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Berlusconi to resign. Thank goodness. PDF Print E-mail
Nov 10, 2011 at 12:13 AM

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Comeuppance!

Silvio Berlusconi will be resigning this weekend, a decision that was announced Tuesday evening after he met with Italian president Giorgio Napolitano who fortunately was able to convince the Italian premier that the country was - is - on the brink of a financial abyss.

Berlusconi is a total narcissist, and for all we know may even be able to convince himself in the coming days that he is not to blame. But narcissists do not take humiliation well and he has been roundly humiliated by the rout suffered by Italian treasury bonds today and yesterday and its impact on the world's stock markets. It wouldn't surprise me if he were to sink into a deep depression, once he realizes that despite all his dreams of grandeur, he is likely to end up in history books as the man who almost brought this wonderful country called Italy to its knees.

Let's be honest. The current financial situation - a mammoth public debt amounting to (brace yourselves!) 2600 trillion dollars and equal to 120% of GDP - is certainly not all Berlusconi's fault. For decades now -- yes, decades -- Italian governments and Italian politicians have been looking the other way; or, rather, they haven't been looking at all since a large number of them of them (fortunately ,not all, but a huge number) have always seen power and public office not as an opportunity to serve but as a way of getting rich, famous and - in the case of the men - laid!

But Silvio Berlusconi, who is Italy's second richest man and undeniably was a brilliant businessman, has been in power for ten of the last 17 years, and when he was re-elected three and a half years ago with an overwhelming majority, he promised that he would (finally) turn the country's faltering economy around by transforming laggard Italy into a modern, efficient, and competitive nation.

Instead, he did none of those things, dedicating most of his time to trying to get laws passed that would help keep him from being convicted on charges of corruption, tax evasion and, more recently, sex abuse, instead of really governing. He had too many parties and spent too much time rounding up young beautiful girls to attend them, and sometimes to spend the night (but I wouldn't take any bets on the quality of his sexual prowess). He became dependent on his strongest ally, the Northern League, the politically-astute leader of which, Umberto Bossi, is a vulgar, small-minded, provincial whose favorite pastime seems to be to have himself photographed giving someone the finger (which by the way was once a gesture known only to Anglo-Saxons).

With the League's help, Berlusconi changed the country's electoral system so that Italian voters basically have no choice at all in choosing individual legislators (they can only choose a party). He allowed his party to be dominated by a hodge-podge of ex Socialists, ex Christian Democrats and ex-bimbos. And even as recently as this summer, he continued to tell Italians that their economy was strong and healthy and that all the country's problems could be laid at the door of the "Reds", the commies, be they union members, politicians, magistrates and frustrated, part-time schoolteachers.

Fortunately, one of those former "Reds" is now President of the Republic and Giorgio Napolitano, 86 years of age but with a mind like a steel trap, seems to be the only one around with a game plan that could calm the raging bond markets and get Italy started back in the right direction. Wednesday evening he made a bold move, appointing the highly respected Italian economist Mario Monti (a former EU commissioner) as a life-time member of the Italian Senate. This means that if Napolitano succeeds in convincing the League and Berlusconi's party, the PDL, that the best course for now - when speed is of the essence - is not to go to the polls but a technical or broad, national unity cabinet capable of making painful decisions, he could easily appoint Monti as premier-elect and ask him to try and form a government. New elections would be held sometime early in 2012.

(Just in case I have frightened some knee-jerk anti-Communist readers, let me clarify that while Napolitano, an urbane, polite, distinguished English-speaking gentleman who was first elected to Parliament in 1953, was for years a member of the Italian Communist Party, beginning in the 1960s he was increasingly on the side of those who wanted to break the party's ties with the Soviet Union. I doubt there is anyone in Italy, even Berlusconi, who today would describe him as a "communist" or remembers that he was one, or even cares.)

And to add a personal note, last spring I witnessed one of the most moving recent moments I can remember here, when the nearly 3000 people crowding Rome's symphony hall for a concert, rose to their feet, cheering with abandon, when it became known that Napolitano was in the audience.
It was clear, they were applauding a fellow Italian they really could be proud of.

Let's not have any illusions. Whatever happens, things are not going to play out easily. Even if Monti, or someone like him, succeeds in forming an emergency government, the austerity laws he will try to pass will have to be voted on by, among others, the MPs and Senators who are faithful to Berlusconi and Bossi. And many of them, one has the impression, simply still don't get it.

 

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