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November 08, 2010
LETTER FROM ROME: BERLUSCONI'S LATEST SCANDAL
The following report was written late last week especially for DIRELAND by our old friend and Rome correspondent Judy Harris, a veteran ex-pat journalist--but I couldn't post it until now because of a nervous breakdown in my blogserver, Typepad. The piece below was written before the November 7 speech by Gianfranco Fini calling for Berlusconi's resignation, which has triggered a crisis in which his government's fall is expected soon. -- D.I.
DOES ONE SCANDAL TOO MANY SPELL THE END OF BERLUSCONI?
ROME – One day in Milan Italian Silvio Berlusconi was speaking, as he is wont to do, when a mentally disturbed youth flung a heavy souvenir model of the Milan cathedral, the Duomo, at the Premier. It hit Berlusconi in the mouth. We saw blood—plenty of it—on the six TV channels Berlusconi owns or controls.
“Why the hell didn’t it hit him in the mouth?” grumbled a friend of mine. “Shut him up.”
But he just can’t shut up. His latest today: “It’s a lot better to look at girls than to be a gay.” This is the man who commanded over half the Italian electorate two years ago, and who is proposing himself for president of Italy for a seven-year term that would keep him in power for a total of 20 years.
Nor can anyone else shut up. Young Ruby the Moroccan Belly Dancer
, who’d been entertaining herself and Silvio at his Milanese mansion in February and was briefly arrested for larceny in May, has finally turned eighteen, and so anti-Berlusconi TV (okay, there ain’t much, but everyone who’s anyone is watching the independent network La 7) is running wall-to-wall boobarama-lascivious photos of her. The talk show folk talk non-stop about bunga bunga, the word that has come to mean Berlusconi misbehavior. Even a few Roman Catholic Church figures are muttering.
Another floozette has stepped forward saying she had sex with him twice for pay, each time E. 3,000 ($3,750).
The press is dubbing all this Bunga bunga. This, it seems, is the word the paid escorts used to describe the hijinks at the parties thrown by Mr. B at his homes in Rome, Sardinia and Milan. What is bunga bunga? Mr. B, something of a jokester, likes to tell a joke he politicizes by putting in the names of two leftist Italian politicians captured by an African tribe. The tribesmen ask, “Do you want bunga bunga or to be killed?” The first says, “I’ll take bunga bunga,” and is buggered. The second, supposedly the head of the Partito Democratico Pietro Bersani, says, “Death,” and is first bunga bungaed and then killed.
Problem is, it is confirmed that Berlusconi himself personally phoned the Milan police headquarters twice when Ruby, then 17, was detained for theft of around $4,000 and personal objects from two girls who’d kindly put her up overnight. As a minor she was to be placed under surveillance in a protected community or kept in jail—she could not be released by law, according to some magistrates.
But Berlusconi, claiming she was the niece of Egypt’s President Mubarak (she is neither his niece nor Egyptian), asked for her to be freed. A fiery woman magistrate in Milan who was conducting an official judicial inquiry into why and how the police caved in to Mr. B’s pressures to release an underaged girl charged with theft on Tuesday decided there had been no judiciary wrongdoing.
Not everyone agrees with what some will see as a whitewash, and this did not placate some of the newspapers normally friendly to the premier. The right wing dailies Il Giornale and Il Foglio did not ask for Berlusconi's resignation, but they both said that he had gone too far, and that enough is enough.
So is Mr. B bunga-bungaed by this, only the latest scandal? Not if he can help it. He piously says that he must show respect for the millions who voted for him two years ago by refusing to resign, as many here suggest. “If true, Berlusconi should resign,” said Gianfranco Fini, estranged rightist former government partner, a reformed Fascist.
Problem is, who could replace Berlusconi? On the right even Fini wants Berlusconi to flop, but fears bringing down the government may bring new elections in which Berlusconi emerges stronger than ever.
The left continues to suffer from a lack of inspirational figures, with
one exception: Nichi Vendola (RIGHT
). The charming Vendola, a welcome younger generation from the Berlusconi era, emerged unexpectedly triumphant last year when he was elected president of the Southern Italian region of Puglia. Vendola commands a genuinely enthusiastic following among young people especially.
But here too problems exist. Vendola, former member of the Italian Communist party, went on to join Rifondazione Comunista, a fairly hard-core left party that has lost so much clout that it has no members elected to Parliament. At the last elections it won only 3%. Vendola jumped ship, creating his own mini-party, the Left Ecology Freedom party, but how strong that is can only be guessed at this point.
Vendola has also been an activist in the gay liberation movement in Italy. Popular as he is with many of us, can he be a viable candidate for Premier, as many hope? Just as code words indicate racism in the case of Obama, here the code words are: “You know he wears an earring.”
A sign of his strength: translated, Mr. B’s boast of liking girls instead of boys is sayin, You may like Vendola, but he’s gay and I’m a real man. No bunga bunga for Mr. B. Bully for him.
So what does this say of Italy? To cite Le Monde Nov. 1, “The repetition of judiciary and sexual scandals raises a question of the dignity of the President of the Council of Minister. But Italy’s own image has been damaged. With this slump into the decadence of Empre the end of Berlusconism does no honor to the Italian peninsula.” -- JUDY HARRIS
DIRELAND's Rome correspondent, Judy Harris (left), is a veteran ex-pat journalist who used to write from Italy for TIME magazine and the Wall Street Journal, and now writes for ArtNews. She's the author of the recently-published book, Pompeii Awakened: A Story of Rediscovery. You can visit her website by clicking here.
Read some of Judy's previous dispatches for DIRELAND: "Prodi's Contradictions," February 26, 2007; "Rome's Anti-Gay Family Day," May 12, 2007; "An Agenda for Bush's Italian Visit," June 8, 2007; "Rome's Gay Kiss-in Protests Arrests," August 3, 2007; "Italy's New Left Party, Old Divisions," October 23, 2007; "Pope Charged With Heresy by Rome University," January 17, 2008; "The Ghosts That Haunt Italy's Elections," March 16, 2008; "Aldo Moro, the Ouija Board, and Romano Prodi: New Revelations About Italy's Most Significant Political Assassination," March 26, 2008
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