Oct 30, 2012

La Dolce Vita

Last Friday, Silvio Berlusconi, former Prime Minister of Italy, was sentenced to four years in prison for tax fraud during the purchase of broadcasting rights by his television company Mediaset. Fortunately for him and sadly for his critics, he still has the right to appeal the sentence two more times (I will not even try to guess what the outcome of that part of the process will be). He said that the sentence was “political and intolerable”. And some days earlier he confirmed that he would not present himself as a candidate for the general election of 2014.

It could almost be said that the main character in Federico Fellini’s , Guido Anselmi, played by Marcelo Mastroianni, Berlusconi has had a very bad year in which it is visible that he has lost the star which allowed him to be the head of Italian politics. First, his People of Freedom party and the League of North coalition which supports him had a poor performance in the local elections in May 2011. Some weeks later, in June 2011, he lost a referendum. There were four propositions in it: the privatization of water supply for households, an increase in the fees of public services (which would allow for better services), an increase in the utilization of nuclear energy sources (the Fukushima disaster had happened in January that year), and a provision which allowed public officials to use the impediment justification to be absent in criminal courts (which would permit Berlusconi to miss some trials against him, among them one for child prostitution during his infamous Bunga-Bunga parties, case which is still pending). All four propositions were rejected by more than 95% of the electors who participated in the exercise. Some commentaries at the time pointed out that given the use Berlusconi did of his television assets to prevent people from going to vote or to vote in support of the initiatives, his failure was even larger.

And then, his final fall: during the summer, the interest rate of Italy’s sovereign debt began to increase, being very close to levels that required Greece to be helped by European Union financial institutions, and the prospects for economic recovery and growth became grimmer with each day that passed. There were calls from citizens and the opposition for him to resign (his term ended in 2013) or to take measures to alleviate the situation. He confirmed that he would not resign, while he was having a very hard time negotiating the economic reform package. There was even a parliamentary vote of confidence in October for him staying in power, which he narrowly won. But the financial pressure on Italy continued growing daily. One day, the press leaked information in the sense that Berlusconi and President Giorgio Napolitano had reached an agreement that, as soon as the former had his reforms approved, which the latter will try to take no more than a week, he should resign. Berlusconi’s immediate reaction to the press was to state again that he was not leaving office. However, the President Giorgio Napolitano asked the Italian Embassies all around the world to communicate to their respective host governments that the situation in Italy was under control and that he personally was confident that Berlusconi would do the right thing for Italy (this is an uncommon move in international politics and, even more, an inelegant one). Finally, he got approval for the economic reforms, quit his position and President Napolitano invited Mario Monti, an economist just appointed Lifetime Senator (a figure acknowledged in the Italian law), to form a government.

What to make of Berlusconi’s political life during the last year? On the one hand, it can be seen as an exemplary case of a politician who has behaved inappropriately (with his media empire, the parties with excesses, lack of attention to economic problems), and that somehow he is being made accountable for his actions. Even if he does not go to jail the fact of seeing him undergo a judicial process can be very symbolic. On the other hand, Berlusconi, not completely innocent, was standing at the wrong place at the wrong time, so to speak, and he became the scapegoat for the financial problems of Italy during autumn of last year and now to demonstrate that the country has reliable institutions and that no one is above the law. At the end of suddenly everything made sense for Guido Anselmi and he could carry on with his halted movie because of lack of inspiration. Maybe in some time everything will make more sense, either for Italy, Berlusconi or both.


Leave a comment

Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

Email Subscription to D&S and Blog

* indicates required

Posts by Region

Posts by Topic

Switch to our mobile site