Last week was a hard one for Silvio Berlusconi. A decaying emperor slave of his own vices, Mr Berlusconi’s struggling to save an empire that is falling to pieces. After receiving warnings from the Vatican and from an unusually explicit President of Republic Giorgio Napolitano, it seems his days are over. Though I’ve learned to preserve a disillusioned cynicism in these occasions, over the last days I couldn’t help asking myself: “what if we get rid of him?”. Two pictures picked up from last week depict Mr Berlusconi’s legacy. The inauguration of a square named for statesman (and fugitive) Bettino Craxi and a statement from Berlusconi’s main ally Umberto Bossi unfold a system that has pervaded every level of the Italian culture, eventually corrupting the only defense conserved by the Italians: their memories.
Last Friday Berlusconi’s main ally Umberto Bossi gave some advice to his Prime Minister: “Berlusconi should take a rest. He has been put under pressure and controlled by all the parts involved. In a normal and democratic country these things don’t happen and the Prime Minister is not the Mafia.” But in 1998 Bossi had said: “Berlusconi, man of the Mafia, can only be antidemocratic” (24 October 1998, Ansa) and also“ Mr Berlusconi must give us an answer: where does his money come from? From the finance of the Mafia?” (12 September 1998, Ansa). Umberto Bossi is the leader of the Northern League, a party that has asked for the independence of northern Italy and whose members have been often accused of taking xenophobic positions. In 1994 Bossi supported Berlusconi’s first government but then he split from the coalition causing the fall of the legislation. Over the following years he carried out a fierce campaign against Berlusconi, accusing him of connections with the Mafia. But in 2000 Bossi and Berlusconi forgot old grudges and under Berlusconi’s governments Bossi became Institutional Reforms Minister in 2001 and Federal Reforms Minister in 2008.
The following day, in Lissone, Milan, Northern League member and mayor Ambrogio Fossati inaugurated a square named for Bettino Craxi, Prime Minister of Italy from 1983 to 1987. The ceremony was contested by more than one hundred people. Indeed Craxi has been one of the most discussed politicians in the history of Italy. Leader of the Socialist Party, he was involved in the corruption scandal that led to the end of the First Republic in the early ‘90s. He was then condemned for bribery and corruption but on May 1994 he fled to Tunis to escape jail. He died as a fugitive in 2000.
What do these two events have in common? They both convey the finest facet of a regime that has pervaded every level of the Italians’ life. The past is cancelled and rewritten, words lose their meaning. Thus a politician is free to say something and its opposite at the same time, a square is named for a robber who turns into a statesman. This is the real power of Mr Berlusconi’s regime: a purely Orwellian act of doublethink shaped to fit into a TV network. What then if we get rid of Mr Berlusconi? The system will survive, as its roots are now deep into the Italian culture. How can the Italians clash the system? Those people contesting the inauguration of the Square last Friday knew it. The Italians must remember their past to improve their future. They must remember to stay alive.