June 2023. Some Notes on the Passing of a Legend.


Some Notes on the Passing of a Legend.

Sitting comfortably here in Italy taking in the national news it is impossible not to reflect on the passing of billionaire Silvio Berlusconi who died on the 12th of June this year of Leukaemia. Silvio Berlusconi was one of those larger-than-life characters who appeared consistently in the foreign newspapers, mostly for some scandal or other, and was also hardly ever out of the Italian press. Not that such infamy worried him, owning as he did, the TV and Journal companies Mediaset and Mondadori. His passion for young ladies was well known. He was married twice for fairly lengthy periods, finally settling for girlfriends, who could, perhaps be more economically managed.

We had, as it so happens, arrived in Italy just in time for his exit from a first term as Prime Minister, an activity that he seemed to embrace for the next sixteen years, being in and out of office two more times leading the centre right party, Forza Italia.

His character was not as shady as the censorious like to make out. In fact, he had a conventional middle-class upbringing, studied law at Milan University, graduating with honours, and formed a professional interest in music, playing bass in a university group, besides a not unsuccessful role as a singer. Most importantly he had sound business flare - constructing “Milano Due”, an immaculate residential centre of tidy, well separated, apartment blocks set in a ‘field of lawns’ with its own hospital, sports facilities, and security. Having stayed there in the 1980’s with my wife, I can recommend it as a classical example of perfect urbanization.

As expats we don’t have a vote in Italian’s national elections, but we can tick the boxes in local elections, which provides a small window into the workings of their political system. It might advertise itself as a “Populist” system but in Tuscany you would be hard pressed to find a Centre Right version. Tuscany is a redder shade of left than either the North or South of Italy. After all, this is where the Italian Communist Party was born! Well, at least the region was ‘left leaning’ until recently, when a shift began to take place apparently promoted by the then Deputy P.M. Matteo Salvini and his anti-EU austerity policies. Berlusconi had never managed to find a chink in Tuscany’s armour, perhaps because, of his enormous wealth, he was the antithesis of the many populist Tuscans! But, joking aside, the political transition was more likely influenced by an important and popular decree in 2018 abolishing many aspects of the protection of migrants, a backlash against the large-scale dumping of human bodies on Italy’s southern shores.

Mr Wootton of GB News might quite reasonably ask “If Italy can do it, why can’t the UK?”  The effect of all this Italian government hubris seems more manifest in the modern battleground of larger cities than in small agricultural ones where political movements seem to pass on by without disturbing the status quo.  

But there’s no doubt things are slowly changing. Perhaps this tendency was brought about by the recent election of the first female Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, that brought condemnation from the European Union and panic from the Biden administration, apparently worried by Meloni’s anti LGBTQ+; Open Borders and pro Christianity agenda. What’s not to like? To a mother orientated nation like Italy, such criticism was like a red rag to a bull. Take an example. The problem of unwelcome immigration is as regrettable in Italy as it is in Greece, France and the United Kingdom. Meloni, like Salvini, is a nationalist, waves a big stick, and means business. This does not go down well with those who believe in some Utopian landscape where there’s room for everyone. Especially your particular room! Berlusconi who saw himself as one of the people, was apparently completely unaware of the tidal undercurrent of political feeling. His sort of patriotism was not limited to the massed ranks on the football stands, but also to those people who believed in standing on their own two feet, but he always had trouble convincing the majority of its efficacy.

In the wider landscape, too many locals remember the swarm like passing of Albanian migrants when that country opened its prison gates to one and all who apparently had a penchant for other people’s property, leaving behind their diligent cousins to pick up the pieces, defending a tarnished character they, personally, didn’t deserve. I remember a wonderfully vivacious Albanian nurse during a short stay in hospital keeping up everyone’s spirits, including colleagues, by her exuberant happy chatter. Too many of her compatriots, at the last sighting, were causing havoc in Portugal and eyeing up the white cliffs of Dover! This will hardly be forgotten by many of the voting public.

One of the great problems for Italy is their President, Mattarella, an ageing and narrow bureaucrat endlessly interfering in the governments policies and appointments for which, in much the same way as the UK’s House of Lords, the President has too much influence. However, having this second term thrust upon him has certainly seen a less pro-active stance, perhaps because of the very large majority of the Prime Ministers party, or more likely, the relief of seeing the back of the sour and spooky Mario Draghi, or perhaps the sadly moribund, ineffectual Berlusconi, who wasn’t going to be trouble for anyone anymore. He cut a sad figure propped up among his jubilant right-wing colleagues who formed the government in October 2022 - referring to Meloni as arrogant and overbearing - perhaps a rebuttal of Berlusconi’s laddish behaviour.

But it wasn’t always so, and he’d always lived close to the cuff - handcuffs that is. In 2010 the law finally caught up with him. Well, some people might consider it more a slap on the wrist, than the clamp of a manacle. A small matter of fraud, where he faced seven years locked up, was reduced to one year community service given that he was over seventy when they finally managed to arraign him. But does anyone actually believe a billionaire dabbles in fraud? In Italy people over seventy are unlikely to go to prison, being under house arrest or undertaking community service for their crime. Having missed him on that one they tried under age sex, given the young lady in question was only seventeen when this was alleged to have taken place, three years previously. It is thought to have cost him 4 million Euro’s extricating himself from the mess. A matter of small change for a man worth nearly 7 billion Euros.

All this was a very long way from his occasional performances crooning on cruise ships, possibly unaware that one day he would own super stores, AC Milan football club, and be the most important man in Italy. But it may well be that he will be remembered as the outspoken challenger to the monopolistic RAI (Italian BBC) which he finally successfully overcame in 1990, and commercial television channels became a reality in Italy.

He was well and active enough to see a right-wing party back in power in 2022, and it was a good note to end on. Less than eight months later he passed away. The quiet end of Italy’s longest serving Prime Minister. I doubt if we will see his likes again.