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Europe

Beauty in the Eye of the...Party

Political parties across Europe are putting forth their platforms of economic and politics reforms for EU elections in mid-June. But in Italy, there’s one party that’s concerned with something else entirely: beauty.

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The Beauty Party aims to protect Italy's treasures

Never has the politics of aesthetics been so much in your face as this election season in Italy. On almost every street corner in Rome, the smooth visage of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi beams from posters, campaigning for European Parlliament elections on June 12 . His bald head is cropped and his recent nip and tuck makes the 68-year-old leader look, well, almost beautiful.

Vanity aside, beauty is a real electoral issue. Italy’s oldest party, the Republicans, have renamed themselves Il Partito della bellezza -- the Beauty Party. Their motto?

"We don’t need face lifting. Referring to the facelifting our PM Berlusconi," Mauro Aparo, who’s running in central Italy for the Beauty Party, told DW-RADIO. He said that while jibes at Berlusconi are fun, the party’s concerns are more than just skin deep.

"Beauty is a way to say that we have to protect all the Italian beauty. Art, countryside, old cities --our country is a large museum."

Because Italy has so much of the Western world’s artistic treasures, Beauty Party members say it only makes sense to form a party to protect that heritage. They want stricter zoning laws, to ban construction near monuments, and more money for restoring art and protecting the countryside.

"When Americans come to Italy, they would protest if the Coliseum were surrounded by skyscrapers," Giorgio La Malfa, the party chairman, explained. "People would say, 'What the hell is happening in Italy.' So someone has to do this in a very systematic way, and we, in a sense, are those who can do it in the best way."

La Malfa said the current government has failed to take Italy’s treasures seriously enough. His party helped push for a culture ministry thirty years ago. But, he said, the ministry doesn’t do much these days. "The idea is to have someone who’s your watchdog. There is a watchdog that doesn’t bark enough and doesn’t bite."

Fighting windmills

One issue the Beauty Party is fighting against are windmills, which they say destroy the splendor of the Italian landscape. Art historian Vittorio Sgarbi is leading the charge. He’d even like to see crimes against beauty in the criminal code.

"Any Italian citizen who sees the legitimacy of windmills should be arrested," Sgarbi alleged. "That’s our party line. We of course want to protect basic rights and democracy. But the main thing is to protect civilization and beauty."

Even if a Beauty Party victory might land half of Italy in jail, Sgarbi said it would at least be good for the economy. Those millions of tourist dollars that pour into the country each year do so thanks to people who have fought to protect Italy’s treasures.

"When beauty -- the beauty of jests, of politics, of reason, of the economy -- when a thing is beautiful, it isn’t just so aesthetically or in the arts or nature -- it is also economically beautiful.

Economics of beauty

The Beauty Party even has an economic manifesto, taken from a talk by economist John Kenneth Galbraith. Galbraith wondered why Italy -- a country with few natural resources and a rocky history of labor relations -- had become so rich.

"He asks why Italy is so successful, and the answer is because Italian products incorporate beauty," Giorgio La Malfa said. "In Siena, Florence, Milan there is such a strong-standing culture of beauty which gets incorporated in whatever Italy produces. And that makes a special characteristic for this country in the world."

And that, according to La Malfa, needs to be taken just as seriously as other issues: "It might appear a bit frivolous to say that you fight for beauty in a world which is full of economic problems, international problems, war, peace. It’s not escapist, not a way to escape from the problems. It is a way of facing these problems."

While politicians come and go, what the Beauty Party is after, is nothing short of an aesthetically pleasing future -- in every way.

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