My American friend wrote me this morning: How does it feel to live, free of Berlusconi? Are the people of Italy rejoicing in the streets?
Here in Turin, the news was hardly noticed, because although it is good news, it is also old news. It was expected, a fully foreseen turn of events, part of the long goodbye of an Italian ruler who came in power in distant 1994 and is still clinging to authority with all his histrionic might.
Italian politics have never lacked for stage histrionics, but Berlusconi is very likely the most ridiculous Italian state leader ever. Beppe Grillo, the leader of the opposition Five Star Movement, is a television comedian, but Grillo is the picture of sobriety and decency compared to Berlusconi. Grillo has found peers such as Dario Fo, the Nobel Prize Winning dramatist, and Gianroberto Casaleggio, a brainy Internet guru in a Milanese suit and tie. So even a professional comedian can find dignity in Italian public life if he looks for it, but not Berlusconi. Berlusconi has been flung out of his Parliamentary senate seat and forbidden to run for office, because he was found guilty of fraud and prostitution with a minor.
Even though he's been found too morally loathsome to sit among the lawmakers of Italy, Berlusconi will continue his incessant intrigues as a leader of his faction. So Berlusconi now becomes a kind of Grillo figure (because Grillo is also barred from running for office), and Berlusconi will become opposition along with the Movement Five Star . It will be a strong, if fractured opposition against a weak government. Italians are used to governments which fall faster than the political caste can assemble them. Faction leaders don't have to be elected officials to carry out Machiavellian deals behind the screen. Mere governments change rapidly in Italy, while the political status quo pretends to change so that everything can stay the same.
It took twenty years to remove Berlusconi from the ranks of government, although his noisome politics of corruption and media monopoly were obvious from the first day. His populist Italianism still has strong appeal among the poor and ignorant, the very people Berlusconi did most to bring into that condition. Elderly housewives and retired men still swoon over the charm of this gallant, headlong TV impresario, who presented himself as a true Italian man, a self-made tycoon who knew what he wanted and knew how to get it. When he finally lost power -- as a patron of underage prostitutes -- the women from Berlusconi's splintering party dressed themselves in black to mourn the "death of Italian democracy."
It might be that Berlusconi's fandom was overestimated, thanks to his long-time control of Italian newspapers and television. On Twitter, the hashtag #decadenza was full of black humor:
- So, from tomorrow, all our problems are solved?
- There is a free criminal outside now!
- Finally, cuts also in politics! #decadenza
- From this moment on, Berlusconi can be stopped and searched! Policewomen, give him what he deserves!
Berlusconi's voters deserve their share of blame for putting up with him. His devotees were numerous, active, vigorous and still are. He may have been purged from political life on a disgusting morals charge, but a counter-purge awaits around the corner from the horde of cronies who fully share his politics and his tycoon wealth-machine. It is only a matter of time: somebody from Berlusconi's numerous family and his crew of bunga bunga friends will strike back at the Italian parliament that humiliated him.
In the meantime, those honest people and voters who fought against dark times in Italy must find some path back toward the daylight. With or without Berlusconi, the citizens of Italy still face Austerity policy at work: cuts in the social welfare, childcare, education, research, pensions, and the mutilation of one of the best health care systems in the world. So the news is good: but it would be better news if democracy and civilization were back on their feet again.