Opinion: Berlusconi is no joke

Silvio Berlusconi, with his outlandish behaviour and flamboyant lifestyle, may be hard to take seriously – but he is certainly no joke. Behind his carefree playboy public image is a man who is damaging democracy in the heart of Europe.

Berlusconi is a man who clearly likes to enjoy himself, and I am sure that his parties are a lot of fun to attend. Perhaps justifiably, some have asked whether this in itelf is really at all relevant, whether we should take Berlusconi at his word when he says, “Italians like me as I am, I won’t change”, and leave it at that. Let Italians decide whether the private life of the prime minister is important, rather than having some uptight, sexually repressed Anglo-Saxons try to impose their morality on others.

Unfortunately, things just aren’t that simple. Even if we are to leave aside the distasteful hypocrisy of a man who sleeps with prostitutes while passing strict anti-prostitution laws – and leave aside the disgusting message it sends to young women that the only way to success in politics or the media is to cater to the perversions of omnipotent septuagenarians – we are still left with the fact that Berlusconi is using all means at his disposal to hold on to his flamboyant lifestyle and his power. And if at the same time this destroys democracy in Italy, so be it.

Although some have claimed that the lack of public outrage at the antics of the Prime Minister in Italy is a result of a stereotype, a more liberal attitude towards sex on behalf of Italians (where does the Pope live again?), one also wonders how much the average Italian really knows about what is going on.

Berlusconi controls all but one of the private terrestrial television networks, and as Prime Minister also controls the state run TV RAI. It should be no surprise that, when allegations were made that Berlusconi has slept with Patrizia D’Addario, a high class prostitute from Bari, the news was not reported by any television station for four days.

After a minor public outcry from the few people who still read newspapers in Italy, the head of the state-run RAI TV news went on television, conveniently the day after several important regional elections, to explain this decision, saying that it would be irresponsible to report gossip that had presented no evidence against the prime minister.

A perfectly reasonable position … if it wasn’t for the fact that these allegations were the fruits of a fraud investigation by Bari magistrates, which, during their investigations, stumbled across telephone conversations linking a prostitution service with parties at the prime ministers official residence in Rome. Hearsay and gossip this was not.

Berlusconi also controls the law, and when it looked like a trial involving Berlusconi last year was to end finally in his conviction for corruption and money laundering, he simply changed the law to give him and other top government officials immunity from prosecution. This immunity did not extend, though, to David Mills (estranged husband of Tessa Jowell), who was convicted this year of accepting bribes from Berlusconi.

Now that his immunity law might be overturned in the constitutional court, it has emerged that Berlusconi, along with his justice minister, has been secretly meeting with several judges on that court. One can only imagine what the content of those conversations must have been.

Berlusconi is now doing all that he can to stay in power and will not go willingly, as it is only whilst in power that he can protect his ill-gotten media empire, riches and lifestyle. It is no wonder that his wife, when publicly announcing her divorce, said, “Someone wrote that all this is to sustain the enjoyment of the Emperor. I agree with this – what has emerged is shameful trash, all in the name of power.”

This would not be so bad if we knew that one day Berlusconi might go, and all would return to normal. However, the damage that the man is doing to the democratic structures of the country by corrupting the legal system, concentrating power in a few media outlets and supressing the free press – and, as he did earlier this year as a concession to a far-right coalition partner, ceding some of the responsibility for law and order from the state by legalising vigil anti groups – may well be irreversible. After this, we can only hope that the emperor will not be succeeded by someone with less benign ideals than orgies and personal entertainment.

* George Turner is a Liberal Democrat member, now living in Italy.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • kardinal birkutzki 15th Jul '09 - 3:50pm

    hmm..democracy in Europe? If only…

  • George Turner 16th Jul '09 - 11:05am

    Lets get one thing straight, Italy did not overwhelmingly vote for Berlusconi. Berlusconi’s party the Popolo della liberta, which itself is a combined list of candidates from Forza Italia, Alenzia Nazionale and others won 37.4% at the last election. They are in a coalition government with the Northern League. Berlusconi’s coalition has a large majority in Parliament, but this is only due to the bonus system used that awards more seats to the party with the most votes.

  • I’m italian, I live in Italy and I can only say that you’re absolutely right.

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