Carnival workers in central Italy dusted off their Silvio Berlusconi masks and put the finishing touches to an anti-austerity float as the resort town of Viareggio prepared for its annual political satire parades just ahead of next month’s general election.
The Viareggio carnival has specialized in sending up Italy’s famously bickering and often larger-than-life politicians for 140 years and this year’s anniversary edition will be no different.
“It targets politicians, both Italian and international,” carnival head Alessandro Santini told AFP in an office on the seafront festooned with posters from carnivals of yesteryear.
The poster for this year sets the tone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi all dressed up as Catholic cardinals. The “Carnival Citadel,” a group of warehouses on the edge of this town of 63,000 inhabitants, is abuzz with painters preparing papier-mache floats that can be as high as 28 meters (over 90 feet).
One float shows Monti as a newly-wed with President Giorgio Napolitano, who appointed the current prime minister to save Italy from bankruptcy in 2011.
Monti is carrying a divorce certificate — a reference to his resignation last month.
“When we came up with the idea for this float in May we did not know how long the government would last but we knew it would not be long,” said Massimo Breschi, an artist with flowing curly hair.
Berlusconi suddenly withdrew his People of Freedom party’s support for economics professor Monti last month, triggering early elections on February 24-25.
The float also features center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani — the favorite in the polls — as a groom being courted by his potential allies.
“Everyone wants to marry Bersani!” Breschi joked.
Another puppet is of Beppe Grillo, a former comedian and blogger set to win dozens of seats in parliament with his populist Five Star Movement, who is depicted as a devil with horns.
Grillo “will be the party-crasher,” Breschi said.
Santini said the satire was all in good humor and politicians would be well advised to take it in their stride or risk incurring further mockery. “Politicians are on almost all the floats, where the satire is strong and biting,” he said.
“If a politician is smart and intelligent, he accepts it and understands it is important to be on the floats. If he is angry, then he is mocked even more.”
The festival kicks off on February 3 and had been due to hold its last parade on February 24 — the date picked for the general election.
“We found ourselves right in the middle of the election campaign this year. We suddenly had to postpone the last parade to March 3,” Santini said. The carnival ends with one final parade along the 2.4-kilometer route and an award ceremony.
Twenty-eight private companies are each assigned a budget of 130,000 euros to make the floats.
The total budget of the carnival is 4.4 million euros and organizers are expecting a total of around one million visitors this year.
Most carnival-goers are Italians but tourists are expected from further afield too, including from Britain, Germany, Japan and the United States.
The festival moves with the times too — as shown by the giant papier-mache puppet of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy in a Napoleonic tricorn hat that lies discarded in the corner of one hangar.
The European debt crisis is also a major feature this year — although always with a satirical bent.
Corinne Roger and Gilbert Lebigre, two French people living in Viareggio, have named a float with a group of puppets waving around outsize musical instruments the “Fuck the Austerity Jazz Band.”
“It’s a bit of a shout, not of despair, but to say we’ve had enough,” Roger said. “We’re saying no to words without meaning, now we want music.
“Let’s pick ourselves up again, let’s not get ourselves drowsy with beautiful words. People need a bit more energy and positivity.”