by Karen Moller
(Swans - August 9, 2010) There has been virtually no mention in the international press of the extraordinary events that have shaken the Italian political community in the last week. Are the ramifications too complicated for journalists to understand or have they become blasé after so many years of scandal and pervasive corruption in the Berlusconi coalition? Have they written Italy off as a banana republic without world influence or significance?
I have to admit that in spite of Italy's supposed claim to be a democracy and its membership in the European Union it seems at times perilously close to a Third World country. In any other part of the European community, Berlusconi's supposed ties to the Mafia and known corruption of the many elected members of his party would have forced him by now to resign. The prime minister and the antics of his collaborators do, in an odd way, remind me of the last days of Nixon. And yet, this being Italy, the doubt remains -- will the end result be the ousting of Berlusconi?
In spite of the lagging Italian economy, sub-par growth, and national debt -- one of the highest in Europe -- and the insidious corruption, Berlusconi's coalition has remained in power. In part this is due to the fact that Berlusconi owns the majority of TV stations, plus several newspapers (circumstances constitutionally against the law in other European countries), which he controls, censors, and at times even black-outs programs that criticize his policies, his party, or in any way portray him in an unflattering light.
After being reelected a few years ago the Berlusconi government managed to pass the ALFANO law, which effectively granted him immunity from prosecution while he remains in office. Thankfully for Italian democracy that outrageous law was overturned by the highest constitutional court; they upheld the fundamental principal -- that no one, however rich or powerful, is above the law even if a compliant parliament legislates immunity. Although the opposition has had little opportunity to voice discontent with his policies, Berlusconi blatantly claims that Italy's magistrates have conspired to discredit him by conducting political vendettas against him, and by overturning the law that gave him immunity the judicial system shows a lef-twing bias. The decision by the constitutional court to overturn that law revived three pending cases against Berlusconi. The first one involves a British lawyer, David Mills (the husband of a member of Tony Blair's government), who has subsequently been convicted of bribery for accepting $600,000 for false testimony to shield Berlusconi from corruption charges. Secondly, Berlusconi has been accused of major tax fraud in connection with the expansion of his private media empire. Third but not least, he is accused of trying to bribe members of parliament to join his ruling coalition. These three cases are likely to turn out to be merely the tip of the iceberg.
Events took a surprising turn in Sardinia at the time of a judicial investigation into Mafia crimes. During the awarding of contracts for wind farms, questionable activities of a secret criminal association were discovered. Quickly named by the press P3, as it appears to be a sequel to the outlawed P2 (Propaganda 2) secret Masonic criminal group, whose aim was to facilitate the activities relating to organized crime and to allow them to proceed unhindered. A score of some of the most powerful individuals of the land -- many prominent members of the present government, Berlusconi's party coordinator, a number of his long time associates including one implicated in Mafia crimes, and a half a dozen top officials -- have all been caught up in the P3 scandal. Among their activities, financial and otherwise, they were wiretapped conspiring to buy judges and exert pressure on politicians to subvert the course of justice for Berlusconi's benefit; in particular the reinstating the ALFANO law, a law designed precisely to protect him from prosecution.
After weeks of tension and labyrinth intrigue, Giacomo Caliendo, a member of Berlusconi's government and heavily implicated in the P3 scandal, attempted to get a law passed disallowing courts the use of telephone wiretaps to prosecute criminals. In reality, the true aim of the law is to prevent the use in court of the damaging tapes recorded by the Carabinieri police during their investigation into Mafia crimes. Apparently Berlusconi's code name on the tapes is Caesar.
It now seems that this scandal is the last straw for his ally Gianfranco Fini and just might bring down the present government. Fini, the charismatic right-wing leader of the old Fascist party (no longer considered Fascist as he and his party have moved to the political center) refused to go along with Berlusconi and his party to limit the use of wiretaps by magistrates. Last week Fini criticized a number of government policies, (from immigration to anti-wiretap bills) and expressed his disquiet about proposed laws perceived by the public as simply an attempt to protect the prime minister and his associates from legal prosecution. He defended the Italian institutions and said Berlusconi lacked "a liberal concept of democracy." The enraged Berlusconi demanded that Fini resign, which Fini refused to do, saying, "my role as speaker of the lower house is to ensure respect for the rules, not the governing party."
Fini called for greater emphasis on morality in government and the resignation of those individuals implicated in judicial investigations, referring obliquely to Caliendo, the member of parliament who drafted the law against wiretapping. Donatella Ferranti, a member of the PD (Democratic Party), added that it is inappropriate for a deputy caught up in the P3 scandal to be in charge of a bill where his interests are directly linked. She insisted that in any other democratic country Caliendo would already have been forced to resign. Instead it was Berlusconi's lackeys who clamored for Ferranti, the denouncer of Caliendo, to resign.
The prime minister runs the country as his own personal fiefdom; that and his buffoonish quips have helped to diminish Italy's credibility abroad. We don't know yet the extent of his association with the Mafia or the harm his government has caused to the country's democracy, but Italy cannot afford more years of economic drift nor allow the rule of law to be hijacked to protect a corrupt leader. Berlusconi's government has continued in power far too long and it is hard to cite any accomplishments to its credit. The basic problem is a lack of a successor to Berlusconi or any real challenge from the fractured and demoralized center left and socialists. A few years ago no one could have imagined that today, unable to rally around any leader or program, even the left in Italy would be looking to Fini for leadership.
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About the Author
Karen Moller is the author of Technicolor Dreamin': The 1960's Rainbow and Beyond (Trafford Publishing, 2006, ISBN: 1-412-08018-5) and a fashion designer who lives half time in Paris, France, and the other half in Venice, Italy. (back)