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Saturday, 4 June 2011

Berlusconi: if he weren’t a criminal and a menace to democracy it would be funny

Groucho Marx’s most famous joke was “I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members”.

Well, I don't care to belong to a club that has someone like Silvio Berlusconi as part of the management.

By club I mean the European Community. There are other good reasons - it is run by an unelected bureaucracy, it pisses away my money like there’s no tomorrow, it’s screwing up our legal system, other European countries do better outside it – but Berlusconi is a very good one.

You don’t spend much time studying Italian affairs, I imagine, but if you did you would be horrified. By affairs I do not mean that Silvio pays for pussy. Many do and it’s not a crime. Nor even that he had it away with someone of 16. That is not illegal either. What he is actually charged with is encouraging underage prostitution.

But there are much greater concerns.

He has from his start as a property developer been closely involved with the Mafia – unless he has a secret fairy Godmother with a few billion to spare. In Sicily last year Massimo Ciancimino, a don’s son, said the Mafia gave Berlusconi the capital that founded his business by laundering dirty money through front companies. He is only one of many mafiosi who have confirmed these links over the years

Berlusconi’s rise was also facilitated by his links with Bettino Craxi, a Prime Minister so corrupt that he had to flee Italy and died in exile in Tunisia.

So what was the first thing he did when getting control of Italy? Make it harder for the courageous Italian magistrates to fight the Mafia. What do I mean by courageous? Quite a number have been murdered for doing their jobs. How many British ones have that problem to worry about?

Over the years Berlusconi has, besides his links with the mafia, been accused of false accounting, tax fraud, corruption and bribery of police officers and judges - including the bribery case in which David Mills, husband of Tessa Jowell is involved.

How has he escaped? By repeatedly pushing through laws preventing him from being prosecuted for all sorts of ingenious reasons. Every time the law is about to catch up with him, hey presto! A new law gets passed in the nick of time

It now looks as though he is about to be brought down, though, and there is an ironic twist.

Berlusconi controls or owns not some but most Italian media. Even over those he does not own he exercises control. Take RAI, the equivalent of the BBC. Recorded conversations exist in which he tells the president of RAI what to do.

But it is worse, because he also controls all the government advertising and a great deal more - and channels it to his own media and away from others. He actually stated in public that nobody should advertise in media critical of him. Italy’s highest tribunal, the Constitutional Court, has ruled many times that this concentration is illegal. But its decisions have not been enforced.

Ten years ago Berlusconi said in public that three leading RAI journalists critical of him were “criminals” and should not be on TV. And, miracle of miracles, they were fired. One – the most distinguished commentator in Italy - actually died soon afterwards.

The other two, though, managed to get back on TV and continued to tell the truth.

In elections last Sunday and Monday Berlusconi suffered a grave defeat. This was although he pushed through gagging orders that stopped RAI’s talk shows and investigative programmes from making comment during the campaign.

None of it worked.

His home town and power base is Milan, where among other things he owns AC Milan, Italy’s most successful team. He personally managed the campaign and said the vote there would effectively be a referendum on his government.

His nominee lost 55:45. In the third largest city, Naples, where he was expected to win, he lost by 65:35. (There were no elections in Rome).

Here is the irony, though.

After the vote he blamed the media. This is hilarious because of his stranglehold over all the main commercial channels and RAI.

It is hard to comprehend the grip and the malign influence of Berlusconi over Italy.

Imagine if Rupert Murdoch, who owns Sky Television, also had controlling shares in ITV and Channel 4, and controlled much of the advertising that media rely on to survive. Imagine that he also owned Manchester United. Imagine that he was financed by, and had close links with drug lords, murderers, the organisers of prostitution and every racket in the country.

And then imagine he became Prime Minister and ended the independence of the BBC. That is what has happened in Italy.

The revelations about his sexual capers obscure the fact that this is an evil man.

Italy is a land full of wonderful people. How they survive being ruled by an almost unending succession of shits and crooks is a tribute to their inventiveness. Pray God they have woken up.

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