Politics, Mafia and everlasting contradictions

Towards the end of the 2005 American blockbuster The Interpreter, there is a line that sums up the hitherto Italian political status-quo: “An almost-assassinated leader gets so much credibility, so he can stay in power and gets to stick around to enjoy it”. Thought to be mortally wounded, and then miraculously recovering after a few days in hospital to meet PMs and smile on cameras, 73 year-old Silvio Berlusconi has been dodging threats and scandals which would have forced any other human being to resign.

In short, during his last year of mandate Mr. Berlusconi has had to provide a valid justification for parties in his Sardinian mansion which hosted escorts and seemingly happy European politicians (ask Mr Topolanek, Czech Republic’s ex PM, or take a look at some of the pictures published by El Paris), avoid general disgust after the media discovered his putative relationship with 18-year-old Noemi Letizia, putting an end to his wedding, and keep his smile after being hit with a souvenir by a mentally disturbed man last December. (The list does not include troublesome diplomatic incidents, amongst which “Obama is young, handsome and tanned” remains notorious.)

{{ quote It is unlikely one will ever take moral lessons from the son of a major who was imprisoned for aiding and abetting mafia }}

So why worry about the recent accusation suggesting his party to be a compromise between State and mafia? Bearing this list of Herculean fatigues in mind, there’s quite a few reasons to be doubtful as to whether this last scandal will come to be something that Mr Berlusconi cannot dodge.

Surely, if it had happened to anyone else, last week’s scenario would have seemed quite frightening. Massimo Ciancimino, son of the mafia-related ex major of Palermo, Sicily, confessed to the court that his father had told him Berlusconi’s coalition (Forza Italia, now known as Popolo della Libertà – People of Freedom) was born as a direct product of negotiations between State and mafia after the massacres of the early 1990s. He was told that the scandal would have not broken out as it was to be kept as a Secret of State; however, after giving his testimony and breaking the silence, Mr. Ciancimino has been faced with death threats. “No-one” – reports a letter left on the windscreen of his bodyguards’ car last week – “not even Palermo’s judges” are able to save him now.

But how exactly did Mr Ciancimino’s testimony stir up a hornet’s nest? Amongst the documents presented in court he showed a message sent by Bernardo Provenzano to Berlusconi (the Last Godfather, as he is nostalgically called by the media since his arrest in 2006, after a record of 43 years spent in hiding), requesting full support of his TV channels as a trade-off for the PM’s son’s life. Mr Ciancimino told the court the message stands out as a clear example of Forza Italia – mafia connections, not unlike the very immunity provided to mafia boss and fugitive Provenzano, whose freedom was guaranteed for over forty years.

Almost as fast as the mafia threat came the reply by Mr Alfano, Minister of Justice, who accused Mr Ciancimino of attempting to “de-legitimize the government’s action on the endless fight against the mafia”. “Mafia does not always choose to kill; often the route taken is that of de-legitimization”. To paraphrase, Mr Ciancimino is not regarded as a moral hero, rather a puppet moved by criminal organizations trying to ruin what the PM has done so far. Fair enough. It is unlikely one will ever take moral lessons from the son of a major who was imprisoned for aiding and abetting mafia and later obliged to pay € 150 million to Palermo’s municipality.

Many doubts remain as to whether Berlusconi’s party can be genuinely praised of being the one which has done the most (Mr Alfano’s own words) to combat organized criminality since the early 1990s massacres. Even more doubtful is the outlook of the process. Mr Alfano’s immunity law (guaranteeing no threat of prosecution to the PM), albeit formally abolished last October, remains a tacit illustration of the strenuous relationship between government and justice.

It seems that The Interpreter was not too far from the truth. Comparisons aside, a politician who has gone through sexual scandals, outraged the international stage for his rather out-of-place Italian machismo, stirred up Iran’s rage after his speech in Jerusalem, had his party accused of mafia connections (and managed to get away with all of the above), must be a peculiar chap. Add to that an assassination attempt, and you will obtain a politician close to immortality, a politician who, according to Mr Alfano, “does not fear justice. If it were for him, he would always be in court”. Too bad the system does not seem to allow him the pleasure. Just too bad.


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