bocconiani, enhancing the idea of an old boy network. Monti is also a real Catholic as are a significant number of his cabinet. (Almost all Italians are nominally Catholic but few practice beyond rites of passage -- hatching, matching, and dispatching.)
Then there is the banking connection. Monti worked as an international advisor to Goldman Sachs and -- even more sinister for the conspiracy theorists -- he has been an active member of the Bilderberg group and the Trilateral Commission. Both are very discreet groups for people of influence, where international politics and economics are discussed off the record. They are also favorite targets for conspiracy theorists throughout the world, who brand them as cabals of devious white men planning world dominance.
His time in Brussels is well known and well documented, as is the mutual respect between him and the EU establishment. But for some, that too is evidence of underhanded activity.
A few days after Monti's appointment, a very loquacious and publicity-seeking Freemason, Giole Magaldi, declared that Monti was a mason on the controversial radio chat show La Zanzara. He went on to claim that an unspecified number of his cabinet were also masons.