Berlusconi Lives On


Sunday was, as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) phrased it, a "great day" for many in Italy. After 3336 days in power, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi tendered his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano at Rome’s Palazzo del Quirinale, where the Italian head of state has his offices. The FAZ described the scene before the Quirinale late on Saturday evening:

"Several thousand people celebrated the end of the Berlusconi era in front of the presidential palace, condemning him as a ‘buffoon’ and a ‘mafioso’. An amateur orchestra and singers arrived, quickly striking up a version of Händel’s Hallelujah."

As Berlusconi’s car passed into the Quirinale, the crowd threw coins at his car, continues the dispatch from the FAZ.

The Frankfurt daily compares the crowd’s act on Saturday with another famous moment in Italian political history. When the crooked former prime minister and Socialist Party leader Benito Craxi — and Berlusconi’s former patron — left a Rome hotel in April 1993, "a crowd of Communist Party supporters threw coins at him, symbolising charges of corruption against him".

Craxi later died in exile in Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s Tunisia, having fled there to avoid facing corruption charges. He eventually admitted that his party had accepted over $US93 million dollars in bribes. "Some see Berlusconi, who’s now facing a number of charges, ending in a similar way", says FAZ’s Rome correspondent.

Indeed, Deputy Berlusconi won’t be able to avoid facing several trials that are currently dogging him, reflects politically independent Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano, which has published some of Berlusconi’s harshest detractors.

The paper asserts that Berlusconi will now have to say "adieu to legitimate impediment", the legal argument that allowed il Cavaliere to claim he couldn’t make court dates due to his need to perform his official duties.

Il Fatto Quotidiano goes on to list the current charges that are pending in Milan against Berlusconi. The Mills case, due for resumption in late November, sees Il Caviliere accused of corrupting a lawyer. Berlusconi allegedly wired $US600 million to the Swiss bank account of English lawyer David Mills to assure the latter testified in his favour in two corruption cases.

"5 December is fixed as the date on which Berlusconi will testify", reports the Roman paper, adding that Mills has already been condemned for first and second-degree corruption.

Next up will be the Mediaset case, in which Berlusconi is accused of fraud relating to the sale of American movie rights by his television company Mediaset. "Il caso Ruby", in which il Caviliere is accused of extortion and corruption of a minor, is currently scheduled for 2025 — "although the departure of Berlusconi from Palazzo Chigi [the prime ministerial office in Rome]may accelerate that", reports Il Fatto Quotidiano. 

Other European papers turn their attention to Berlusconi’s legacy. France’s Le Monde claims that Il Caviliere has "left Italy in the state he found it". The afternoon paper says few of the policies promised by Berlusconi when he formed government in 1994 have been implemented.

"He hasn’t brought about the ‘liberal revolution’ he promised. Taxes, which he promised to reduce, have risen for those who pay them. The fracture between the North, rich and dynamic, and the South, poor and subsidised, has grown … economic growth continues to stagnate", judges Le Monde.

The paper argues Berlusconi’s failure to fulfil his promises can be traced back to his various "conflicts of interests"; that is, if you "assume he was sincere in the first place" when he promised reform.

"How do you alter the way public television functions when you yourself own three TV channels, a publishing house and 40 newspapers? How do you reform the legal orders when you’ve had your lawyers elected to parliament? How do you promote the genius of Italy [abroad]when you are an aficionado of bunga-bunga?" asks the Parisian paper.

Others see Berlusconi’s domination of the Italian political scene as having left a far darker legacy. Italian novelist Antonio Tabucchi, writing in Spanish daily El País, argues that the Italian political system is today even more corrupt than when the Berlusconi era began in 1994.

"Today, with Berlusconi having left, it will still be difficult to unmake his empire, take back everything that he has appropriated, and annul the anti-constitutional laws he’s promulgated over the last 17 years for his own personal benefit."

Tabucchi believes that almost every institution in Italy bears responsibility for Berlusconi’s success. He tasks the centre left with ineffective governance: they "never once faced up to him" or changed his laws during two brief interludes in power over the course of the Berlusconi era.

Meanwhile the Catholic Church, benefitting from Berlusconi’s "destruction of public schools and privileging of confessional schools", has rarely spoken out against the media tycoon. And the media — especially Berlusconi’s outlets — have "created a real life "Truman Show", into which Italians have fallen", according to Tabucchi.

Yet although many are celebrating the end of Berlusconi, there’s also disquiet from some in Italy about the interim government, led by economist Mario Monti. Spain’s Público compares the fall of Berlusconi to the Egyptian and Tunisian Revolutions.

"The motives that have provoked his exit — economic crisis, corruption, social rupture and institutional failure" might be the same as those that led to the Arab revolutions, says Público,

However, "Berlusconi is going, not because the people made him, but because … Napolitano has imposed a government guided by a person, Mario Monti, who enjoys the favour of an electorate without an official seat: the market", declares the Madrid daily.

Público concludes on an ironic note: "On Monday, Super Mario will pledge the oath of office, and the markets will declare their final verdict. Goldman Sachs, the investment bank which employs Monte as a counsellor has already predicted the result, namely that the risk premium will fall below 350 points. The European Bank will think the Euro’s saved."

Those who believe Berlusconi is finished have spoken too soon, according to Berlusconi’s own Il Giornale. The Milanese paper describes his Sunday appearance on Italian TV as "emotional but combative". Its verdict is that il Caviliere has "closed the book on all the polemics asserting that Berlusconi’s departure from the Palazzo Chigi also means the sun has set on Berlusconi the politician".

Il Giornale ends its coverage of the Berlusconi resignation by quoting the departed leader: "I don’t expect recognition, but I won’t give up until we’ve succeeded in liberating the country of its ideological and collective obstacles [to progress].

"Viva Italy, viva freedom!"

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