Dear Blog Readers, I have been covering Italy since 1994 and the entire time one man, Silvio Berlusconi, has dominated the political scene. At a lunch with a group of journalists in the foreign press about one year ago, when Berlusconi was still clinging to power as Prime Minister, we went around the table with everyone giving his or her opinion on the future of Berlusconi. I was the last to speak. Every other person at the table was convinced he was done, finished with his political power, finally drained by his endless court cases and sleazy scandals. When they got to me, I said I was sure we were not seeing the end of Berlusconi, that in the nearly two decades of covering Italy, I have found that Silvio twists and turns, finds himself new options, wiggles out of impossible situations and pops back out again like a Jack-in-the-Box. I cannot think of a single individual in the United States who has ever held such long-standing political and economic power. Here are a few posts I wrote on him after he resigned in November 2011. Silvio Berlusconi and Me – Part I and Berlusconi’s Babes – Pari II
In the past few weeks I forgot to heed my own convictions and stopped paying attention to Berlusconi. But the crank on the side of the box has been turning with a little melody in the background and “Pop” out he has come again, surprising us all.
In just four days this week Berlusconi officially retired from politics, got convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to four years in prison, and announced he was entering back into politics and will bring down the government of Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti.
I should have noticed things were heating up again with Berlusconi when on October 19th he decided to appear in court in his trial on charges of engaging in prostitution with a minor and using his position of power to cover it up. Berlusconi suprised the courtroom by shaking his hands with the woman some see as his arch-enemy, prosecutor Ilda Boccassini (see my post on her: The Italian Tiger Mother)
Berlusconi then startled the courtroom and the country by making a spontaneous declaration in which he confidently annouced that he had never had sex with Ruby Rubacuori (a Moroccon teen) and that the famed Bunga-Bunga parties at his Villa with hordes of sexy young starlets did not involve sex. For months in 2008 the entire country was bombarded with the publication of telephone transcripts of conversations between show-girls revealing salacious details about the Bunga-Bunga parties.
Following this unexpected declaration, Berlusconi disappeared back into his box, only to reappear on Wednesday announcing that he will not lead his People of Liberty party in the national elections this spring and will not seek to become Prime Minister of Italy again. Just as we were all beginning to digest that news, bam, down came the decision of the court in Milan on Friday, a conviction on tax fraud and a sentence to four years in prison. The case is one that has been dragging on for six years and involves Mediaset, the largest private broadcaster in Italy, owned by Berlusconi.
Berlusconi was convicted of using offshore companies to purchase the rights to use US television movies on Italian TV without paying the full amount in taxes. The 76-year-old billionaire will appeal and it is highly unlikely that he will ever go to prison.
But Berlusconi is not one to go down quietly, today he held a press conference at one of his villas near Milan and came out swinging. He said that Italy is not a democracy but a “dictatorship” of judges, and announced he needs to get back into politics to change the judicial system. He then said he might call for a no-confidence vote on the government of current Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. Monti was brought in following Berlusconi’s resignation in 2011 to lead a technical government that would take Italy through a series of dramatic economic reforms intended to pull the country out of its economic crisis. Today Berlusconi said that Monti’s reforms have brought about a “recessive spiral” and threatened to bring down Monti’s government.
This evening I asked an Italian television colleague what she thought of Berlusconi’s press conference. She paused her typing and turned from her computer to look at me, “he’s had his eyes lifted again, he’s got cat eyes now,” she said and turned back to her computer.
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.