On 8 November 2011, Silvio Berlusconi vowed to resign from his post as Prime Minister after his finance bill is passed.
Now, Silvio has been a favourite of ours for a long time, as he’s the last of the ‘old school’ heads of states. He’s like an out of touch royal. The Errol Flynn of politics or, as The Mail described him, a ‘perma-tanned womaniser who wore bandanas over his hair implants’, which, to be fair to The Mail, is a rather apt description. Accusations about his private life, corruption, and the infamous ‘Bunga Bunga’ parties made the man like a caricature. And now he’s gone.
Born in Milan in 1936 to a middle class family, Silvio studied law at University, which you must say really prepared him for his first job, that of playing double bass on cruise ships. So those of you who do frequent cruise ships and often mock the antiquated entertainment in red and white blazers and top hats, these people may one day run countries. So the joke is on you.
He then got out of the barber shop duo game and set-up construction company ‘Edilnord’, a residential housing developer in Milan. From there he got into cable TV, setting up cable TV company Telemilano, which eventually became Italy’s biggest media empire Mediaset, before merging it into his huge holding company Fininvest, incoparating publication houses, Newpapers and, most famously, AC Milan football club.
This guy was living the dream. His average day could be spend watching re-runs of the Italian version of cash-in-the attic, publishing another copy of his memoirs before chilling at the San Siro and watching another pulsating 0-0 Italian football match.
But politics was his calling, and he founded party ‘Forza Italia’ in 1993, where he became Prime Minister the following year, partly down to his remarkable political brain, partly down to the general incompetence of his rivals. Think Blair during the 2000s, but with a slightly better tan.
Now, I might go a bit left wing here, but with an estimated £6bn fortune, and huge success in industry, you have to a bit dodgy. And Silvio has certainly earned himself that ‘dodgy’ tag. Berlusconi, who once stated that he only got into politics to help ease legal pressure on himself, has appeared in court an estimated 2,500 times, costing him around 200m euros. And he has appeared in court for everything. And I mean everything, including mafia collusion, embezzlement, false accounting, tax fraud, corruption and bribery of police officers and judges.
But Berlusconi is no fool, and used his primary caveat for getting into politics to wrangle out of many of these cases, by passing laws shortening the time limit for prosecution of various offences. Cases dropped for ‘time limit reasons’ included bribery of judges, false testimony and false accounting. But that isn’t even most flagrant of his acquittals. In the Medusa Cinema company case, where he was accused of false accounting, he was acquitted for being ‘too rich to be aware of such small amounts’. And people say the law favours the wealthy!
Now could Silvio top that? By being part of a masonic sect of course! In 1981, it was alleged he was part of ‘Propaganda 2’, who were a secret Masonic society, aimed at changing the Italian system to a more Authoritarian regime. But he wasn’t about to start donning the sensible hat just yet. Oh no. Rather than deny the charges, he claimed that he’d been a member of P2 for “only for a very short time” and “he had not even paid the entry fee”. Which I think was the reason I used to try and get out of my gym membership. Didn’t work, but then again it wasn’t a secret masonic gym aimed at overthrowning the government using the ‘pec-deck’ machine, so that was clearly the flaw in my plan.
But Silvio rubbed shoulders with far more unscrupulous people than simply masons. Berlusconi was also accused of having close ties with the Mafia. Corrupt head of state in links with Mafia; it’s almost too cliché! Now some of the accusations against him were more conincidental than anything, like the hiring of Vittorio Mangano as a gardner at his Arcore’s Villa, who was later charged with Mafia Association. But it was when his close friend Marcello Dell’Utri was sent to jail for 9 years for external association to the mafia, that the shit hit the fan for Silvio. This started a chain of whistleblowers and confessions from people, that all but alleged that Silvio was a Sicilian lord, and could possibly be having his own series on HBO in the autumn. Dell’Utri, was labelled as being, “a mediator between economical interests of Berlusconi and members of the criminal organisation.” In addition to this, Antonio Giuffre – a mafia whilsteblower – claimed that the Mafia turned their support and money to Forza Italia after the decline of the Christian Democrat party, paying – it’s alleged – 200,000 euros annually to the party.
Now as much as we love stories of high level corruption and collusion with criminal organisations, it’s tabloid tittle tattle that really gets the world talking, and Silvio provided this in spades. His wife bemoaned him for his choice of, “young, attractive female candidates—some with little or no political experience—to represent the party in the 2009 European Parliament elections”.
A chagrin Berlsuconi, rather than respond to these criticms, instead hit back in the press AT HIS OWN WIFE, claiming she was an embarrassment who, “for the third time has done this to me in the middle of an election campaign”, making their relationship seem like Yes Minister meets Keeping up Appperances. Unsurpisingly, the marriage didn’t last much longer, but the catalyst wasn’t the little fracas over MEP choices, but for Silvio attending the 18th birthday party of Noemi Letizia.
Berlusconi was quick to hit back at the accusations, satting that he was friends with her father, and was there to see him. This however was disputed by numerous sources. Letzia’s ex boyfriend claimed that Silvio had personal contact with Letizia, and spent a week together without her parents at his Sardain Villa. Letizia herself stated that she referred to Berlusconi as ‘papi’ (‘daddy’), and that he had promised to support her career, whether it was the choice of either politician or show girl. And with such meager nuance between both professions, one can only imagine how she could make the important decision.
But Letizia was just one from an entire oeuvre of his female acquaintances. In 2009, an escort named Patrizia D’Addario alleged that she had been paid 2000 euros on two separate occasion to spend the night with Silvio. But Berlusconi, rather than simply refute the claims, made it perfectly clear that he’s Silvio Berlusconi, he’s president of Italy, he doesn’t pay for sex. “I have never paid a woman… I have never understood what satisfaction there is if the pleasure of conquest is absent”, he stated. Way to diffuse the situation, Silvio!
The most famous of all Silvio’s trysts, is the alleged affair with Ruby Rubacuori, a teenage belly dancer and illeged prostitute. She claimed that she was paid 10,000 euros to take part in orgies at Berlusconi, with these orgies famous for the girl’s performing African style dance rountines known as the ‘bunga bunga’. Fancing possible child prostitution charges, how did the Forza Italia party hope to get around this? Loweering the age of consent, of course! The man never gives up!
Obviously, with his actions been this catastrophic from a PR perspective, you’d assume that when he opened his mouth things would get even worse for him. And you’d be right. A fan of the vocal faux-pas, in July 2003 Silvio suggested than German MEP Martin Schulz should “play a Nazi concentration camp guard’ in a film, after criticising Italian domestic policy. Whilst in the same year, Silvio stated to the New York stock exchange that the main reason to invest in Italy is because they “have the most beautiful secretaries in the world”. In terms of gaffs, 2003 turned out to be a great year for them. Possibly his greatest/worst moment was in an interview to the Spectator when, in an attempt to defend Mussolini’s reputation and Italian history, Berlusconi claimed that Mussolini, “had been a benign dictator who did not murder opponents but sent them ‘on holiday’”. Outstanding.
It was however on the subject of race that proved to be a trickly issue for the boorish patois of Berlusconi to approach. In 2008, he referred to Obama as “young, handsome and even tanned”, going onto add that “I’m paler [than Mr Obama], because it’s been so long since I went sunbathing. He’s more handsome, younger and taller.” Another of Silvio’s issues was innapparpiate use of humour, and never was that more prevelant than at the site of 2009 L’Aquila earthquake, where talking to the people left homeless by the quake, he said they should “view their experience as a camping weekend”. While touring the earthquake site, he also found time to ask councillor Lia Beltrami, “Can I fondle you?”
Now during Silvio’s allegations of juvenile prostitution, he used his stock mix of offensive humour and far-right views to get him into another outrage. He said, in an interview to one of his own newspapers, “I am a man who works hard all day long and if sometimes I look at some good-looking girl, it’s better to be fond of pretty girls than to be gay“. Rival politicians and Italian gay rights group Arcigay, responded by saying “it’s better to be gay than to be a sex-addicted schemer like Berlusconi.” The continued outrage against Berlusconi eventually got to him, and in a leaked telephone transcript in July 2011, Berlusconi was overheard saying; “The only thing they can say about me is that I screw around [...] Now they’re spying on me, controlling my phone calls. I don’t give a fuck. In a few months [...] I’ll be leaving this shit country that makes me sick.” That’s ’The President’ of a shit country that makes him sick. What makes this worse, is that he had already made a comment in 2005 about sending a postcard from the Bahamas.
Anyway, what finally finished Silvio is the financial crisis saw Italy become the EU’s bitch, and Silvio’s mix of apathy to problems under a very thick veil of chauvinism didn’t really go down too well with other member states. After calling Angel Merkel, chancellor of Germany, an ‘Unfuckable lard arse’, he then tried to reject overtures from the EU to get him to sort their debt crisis out, a debt eclipising Greese and too great to be bailied out by the Eurozone monetary Reserve, by essentially claiming that life in Rome is rather swell. On being asked about the state of Italy, where borrowing had reached 120% of GDP, Silvio stated that;
“Life in Italy is good. The restaurants are full. It’s difficult to get a seat on a plane they’re so busy; holidays are all booked up.”
Which is the equivalent of denying global warming on the basis that last week you had to wear a jumper as it was ‘A bit chilly’. I highly doubt that turning up to a G20 summit with a restaurant tip jar and a Thomas Cook brochure with some of the corners turned down, will convince other heads of state that Silvio has things covered. With confidence in Silvio reaching rock bottom, his position became intenible, and announced that he will resign after austerity measures are passed, via the sell government assets, tax breaks to encourage employment for the young, getting women back into the workforce (fnarr), and further proposed reforms include a rise in the pension age to 67 by 2026, a loosening of job protection, and new rules allowing civil servants to be put on so-called Cassa Integrazion; mandatory stand-down at minimum pay.
Now it’s alright to think of Berlusconi as a bit of a cheeky chappy, but when you look at his record, his accussations of child soliciting, mafia ties, tax evasion, money embezzlement, rampant sexism, endemic corruption, it’s hard to paint that pretty a picture of him. But with such a disinterest in decent behaviour, the man has made twattishness an art form. And it’s impossible not to be be enamoured by someone so committed to his own lifestyle, regardless of having to run a country.
It’s hard to take him that seriously, as in foreign press he’s seen as a bit of a sideshow, like Hugh Hefner meets an incompetent bond villain, and the nicest thing you can probably say about him, is that, I love him as Prime Minister, just not of my country.