There is one big statement in politics which has always puzzled me: people get the government they deserve. For those of you who haven’t caught up with the latest Italian political scandal yet, here is the synopsis. An underage Moroccan girl was arrested last week by Italian police and accused of theft. A few hours after the arrest the police received a phone call from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who pushed for her liberation, saying she was Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s niece. Turns out the young girl has nothing to do with Mr Mubarak; she is one of Berlusconi’s guests at his private parties and visited him last May. What was an underage runaway doing at the PM’s party? Either you buy the girl’s version and believe that night Berlusconi gave her €7000 and let her enjoy the night no questions asked, or you trust the press who suggest the 17-year-old did indeed receive the money, on the condition that she would perform an erotic game with the PM. Whatever your choice, the young girl was released right after the phone call.
In the best-case scenario, an underage Moroccan runaway was released from prison thanks to the PM’s phone call. Now, the point is not what Berlusconi does with his own personal life. If a 75-year-old feels like throwing parties with 20 escorts or so, paying them for sex and inviting friends to come along, I could not care less. But don’t get me wrong. Berlusconi is no ordinary man; he is the PM of supposedly one of the wealthiest nations in the world. The point is that there is nothing private about Berlusconi’s life. As a PM, he cannot be granted the same degree of indifference as anyone else and so he is bound to be constantly on the scene. True, the man does not seem to shiver at the prospect of criticism; indeed, considering his media empire and the total passivity of the judiciary system, why would he? But whether or not you genuinely agreed with the girl’s idyllic version, there is one conclusion to be drawn. Berlusconi’s use of personal power is in open contrast with the Constitution he is meant to represent.
If people get the government they deserve, then there is something very wrong with Italians. Why vote for Berlusconi?
Italian politics lacks a valid alternative. Somehow, paradoxically, anti-Berlusconism is the curse of the Democratic Party. Condemning his scandals and not concentrating on the deeper concerns these hide is tantamount to playing Berlusconi’s game. Nichi Vendola, the Democratic MP who seems to be the greatest threat to Berlusconi’s party, is still trapped within a left-wing coalition, incapable of providing the electorate with concrete promises. The major breakthrough put forward this summer by Berlusconi’s former ally Gianfranco Fini, the creation of an independent right-wing party, was welcomed as the prelude to Berlusconi’s downfall. But Fini’s coup d’état was overestimated – as of now, his new party lacks sufficient strength to constitute a serious menace.
Italy needs action and needs it now. But most importantly, it needs a leader. Italians seem to have become prey of a cult of personality mania. Whether or not this is something inherent or acquired with time, no politician can compare his presence with Berlusconi’s. Not only is he a cult, he serves as a justification too. In a country where machismo has become the watchword of the ruling class, Berlusconi is somewhat of a hero. His scandals, his statements, his greed and obsessions are just what people need to act recklessly and keep a clean conscience. The principle is simple: learn by imitation. If the PM walks out of court unpunished, why should it be different for me?
The country is bound to lose the man who has kept it together, short-lived opposition mandates aside, since 1994. At some point Berlusconi will leave the stage. Where is Italy heading towards? It seems as though the PM has left no heirs apt to take his throne. What will happen to his media empire? Who will keep the nationalistic Northern League under check? Believe it or not, losing Berlusconi seems, at present, almost as dangerous as having him at the country’s helm. The idea of a vacuum does not please anyone. Italians do not enjoy the prospect of hung parliaments. So much so that when it comes to voting, the fear of political impasse overcomes politically incorrect jokes, wild parties and erotic games.
I would like to think that this is a conscious and responsible choice. If Italians turn a blind eye to the man’s scandals they do so because the possible alternatives are yet to come up. Until a new contestant walks on stage, they will bear a PM who has become an international joke. Either that, or people do in fact get the government they deserve.