What Berlusconi’s Resignation Really Means


Saturday 12th November 2011, 9.42 pm: a date and time which I will never forget.

To a non-Italian, this might appear an overstatement. But, trust me, it is not. I will remember this date not as Berlusconi’s resignation, but as Italy’s comeback to political discourse.

As an Italian Londoner, I am confronted on a daily basis with questions on Italy’s economic crisis and – ultimately – Berlusconi’s stay in power for so long. To my surprise, most people I have spoken to (from all over the world) seem to find Berlusconi a very amusing character, someone who has smartly albeit wrongly drawn attention on himself by conducting a brave sexual life.  I feel enraged when I hear this. Italians (note: those who DID not vote for him) have been enduring far more than a comedian’s act based on excessive sexual actions. The reasons why us, enraged and outraged Italians (the ‘indignati’ movement – ‘indignati’ meaning ‘outraged’), have been long campaigning for Berlusconi to step down bear much deeper roots.

Back to the Roots of the Problem

These roots go back to the beginning of Berlusconi’s career, when he emerged as a self-made business man through allegedly illicit financial transactions. Over the years, he has been involved in a high number of court proceedings leading him to enter into politics to pursue the goal of achieving political immunity from legal suits against him. Ever since he’s been in politics, he’s built up a caste of people to form his party, the PDL – Party of Freedom, resembling rather a mafia-entourage rather than a selection of politicians committed to an ideology or a cause. The party’s members have as a minimum common denominator the involvement in judicial proceedings, in the media and business empire led by the Berlusconi family and the party life-style culminating in the so well-known ‘Bunga Bugas’. So, as it is clear from this picture, the sexual aspect of Berlusconi’s political ‘peformance’ represents only one face of his role in Italy’s political landscape.

The reality is that Italy is sinking not only because Berlusconi has destroyed Italy’s reputation abroad with his extravagant life-style, but – first and foremost – because all he’s done for the past years in power has been implementing laws to protect his personal interests and those of his carefully selected entourage. These laws, the so-called ‘ad personam’ laws, have been attacking the judiciary and have destroyed the public sector. All social classes in Italy have been attacked directly or indirectly by himself or by members of his government. Teachers have been insulted by one of the Ministers, Mr Brunetta. Judges have repeatedly been target as ‘manipulators of the law’, ‘red gowns’ acting on behalf of evil Communists. Universities have been systematically seen their research funds withdrawn accompanied by attacks against the university barons who suck money from the State to maintain the status quo and prevent political freedom in Italy.

Some commentators have suggested that Italy has been experiencing a sort of ‘silent dictatorship’. The Government and Berlusconi, backed up by lines and lines of supporters, have reduced the freedom of speech in a country where anyone opposing the Government’s policies (i.e. the ‘ad personam’ laws) has been accused of siding with the Communists, of acting against the country’s interest. All this has eventually led to the death of political discourse.  All Italy’s been discussing for years has been how to get rid of Berlusconi and – on the other side – how to get rid of Berlusconi’s opponents. The real problems of the country – unemployment, lack of funding in the education and health sectors, the massive bureaucratic problems in the judiciary, the high rates of tax evasion (only to mention some) – have been not only ignored but denied. Italy’s own government (and opposition) lost track of the real world and locked themselves up in a useless debate.

We’ve seen a dramatic impact of Italy’s political deadlock on immigrants from the Northern-African region arriving in Lampedusa (https://littleexplorer.wordpress.com/2011/04/02/desperation-in-lampedusa/). Italy showed its inability to tackle the situation due to the absolute absence of policy and political discourse on immigration which went beyond mere right-wing extremist statements on expelling all foreigners regardless of their circumstances.

Europe’s Blindness

Why has Europe not seen the relationship between these dramatic facts and Berlusconi’s government? Why has it taken so long for the world to notice that Italy was rapidly sinking? The answer lies once again in economic interest.

I participated in anti-Berlusconi demonstrations and saw crowds and crowds of people feeling the same way as I did (and still do): outraged, “indignati”. I was so surprised that there had been such a little coverage, that I emailed photos of the demonstrations to many newspapers. I published a few of my photos of these demonstrations on my blog back in February 2011: https://littleexplorer.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/italy-says-no-to-berlusconis-brothel/

The Economist published several articles denouncing the situation in Italy, one of which clearly outlined and predicted the present catastrophe – https://littleexplorer.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/the-man-who-screwed-an-entire-country-the-economist/.

What Next?

Now what? Berlusconi’s resignation is important but it is not the last act of his performance. Roberto Saviano – one of Italy’s most famous writers who is currently living under protection in a secret location to avoid mafia’s reprisals – has published an article on The Guardian commenting on the future ahead (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/11/silvio-berlusconi-own-interests-italy?newsfeed=true).

The defeat of Berlusconi is not yet the defeat of his entourage and of the political attitude promoted by them. These are going to be the next steps and thy will require all Italians – as well as Europeans – not to forget about Berlusconi’s conduct. I would not like to see him being re-elected a few months or a year down the line, when he will claim that the new government has failed to solve the crisis. Re-opening political discourse after a long ‘dogmatic sleep’, to say it in Kantian terms, will mean facing open scars and making tough choices to mend them.

 

It is clear that hard times are over, but harder times are to come if Italy wants to have any hope of building on its ruins.

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The Man who Screwed an Entire Country [The Economist]


Silvio Berlusconi’s record

The man who screwed an entire country

The Berlusconi era will haunt Italy for years to come

Jun 9th 2011 | from the print edition [The Economist]

SILVIO BERLUSCONI has a lot to smile about. In his 74 years, he has created a media empire that made him Italy’s richest man. He has dominated politics since 1994 and is now Italy’s longest-serving prime minister since Mussolini. He has survived countless forecasts of his imminent departure. Yet despite his personal successes, he has been a disaster as a national leader—in three ways.

Two of them are well known. The first is the lurid saga of his “Bunga Bunga” sex parties, one of which has led to the unedifying spectacle of a prime minister being put on trial in Milan on charges of paying for sex with a minor. The Rubygate trial has besmirched not just Mr Berlusconi, but also his country.

However shameful the sexual scandal has been, its impact on Mr Berlusconi’s performance as a politician has been limited, so this newspaper has largely ignored it. We have, however, long protested about his second failing: his financial shenanigans. Over the years, he has been tried more than a dozen times for fraud, false accounting or bribery. His defenders claim that he has never been convicted, but this is untrue. Several cases have seen convictions, only for them to be set aside because the convoluted proceedings led to trials being timed out by a statute of limitations—at least twice because Mr Berlusconi himself changed the law. That was why this newspaper argued in April 2001 that he was unfit to lead Italy.

We have seen no reason to change that verdict. But it is now clear that neither the dodgy sex nor the dubious business history should be the main reason for Italians looking back on Mr Berlusconi as a disastrous, even malign, failure. Worst by far has been a third defect: his total disregard for the economic condition of his country. Perhaps because of the distraction of his legal tangles, he has failed in almost nine years as prime minister to remedy or even really to acknowledge Italy’s grave economic weaknesses. As a result, he will leave behind him a country in dire straits.

A chronic disease, not an acute one

That grim conclusion might surprise students of the euro crisis. Thanks to the tight fiscal policy of Mr Berlusconi’s finance minister, Giulio Tremonti, Italy has so far escaped the markets’ wrath. Ireland, not Italy, is the I in the PIGS (with Portugal, Greece and Spain). Italy avoided a housing bubble; its banks did not go bust. Employment held up: the unemployment rate is 8%, compared with over 20% in Spain. The budget deficit in 2011 will be 4% of GDP, against 6% in France.

Yet these reassuring numbers are deceptive. Italy’s economic illness is not the acute sort, but a chronic disease that slowly gnaws away at vitality. When Europe’s economies shrink, Italy’s shrinks more; when they grow, it grows less. As our special report in this week’s issue points out, only Zimbabwe and Haiti had lower GDP growth than Italy in the decade to 2010. In fact GDP per head in Italy actually fell. Lack of growth means that, despite Mr Tremonti, the public debt is still 120% of GDP, the rich world’s third-biggest. This is all the more worrying given the rapid ageing of Italy’s population.

Low average unemployment disguises some sharp variations. A quarter of young people—far more in parts of the depressed south—are jobless. The female-participation rate in the workforce is 46%, the lowest in western Europe. A mix of low productivity and high wages is eroding competitiveness: whereas productivity rose by a fifth in America and a tenth in Britain in the decade to 2010, in Italy it fell by 5%. Italy comes 80th in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” index, below Belarus and Mongolia, and 48th in the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness rankings, behind Indonesia and Barbados.

The Bank of Italy’s outgoing governor, Mario Draghi, spelt things out recently in a hard-hitting farewell speech (before taking the reins at the European Central Bank). He insisted that the economy desperately needs big structural reforms. He pinpointed stagnant productivity and attacked government policies that “fail to encourage, and often hamper, [Italy’s] development”, such as delays in the civil-justice system, poor universities, a lack of competition in public and private services, a two-tier labour market with protected insiders and exposed outsiders, and too few big firms.

All these things are beginning to affect Italy’s justly acclaimed quality of life. Infrastructure is getting shabbier. Public services are stretched. The environment is suffering. Real incomes are at best stagnant. Ambitious young Italians are quitting their country in droves, leaving power in the hands of an elderly and out-of-touch elite. Few Europeans despise their pampered politicians as much as Italians do.

Eppur si muove

When this newspaper first denounced Mr Berlusconi, many Italian businesspeople replied that only his roguish, entrepreneurial chutzpah offered any chance to modernise the economy. Nobody claims that now. Instead they offer the excuse that the fault is not his; it is their unreformable country’s.

Yet the notion that change is impossible is not just defeatist but also wrong. In the mid-1990s successive Italian governments, desperate not to be left out of the euro, pushed through some impressive reforms. Even Mr Berlusconi has occasionally managed to pass some liberalising measures in between battling the courts: back in 2003 the Biagi labour-market law cut red tape at the bottom, boosting employment, and many economists have praised Italy’s pension reforms. He might have done much more had he used his vast power and popularity to do something other than protect his own interests. Entrepreneurial Italy will pay dearly for his pleasures.

And if Mr Berlusconi’s successors are as negligent as he is? The euro crisis is forcing Greece, Portugal and Spain to push through huge reforms in the teeth of popular protest. In the short term, this will hurt; in the long term, it should give the peripheral economies new zip. Some are also likely to cut their debt burden by restructuring. An unreformed and stagnant Italy, with a public debt stuck at over 120% of GDP, would then find itself exposed as the biggest backmarker in the euro. The culprit? Mr Berlusconi, who will no doubt be smiling still.

from the print edition | Leaders

http://www.economist.com/node/18805327?story_id=18805327&CFID=172274374&CFTOKEN=18162879

ITALY SAYS NO TO BERLUSCONI’S BROTHEL


Italy has had enough of being considered the land of bananas and clowns, the land where men still buy women to gain sexual pleasure and where political leaders are chosen on the basis of their sexual performances, where you can’t get a job without selling your conscience and your morality.

Italy yesterday and today was demonstrating loudly, peacefully and without any political colour for one simple goal: restore Italy’s dignity!

Italy is a beautiful country with so many resources starting from the people. But too many people continue closing their eyes and mouths in a coward acceptance of the behaviour of a political class that believes a brothel can turn into a Parliament.

Italy needs people who want to be heard and taken seriously, not special people – normal people – who are willing to shout NO against mafia, against corruption, against illegality, against the destruction of democracy. People who stop saying ‘this does not concern me’ or ‘there is nothing I can do to change this’. People must remember that what each one of us does / says counts. If we stop believing that our opinions have a value, that is when illegality wins and democracy ends.

We are not revolutionaries, we are not violent, we are not utopians. We know that world and life in general are not perfect. But one thing we know for sure, people faced with serious criminal charges must go to trial, because the law is the same for everyone, no matter who you are and what your job is.

ITALY CAN DO AND DESERVES BETTER THAN THIS!

All photos in this post were taken by myself during yesterday’s and today’s demonstrations in TORINO. I was unable to post my videos in this post for some reason, but you can find them on YouTube on LittleExplorersBlog channel.

Please share this post with as many people as possible to show that Italy is not silently accepting to be ridiculed before the entire world by Berlusconi!