Rebecca Helm-Ropelato
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Thursday, December 7, 2006
The Prime Minister's Way
In mid-November, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi was invited to speak on the opening day of a large anti-mafia weekend conference in Rome. It was a first-of-its-kind event – a gathering of several groups working against the country's organized crime network – and several prominent members of Parliament and other Italian politicians were in attendance.
The prime minister arrived about 4:30pm, and took a seat in the first row of the huge auditorium. The afternoon session had kicked off at 2:30 and a dozen other VIPS of various distinction were scheduled to speak before Mr. Prodi would get his turn. A couple of the speakers were brief and perfunctory but most were impassioned and inclined to be longwinded. A few were so eloquent they brought the approximately two thousand members of the audience to their feet with loud cries of Bravo! and prolonged applause.
It was just past 5:30 when Mr. Prodi finally stepped to the podium. Immediately preceding him, greatly pleasing the crowd, had been one of the most Ciceronian of the speakers. The stir and murmuring of the audience indicated they were eager for more of the same.
Anyone not familiar with Mr. Prodi and his softspoken style might have expected him to play to the roar of the people and raise his voice. But the professor – as the press has nicknamed him and as, in fact, he was for several years – proceeded in his usual way. His first words were delivered in the quasi-monotone that is his signature.
Even two or three loud hecklers in the audience who immediately began shouting didn't disconcert him. He waited patiently for them to speak, waited again through their second and third interruptions and continued to wait patiently as the moderator and the majority of the audience intervened to shush the loud ones into silence. Then, after offering some words of sympathy with their protest (the hecklers were demanding reform of an Italian law that, though originally designed to protect the rights of those convicted of political crimes by previous governments, has resulted in also allowing some convicted mafiosi to hold Parliament seats), he continued with his speech, using his typical reserved, deliberate delivery.
From what I've observed, when Mr. Prodi speaks, although it's generally sleep inducing in manner, he almost always has something substantive to say. Somewhere in the middle of that speech in November he offered a nugget that may explain his own anti-oratorical, so to speak, philosophy.
“It is not the job of politicians to be emotional,” he said. “They must think carefully, move slowly and in that way find the correct solutions.”
An approach that may not delight the oratory loving Italian people but one from which their current prime minister won't be budged. Though gently spoken the message unequivocally is, take it or leave it, this is who I am.
by Rebecca Helm-Ropelato
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