This is the final instalment of a three part series which examines the uncanny longevity of Silvio Berlusconi.
In this concluding episode, I’ll take a look at girls, how Berlusconi has managed Italy, criticism from abroad, corruption, plus a few other relevant issues, including Italy’s odd opposition parties, and will include Italy’s prime minister’s legal woes.
In case you might like to read Parts One and Two before digesting what is to follow, here they are:
Right, if you are ready, take a sharp breath and here we go.
That Berlusconi likes pretty young girls is no secret and it is something he has admitted himself.
Although the Rubygate sex scandal indicates that he may have gone too far, it has not damaged his reputation enough to bring him down.
Italy is a society which is very much male dominated and in which women are primarily sex symbols and child producers and not too much else – a fascist ideal, incidentally.
Watch one of Berlusconi’s television channels – any evening – and you’ll come across droves of scantily clad nubile young women. Italy’s men do not find all the girls at all distasteful, and even many of Italy’s women find all the semi-nudity not much more than harmless titillation.
When stories of Berlusconi’s sexual shenanigans hit the headlines, it’s no big deal for many Italians. Berlusconi is rich, powerful and likes pretty women, so he’s no more than a typical red-blooded Italian stallion.
Many Italian men regard Berlusconi’s sexual antics with a mixture of envy and respect. Even Italian women are aware that boys will be boys.
One suspects that if Berlusconi were to make one of his bunga bunga parties a public event, the queue would probably stretch from Berlusconi’s villa in Milan all the way to Rome.
At the end of the day, Italians really do not care what Berlusconi does in private.
Berlusconi’s Management of Italy
A number of economists and political scientists would argue that Silvio Berlusconi has done very little to solve Italy’s problems.
Yet despite the lacklustre performance of Italy’s economy, many Italians still enjoy a relatively high standard of living and Berlusconi’s government does not seem to have affected this markedly. Rampant tax evasion keeps plenty of pockets full too.
If Berlusconi had taken money out of the pockets of a large number of Italians, then calls for him to go would be much louder than they are now. Indeed, in amongst numerous other ever changing proposals, the new round of austerity measures threatens to clamp down on tax evasion (today) and may well leave Italian pockets containing less. If what is proposed comes to pass, Berlusconi will become unpopular and he knows it.
Prior to the economic crisis, and all the way up to July 2011, Berlusconi had been cleverly making promises to resuscitate Italy and, up until July this year, Italians continued to swallow his promising rhetoric.
In general though, and seeing as not much has changed either for the better or for the worse in Italy, Berlusconi can keep his place on the throne for as long as he likes as far as plenty of Italians are concerned.
The secret to Berlusconi’s success lies in his ability to create the impression his government is always on the verge of doing something. That something never actually seems to materialise and what little has been done has not done anything to change Italy for the better and for the common Italian, things are not much worse than before Berlusconi ascended to the throne.
Some Italians are beginning to wake up to the great Berlusconi conjuring trick, but others remain under his cleverly woven spell.
There are signs that the spell is about to be broken. The Berlusconi government’s handling of the creation of austerity measures for Italy has revealed that when the chips (and stock markets) are well and truly down, Berlusconi and his crew don’t seem to be able to know what to do.
Criticism from Abroad
The overriding attitude of many Italians is basically: Who cares what others think of Italy? Firstly, foreigners do not understand Italy; secondly, they are jealous (of all the pretty girls) – and it’s not as if their own countries are that much better anyway.
This is Berlusconi’s attitude too.
The majority of criticism from overseas falls off Berlusconi like water off the proverbial duck’s back. To keep the water falling, Berlusconi uses his media might to dilute or simply not report what others are saying about him.
Few Italians read newspapers, so very few Italians have the remotest idea of what is going on. This is yet another reason why Berlusconi stays at the top
If you’ve ever read, as I have, Paul Ginsborg‘s Italy and Its discontents 1980 to 2001 (which does not appear to have ever been published in Italian), you will have noted how Ginsborg mentions the great Italian capacity for forgiveness. To err is very, very human in Italian eyes.
In Italy, those who make mistakes should be given another chance, and another, and another (repeat for several paragraphs). You only have to take a look at the number of Italian politicians with distinctly uninspiring track records who have been around for an eternity to understand just how incredibly forgiving Italians are.
Italians have forgiven Berlusconi for his past foibles. They may well forgive him again.
The Italian attitude towards corruption is that it is part of doing business in Italy. If friendships cannot be forged, then the system of paying people off, right, left and centre, comes into play.
This way of dong things has always been, and probably always will be, the way Italy works. As mentioned in Part One, this Italian phenomenon is closely linked to the innate distrust of their fellows from which Italians suffer. Corruption is, after all, no more than buying friendship and trust. What’s wrong with that?
If Silvio Berlusconi has been paying backhanders to lubricate his business transactions, so what? Everybody else does it, so why should Berlusconi be any different?
Italians tend to think that all politicians are corrupt, so Berlusconi does not stand out for this at all. Indeed, and as covered in Part Two, many Italians are probably impressed with his self-serving laws. In his position, many would be doing the same. Perfectly normal and utterly furbo too.
Stop reading, start speaking
Stop translating in your head and start speaking Italian for real with the only audio course that prompt you to speak.
Odd though it might sound, Berlusconi’s legal problems keep him in power. Why? Because if he were not playing the part of Italy’s prime minister, he may well be seeing out his retirement from behind the bars of one of Italy prisons.
Berlusconi has reportedly stated that the only reason he entered politics was to keep himself out of the clink. Furthermore, he got into politics to save his businesses from pending doom, or so said close associate of his, one Marcello Dell’Utri.
In fact, and ably assisted by two parliamentarians who also just happen to run his legal defence team, Berlusconi has kept himself from ending up behind bars.
A few delaying tactics here, the odd convenient law or two there, and bingo! No jail time.
Not only has Berlusconi used his political weight to keep his legal troubles at a controllable distance, he has also used his legal tangles to generate sympathy. Persecuted, he is, and he loves to tell everyone how he is the victim of a commie led conspiracy as well as how much he has had to pay his lawyers over the years.
Italians lap up Berlusconi’s pathos. Well, as mentioned previously, Italians are a forgiving people. Berlusconi knows this and plays on it for all it is worth.
The number of cases Berlusconi is embroiled in seems to vary from one day to the next and is inflated when deemed expedient. The figure 106 has been broached, whereas the actual total is around 25 according to a long Wikipedia Italy entry entirely dedicated to Berlusconi’s legal troubles.
Whereas the number and nature of the legal woes faced by Berlusconi may well have led to the downfall of politicians in other nations, in Italy, they virtually achieve the opposite and prop him up.
Yes, many of Italy’s opposition parties make a substantial contribution towards Berlusconi’s continued stability and have done so for quite a while. Indeed, it could be argued, and quite successfully too, that without Italy’s bungling opposition parties, Berlusconi would not be where he is today.
It has to be said that Berlusconi stands out as the one and only leader of his Popolo della Libertà party.
The same cannot really be said of the biggest opposition party the Partito Democratico (PD).
On paper, it looks as if one Rosy Bindi is the leader, but seeing as it is one Pier Luigi Bersani who seems to occupy the most air-time on television, observers from other planets could be forgiven for thinking Bersani is the leader. Then there are the other “leaders”. Lots of them, such as D’Alema, Fassino, Veltroni, and Franceschini, all of whom confusingly swarm around Bindi or Bersani like wasps assaulting a rubbish bin. The overriding impression this gives is that of complete incoherence.
It is believed the PD is a moderate left wing party, but even this is far from clear. As for any semblance of direction, forget it! The PD lot has become very good at shouting recently – probably because they’ve heard that Berlusconi is getting old, or something like that.
Italy’s voters have noticed that the PD do not really know what they are doing, and so has Silvio Berlusconi – which is why he has won elections three times, so far.
Aside from virtually zero direction, the PD is reactive and not proactive. It is led by a bunch of regurgitated politicians who simply do not know how to handle Berlusconi and his US style showmanship politics.
Berlusconi knows exactly what hits the right chord with Italians – he’s spent time and money studying the notes and has then composed an attractive sounding never-ending overture. Meanwhile, the PD is still playing the same old tunes which never really struck the right chords in the first place anyway. It’s not as if the PD mob have the most sparking of political track records either.
The predecessor (same faces as now) to the PD was given a chance to govern Italy back in 2006, but totally fluffed the opportunity owing to the continual bickering which seems to be so common to politics in Italy.
The PD just has not learnt from the past and seems to play the political game in a way which is out-dated and out-moded. And its members have faced, and are facing, accusations of corruption, so they come across as having no more integrity than the Berlusconi crowd. This is probably many Italians believe their politicians are all corrupt.
At times one wonders whether the PD deliberately works to keep Berlusconi in power. Maybe the continual bumbling combined with a refusal to modernize is intentional, and is a ploy to give the impression they are the “opposition” when really they are not and have no real interest in being so. The PD players earn fat salaries regardless of whether they are in government or not and will receive generous automatic pensions after they’ve managed to hang around in Italy’s parliament for long enough.
There are other opposition parties in Italy, but most are tiny. Unless they form alliances with one of the bigger beasts which inhabit Italy’s political zoo, these weeny parties have about as much effect as a tornado shelter made of toilet paper.
Only one opposition party continually harangues Berlusconi – the Italian Values party. This is led by former magistrate Antionio di Pietro who was a key player in investigations into Italy’s mid-90s “bribesville” scandals. But Di Pietro is suspected of having being “tainted” by his time in Italian politics and rumours about below the counter deals he is involved in exist, meaning that his integrity has become questionable in the eyes of many Italians. Whether this is true, or whether this feeling has come about as a result of manufactured information, is unclear. But planting a few seeds of doubt is often all that is needed.
In part, Berlusconi stays in power partly as a result of the so-called “Tina” syndrome. No, Tina is not the name of one of Berlusconi’s long line of young lady friends, it’s an acronym which stand for: There Is No Alternative. Zero. But Berlusconi also holds onto power relatively easily because he appears to be able to keep his party from imploding. For this, he has to be admired.
That Berlusconi uses what some might consider to be dubious business practices is no reason for him to stand down as prime minister in the eyes of many Italians.
His frequenting of young girls is not regarded as being prejudicial to his ability to run Italy, either.
On more than a few occasions between 2006 & 2011, between 60% and 70% of Italians considered Berlusconi to be a popular leader. In June 2011, Berlusconi’s popularity stood at around 42% according to an “Osservatorio Sociale Cercom” survey.
Berlusconi’s popularity as a leader has fallen recently and, as noted before, his mismanagement of much needed austerity and growth measures may cause his popularity to reach a record low point. But more than 40% of Italy’s population still believed Berlusconi was a fine leader in May 2011.
Having spoken to Italians about Berlusconi, a common opinion I have come across is – No, he’s not the greatest prime minister Italy has ever had – but there are no alternatives (TINA). And in answer to the question: Should he go? Italians tend to think he should not, owing to the fact that in this period of crisis, general elections would not be a good idea. Why? Because on the run up to elections, governments simply stop governing.
What escapes the attention of these hopeful souls, and what the current austerity measures fiasco is clearly revealing, is that Berlusconi & Co don’t really know how to govern.
Italians have been carefully cajoled and conditioned into their positive regard for their colourful leader, and this is where Berlusconi’s genius lies: his ability to play on and magnify those facets of the Italian psyche which have always existed and will continue to do so long long after Silvio Berlusconi is no more than a memory.
In conclusion, I’d say the main reason why Berlusconi continues to hold on to power is because he has worked very hard to create and to maintain Italians who will vote for him. Berlusconi’s primary tool is his extreme media might.
He’s done an exceptionally good job, has he not?