Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Obscenity of Berlusconi.

"I am absolutely sure to be the most democratic man to ever become Prime Minister in Italy." - Silvio Berlusconi

The long awaited and final downfall of il Cavaliere may come in the form of a conviction for paying an underage girl for sex, as well as other charges of fraud, it is clear that these allegations are just the tip of the ice-berg with this man. For Berlusconi it is all an elaborate conspiracy cooked up by communists, just like the months of legal battles over corruption allegations, constitutional crises, political infighting and a lot of sex scandals - which have become an obsession for the media. These scandals and crises left Berlusconi hanging in power by a thread. Back in February women demonstrated against Berlusconi, who personifies the rampant sexism and misogyny which is endemic in Italian society. The sexual excesses of Berlusconi have been widely documented and chewed up by the media, though we ought to remember that, as Noam Chomsky once said, "When the press focuses on the sex lives of politicians, reach for your pocket and see who's pulling out your wallet."

The glorious accomplishments of Berlusconi style authoritarianism include a stagnant economy, one of the world's highest levels of public debt and 30% youth unemployment. He has seen to it that the state will sanction the murder of illegal immigrants, the boats they use to travel over to Italy can be sunk. As for those people who dare to try and climb aboard fishing boats can be beaten without any serious chance of prosecution. Berlusconi has also been keen to introduce legislation to raise the prison sentences for illegal immigrants to a third higher than for an Italian. With the state of emergency implemented in 2008, thousands of soldiers were deployed to "combat" illegal immigration, organised crime and sexual deviancy... Oh the irony! Berlusconi was eager to speak to the hysterical fears of Italians with a populist line of delivery on policy which was supported by the mass-media that he dominates. At it's weirdest and most disturbing moment Italy saw Jewish-Italians voting for neo-fascists on the basis of Berlusconi's support for Israel.

The populist campaign Berlusconi has launched against the judiciary, who were heroes after Tangentopoli in the early 1990s and to whom Berlusconi is partly indebted in that sense. Since then he has consistently portrayed the judges as agents of the radical Left and has succeeded in doing so, the judiciary has been left widely discredited. In 2009 it seemed as though the separation of powers had been seriously undermined by Berlusconi in this way. Through the mass-media which he dominates directly and indirectly, a new commonsense supplanted old values and ideas. There was a common belief that there was no alternative to Berlusconi, which has some ring of truth to it as the Italian Left has yet to recover from the collapse in the early 90s. Then there is the notion that he embodies the country and that the Party of Freedom is the people of Italy. Meanwhile, the Italian state has become a shadow of Big Business as Berlusconi hurled himself into politics to defend his empire from the Left.

"The real Italian anomaly is not Silvio Berlusconi but communist prosecutors and communist judges in Milan who have attacked him again and again since he entered politics." - Silvio Berlusconi

Keep in mind that Berlusconi first came to power in May 1994 in the shadow of Tangentopoli - the biggest bribery scandal in post-war Italian history - which led to the collapse of the major political parties in a quagmire of corruption charges. As Forza Italia was founded in the midst of the crisis prosecutors found that Berlusconi had made a payment of 23 billion lire, the equivalent of more than £10m, to Bettino Craxi. It was the single largest bribe ever paid to an Italian politician. Berlusconi was convicted in that case but the conviction was quashed because of the statute of limitations. The Socialist Party which was led by Craxi collapsed and the former Prime Minister fled to Tunisia rather than face a prosecution. In retrospect, the current Prime Minister of Italy has made Richard Nixon look polished and not just clean in morals. The lurch to the Right in the midst of political turmoil in the 1990s might be matched by a lurch to the Left after Berlusconi finally falls.

It appears that the regime that he has been constructing all these years may not last until 2013. The conflict within the government over major issues like the intervention in Libya. Even Gianfranco Fini has abandoned il Cavaliere to found a new party of his own after he helped to secure the five-point programme of the incumbent administration back in September. It is seems quite strange in retrospect that it looked as though Berlusconi would no doubt serve a full 5 year term in 2009. It should also be noted that there is still a need for a Gramsci or a Togliatti, just as there was in 2009. There has been a resurgence in support for opposition parties in local elections which has further undermined Berlusconi's position. There is also a growing youth movement to force him from office on the streets, it looks as though the government might finally crumble. But there is still a serious need for a viable alternative to Berlusconi, which is the only reason he has been able to hold on this long. 

The lack of formidable opposition to Berlusconi has been made evident over the years by his unsettling ability to constantly reinvent his political platform and relaunch himself. Even when Romano Prodi won the General Election of 2006 by a small majority Berlusconi could resort to the game that he was "robbed", the insinuation of vote-rigging and the refusal to concede victory. Then the legal wranglings, which constrained the ability of the opposition to gain a majority in the Senate, he had personally crafted contributed to the crisis which led to Prodi's downfall in 2008. Remember this is the same fellow who claims to be the target of intense scrutiny from a left-wing elite which has exercised a campaign against him through the judiciary and the media. The line that there is a conspiracy against him is constantly used even though he dominates the media in Italy. After Avvenire questioned the moral fibre of the Prime Minister il Giornale, which is run by his brother Paolo Berlusconi, vilified the editor of Avvenire as a closet homosexual who had harassed the wife of his lover.

"I always win, I'm cursed to win." - Silvio Berlusconi

The man is no underdog, which is clear as Silvio Berlusconi is the only Prime Minister in the history of the Italian Republic to rule for a 5 years. He has had unprecedented influence on the country's culture in the last 30 years and has dominated the political discourse for over 15 years. Two years ago he commanded the biggest majority in Italian political history. He has garnered the hospitality of such political leaders as Vladimir Putin, Muammar al-Gaddafi and Tony Blair. To each of whom he has "donated" at least nine watches. He has used the money he has accumulated over the years to purchase splendid homes at home and abroad, including one in the Bahamas. The paranoia of elites is befitting of an aging reactionary, similar to Richard Nixon in that sense, who sees a sinister network of enemies unfolding before his very eyes. Though it is also a convenient way to explain away the flaws of policy, fall in approval ratings and mass-demonstrations in the streets.

The result of a referendum has undermined legislation Berlusconi introduced in favour of nuclear power, the privatisation of water and trial immunity for cabinet ministers. In spite of il Cavaliere's call for a boycott of the referendum 57% of the electorate turned out and 95% of them voted against Berlusconi in effect. So it looks like Silvio Berlusconi might actually face trial for the liaison with an underage prostitute Karima El Mahroug, whom he saved from a prison cell with the pull of a few strings. Then there is the case in which David Mills, the estranged husband of Tessa Jowell, was sentenced to four and a half years in jail by a Milan court for taking a bribe. In spite of the fact that the conviction was annulled on appeal, because of the statute of limitations, magistrates in Milan are bent on prosecuting Berlusconi for bribing Mills. Two other cases pending concern alleged tax evasion by Berlusconi and his son Pier Silvio, as well as the sale and purchase of rights to American TV shows by Berlusconi's companies.

In spite of all this the man has managed to win the last vote of confidence by just 24 votes, with a great deal of help from Lega Nord in spite of the frustrations with the coalition. The coalition government he leads is about to initiate the first series of cuts which will amount to $57 billion by 2014. Of course, a crackdown on tax evasion would be out of line even though that is the only way to reduce taxes in the long term. Clearly it would seem that the resistance to austerity measures in Italy has the same problem as the anti-cuts activists in Britain. The mass-media has no room for the alternatives to spending cuts, which is bad news for the Left in Italy and elsewhere. With an approval rating of 29% it would seem that Silvio Berlusconi is doomed, it might be that the Italian people do not require a viable alternative to shunt Berlusconi out of office. But it remains unclear what would come from that in regards to real change, even if Berlusconi is left to die in jail, another political vacuum could follow as seen in the early 90s and the damage done will reverberate in Italy for a long time.

No comments: