Why Italians Love Berlusconi

From Anne Applebaum:

Silvio Berlusconi has been accused of bribery, tax evasion, corruption, and subversion of the press. His wife has left him on the grounds that he consorts with prostitutes and holds orgies at his villa in Sardinia. He makes embarrassing jokes (and then repeats them, as he did with the one about President Barack Obama’s “suntan”) and periodically disappears to undergo more plastic surgery. He is at war with the Italian legal establishment, with almost all the journalists who don’t work for him, and with the Catholic Church. Last week, the Italian constitutional court lifted his immunity from prosecution, which means Italians can look forward to a whole new series of law suits and scandals.
Yet by far the most interesting thing about the Italian prime minister is this: Italians keep voting for him. The somewhat ragged coalition he leads—Il Popolo della Libertà, the People of Freedom—won a decisive general election victory in 2008 and trounced the opposition in European parliamentary elections in June 2009. Whether or not you agree with his daughter, who says he “will go down in the history books as the longest-serving and most loved leader in the history of the Italian republic,” you cannot argue with the fact that he has been the dominant force in Italian politics since he first became prime minister in 1994. But why?

Any thoughts? slate.com/id/2232169/?from=rss

Anybody really interested might be advised to read Tobias Jones’ ‘The Dark Heart of Italy’.

As any student of Italian history knows, Italian politics is corrupt and it has always been corrupt and cynicism about the ‘State’ is endemic and has always been endemic.

Yet, somehow, it all ‘works’ and it is a wonderful country.

Kaninchen, part Italian and strong Italophile who is immensely cynical about Italy and Italians. :smiley:

The kind of persons people vote for usually reflects the kind of people the voters are. This is true in any country - not just in Italy.

Not only that, but also he went to the United States for his health care.

From Silvio’s “House of Cards” in Standpoint (I just love Italian words for “player” etc., so much more earthy):

It is all too easy to forget — paradoxically, when you’re standing in St Peter’s Square — that the Pope is a global moral authority. No one knows this better than Benedict XVI himself. And no one recognises the full worth of this better than Berlusconi. When stories about his private life reached their peak, Berlusconi chose to attack the Church, albeit indirectly through Vittorio Feltri, the editor-in-chief of Il Giornale, which is owned by the PM’s family. In the row, Feltri accused Dino Boffo, the editor of the Catholic paper Avvenire, of being a homosexual who made harassing phone calls to his lover’s fiancé (he used much cruder language). Boffo protested his innocence, but resigned. Berlusconi’s offensive against the Church caused much amazement. To take on the Church to which the great majority of Italians at least nominally belong, not to mention a billion other Catholics worldwide, wasn’t a particularly savvy move, one commentator told me.

Has Berlusconi lost his legendary survival instinct? Most Italians don’t think so. They say many things about their Prime Minister, the most common and also the most revealing being that he is un giocatore, a player. Sitting on a terrace on an estate on the outskirts of Rome, a grande dame of Italian society told me about her first encounter with the most powerful man in Italy, then known only as Silvio: “Well, this was years ago at the beach, when we were young. He proposed a deal: I was to give him the phone number of my beautiful cousin, and he was going to pay me with an ice cream. Of course, I never saw the ice cream.” Her last encounter with him wasn’t much more fortunate. Berlusconi didn’t show up at a dinner she had organised in honour of the distinguished former leader of a friendly country. When she didn’t receive an apology, she inquired the next day, only to find out that the Prime Minister had been seen at a different party, surrounded not by heads of state but Russian girls. The no-show was part of a pattern of dereliction of his official duties.

Un giocatore means not just a player, but a gambler. Some Italians say this of Berlusconi with anger, others with envy and even a kind of respect. Berlusconi seems capable of having his cake and eating it, with gusto. What does that mean for his politics? He is not losing his game with the Church, quite the contrary: with this opponent he is able to keep his cards dangerously close to his chest. Will this develop into a full-scale church-state Kulturkampf, such as Italy (like France, Germany and other continental countries) had in the 19th century? Not unless the Vatican decides to drop Berlusconi in favour of a new Catholic party led by Rocco Buttiglione, who is close to the Pope.


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