The number of corruption and bribery allegations made against Berlusconi reads like an episode of Boardwalk Empire, with one key difference: Boardwalk Empire has a sense of realism.
From the moment he formed the Forza Italia party, Silvio Berlusconi has been the source of much controversy, hate and humour in Italy and across the world. He’s survived 51 votes of no confidence and has four ongoing legal cases against him. I can’t decide whether his legacy has been tragically humorous or astoundingly depressing, or both.
It is a career which has made safe the jobs of numerous satirists and script writers for shows like Mock The Week. The world has laughed at his shortcomings- his almost surreal attitude to women, his blatant corruption and public gaffes. It’s easy to dismiss his legacy as one long joke and Berlusconi as a Ricky Gervais-like anti-hero comedian, but, as David Mitchell points out, “Ricky Gervais doesn’t have fiscal power”! Silvio Berlusconi’s tenure, aimed at invigorating the right of Italian politics, has left the Italian economy in tatters and large sections of its people completely disillusioned with the system.
The number of corruption and bribery allegations made against Berlusconi reads like an episode of Boardwalk Empire, with one key difference: Boardwalk Empire has a sense of realism. He survived many cases that ‘timed out’ under the Limitations of Statute Act that the Italian justice system adheres to. He was also acquitted on several occasions; seemingly every appeal he made against prison sentences saw his acquittal, with rumours he even convinced one judge that he’s still a natural brunette. Incidentally, he’s currently facing a charge of bribing a judge.
And what happened when it looked like prosecution was inevitable? He subtly passes a law which means any Prime Minister of Italy cannot be prosecuted whilst in office. Oh you sly fox, you. The law was repealed by the Italian Supreme Court and up steps Berlusconi with another fantastic quote: “We have a very organised minority of red [left-wing] magistrates who use justice for a political fight”. Again, I’m not sure if such irony is depressing or hilarious, or both. He ended that little tirade with “Long live Italy, long live Berlusconi!”
Despite the dominance of Italian media and existing right wing sentimentality in Italy, Berlusconi lost two out of the five elections he contested. This has lead many commentators to blame the Italian public for electing him three out of five times: if the public had the means to prevent him from gaining office, they should have exercised this in all five elections he contested. The very fact that he was elected three times may be used to make a further point about the flaws of democracy, but the real problem is that he should never have been able to run in the first place! If the justice system had worked effectively, Italians may not have suffered the humiliation they have.
Berlusconi has displayed a horrific attitude to women, not to mention the ongoing investigation of whether he elicited sex of an underage prostitute. A lot of people dismiss this attitude in the kind of way you might pat a senile man on the hand and say “what’s he like?” The former Italian Prime Minister is not a senile old man though (at least officially) and for the leader of a country to act in the way he has done is frankly appalling. At a recent EU summit, he remarked that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s behind was not worth penetrating. His infamous ‘bunga bunga’ parties have caught the headlines and he has been accused of, on more than one occasion, having sex with minors. Even those in the Italian media, at least in the sections not under Berlusconi ownership, were stunned by the amazing, inexplicable and surreal defence (in Parliament) of his actions: “It’s better to be passionate about beautiful women than to be gay”. Cue jaw drop.
Going forward, corruption needs to be addressed. Corruption in Italy spreads right across the board and should be a priority for the new government. Italy’s economy is in tatters, and tackling corruption is imperative in revitalising it. Anti corruption action will crack down on tax evasion, prevent anti competitive practices and ensure there is no security of tenure for incompetent figures of authority.
The interest rate on 10-year Italian government bonds briefly passed 7%, and by the time this is published, it seems inevitable that Italy will follow Greece, Ireland and Portugal by seeking a bailout from the EU. In the period between 2001 and 2010, of which Berlusconi was in charge for all but two years, Italy had one of the world’s lowest economic growth rates. On resigning, he said “I hope to resume with you the path of government”. Let’s hope the Mario Balotelli of the political world is never in a democratic position of power again.