Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is a unique example of political longevity. In the country where governments are changed more often than once a year he has managed to stay afloat for twenty years. Neither corruption scandals, nor his endless love affairs hampered it. What is Berlusconi’s phenomenon and why he is a survivor?
«It is better to love girls than to be a gay», Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said recently provoking real rage of not only European sexual minorities but the Italian opposition as well. The representatives of the latter demanded to fire Don Silvio. However, the Imperator (Berlusconi’s nickname in Italy) refused. He is sure that the majority of the Italian population supports him.
It is as if scandals only raise the popularity of the politician. The last of them flared up at the end of October. The police detained a 17-year-old Moroccan girl named Rubi who was accused of stealing three thousand Euro and a gold necklace. Being questioned by police she suddenly said that she took part in sexual orgies in Berlusconi’s residence near Milan and asserted that she was intimate with Berlusconi in exchange for expensive gifts.
A few days later, the girl from North Africa was released after a telephone call from the Prime Minister’s administration. The Milan police explained that «the telephone call from the Prime Minister did not have the least influence on the release of the suspect».
Berlusconi scornfully refused to reply to the charge. He responded to the charges of abuse of power with his customary sarcasm. «I have a big good heart of a man who always helps people who need it», he said and stressed that the opposition «extemporizes the case» trying to discredit him once again.
However, all attempts to discredit Berlusconi always failed. The phenomenon of this politician is not explained yet. He has been dominating the political arena of Italy for the last fifteen years and there is not a figure who could replace him so far. He is the richest man in the country, the owner of Milan soccer club, a real heavyweight of the Italian policy construed by the gioco del cerrino principle (a play with a match). The point of this game is to embrace a long firing wax match from each other. The player who is burned is the loser.
The metaphor with a match appeared because Italian governments often «burn». It is unlikely that there is another country where governments are changed one or two times a year (excluding Japan having just the same situation). The current Cabinet of ministers is the sixty- second one since 1945. However, in the context of the endless leapfrog in the echelons of power Berlusconi demonstrates wonderful political longevity.
He came to power for the first time in 1994. However, the first «government of business» worked just a bit more than a year. Seven years later his party People for Liberty celebrated a parliamentary election win again and Don Silvio returned to power. Five years later he could boast of a unique achievement: the government has worked the whole its constitutional term for the first time since World War II. In 2006 he lost the elections but two years later returned to the height of power.
For the last 15-17 years Berlusconi declared himself as a handsome politician. He has no match in the modern Italy.«You should concentrate power to have political weight. You should make a vertical effort to concentrate power. You should personalize the vertical to make it. You should have power in the media to personalize the power. And you should have a lot of money to own the media», a former Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi wrote describing Don Silvio’s phenomenon.
Really, Berlusconi is the richest man in Italy. His wealth is appraised at $11.8 billion. But he did not submit the pressure when he was in power. He created it for a long time before coming to power. In 1980 Lady’s Man (another nickname of Berlusconi) organized the first commercial television Canale 5 which immediately won popularity. After that he continued to invest into new media.
Today the Imperator owns the controlling stake of the most widely-read dailies Il Giornale, Mondadori Publishing House, the biggest media group Fininvest Holding and influential commercial TV channels in France and Spain.
Berrlusconi ably uses media power. At the end of 2009 he spent a night in a clinic of Milan after a raging psycho broke his nose and knocked a tooth out at a rally. His rating soared from 48 to 56 percent. The attack was broadcasted on the air and some people think that the action was planned carefully. But there is no evidence of such a version.
Experts also say that Don Silvio is a good psychologist handily using the natural wish of people to keep their personalities, the right to choose their own life styles and to observe them. Berlusconi’s election speeches are reduced to the following: «Do you want to be rich? Do you want to be free in your wishes? Do you want to be cosmopolitans? I guarantee you the freedom of choice. I do the same and I do not want to be other». Berlusconi symbolizes the idea that if you want to get success you should be natural and a man of the street.
Berlusconi has explained and his endless love affairs. «I work hard. I should relax sometimes to get rid of fixed ideas. I do it how I am accustomed to doing it and nobody will force me to change my life style at my age».
«I love life and women. I am proud of my life style. I keep an open table. I can say that I am inimitable, joyful and cheerful and only good people who behave well come to my house. Anyway to love beautiful girls is better than to be a gay», Corriere della Sera daily cites the premier.
It is wonder but the Italians forgive Berlusconi his weaknesses for the fairer sex. The same concerns numerous accusations of Don Silvio of violation of laws. Berlusconi appeared before the court many times and even was sentenced to prison three times – for concealment of income, bribes to tax inspectors and illegal financing of an election campaign of his friend Craxi. Every time Berlusconi’s lawyers won.
«There is an opinion that justice is light-fingered. And Berlusconi manipulates it very ably, sets himself up as a person unfairly persecuted by law enforcement agencies», an Italian sociologist said explaining this phenomenon.
How is such tolerance possible in a truly Catholic country? The point is that Italy has become more secular than before the post-war time. Recently the Catholic church has been heavily disturbed by deterioration in morals in the countries which were strongholds of Catholicism, including Italy.
But the problem is not only in the breakaway from the religious roots. The Imperator has an excellent sense of humor. His sarcastic words and catch phrases, for example, about “tanned Obama” or that his party won because among their members there are more beautiful women than in the Communist party, some people name “the tactics of a playboy”. Why not if such tactics succeed?
In conclusion, we will give Margaret Thatcher’s opinion about Berlusconi. “The truth is that Silvio Berlusconi and his party in the union with the coalition are the thing which is feared and hated by all leftists in the European Union: Mr. Berlusconi is a dynamic businessman but not a bureaucrat. He and his fellows in arms are radical anticommunists.
A well-orchestrated libel campaign in European media having few equals has been held against Mr. Berlusconi to embarrass Italian voters and to enforce them to vote for the leftists. I was perturbed by this campaign and supported Berlusconi in an open letter. The European Union tries to press voters not for the first time. But it will be the last time if the Italians refuse to bend their knees”.
The Italians have refused. Not because they are against the leftists but because they are for Berlusconi with all his tricks.
*The post is written by – Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey