This is a tale of two countries, one small, the other tiny. The tiny country, population 826, occupies just 110 acres of territory inside the capital city of the small country. But it is by far the more commanding of the two. It dictates beliefs about the divine held sacred by a billion people worldwide. Its leader is considered a respected moral arbiter. While the Italian state is nearly 150 years old, the pope has ruled from his perch in Rome for all of 1,600 years. Small wonder then, that the Church of Rome often behaves as if Italy were not really a sovereign nation but a small province that needs to be kept in line.
All the same, Italy could use some guidance these days. God knows.
It’s much too late for a quiet word in the ear of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a man growing more and more unbalanced as political consensus begins to slip away from him, taking potshots at the magistrates homing in on his disorderly sex life as well as on his rumored Mafia ties. The tension seems to be taking its toll, not only on Berlusconi but on some of his loyalists, like Minister for Public Administration Renato Brunetta, who recently denounced a mysterious “elite” he said was planning a coup to bring down the government.
Next month the Constitutional Court will rule on whether a tailor-made 2008 law granting Berlusconi full judicial immunity is constitutional. If the measure is knocked down, the prime minister could be exposed to prosecution in a corruption case. His leading ally in his Popolo della Libert party, Chamber of Deputies president Gianfranco Fini, has been marking his distance from Berlusconi and signaling he’s ready to replace him. Berlusconi’s European partners and the Obama administration are said to be annoyed about his effusive displays of friendship to Vladimir Putin and Muammar Qaddafi. The European Union has censured Italy for towing boatloads of desperate Eritreans and Somalis, many of them certainly eligible for refugee status, back to Libya from where they set out–and where they will be interned in barbaric prison camps. And the worst of the world economic crisis is expected to hit Italy this winter.
For the first time, there is talk about the end of Berlusconi. And for the first time, comparisons of this regime to Fascism are being advanced not just as rhetoric but in all seriousness.
In a cringe-making bilateral press conference with Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero, the Italian prime minister lost his cool when asked whether he had considered resigning because of the scandal that has arisen over paid “escorts” who spent the night at his residences. Never, he said in a manly show of verbal chest-pounding; he would never resign, and not only that but he had “never even once in my life had to spend one lira, one euro, for a sexual performance,” because otherwise “what’s the joy of conquest?” And furthermore, Berlusconi added, “I sincerely consider myself by far the best prime minister that Italy has ever had in its 150 years of history.” Not only that, but his polls tell him he has “a 68.4 percent approval rating.” He then turned to Zapatero and apologized for the detour the press conference had taken.
“Not at all,” said Zapatero, heroically keeping a straight face. “Very interesting…”
Berlusconi is on the offense this fall after months of enduring photos and other disclosures about his sex life. First, he sued the left-leaning La Repubblica, arguing that the “10 Questions” the paper had posed about his sex life (questions that would be considered perfectly legitimate in any country with a free press) were invasive of his privacy and intended to smear him. Then he sued the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, as well as Spanish daily El Pas.