Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Rise and Fall of Silvio Berlusconi

Barring any surprising last minute political maneuvers, it seems certain that Mr. Silvio Berlusconi, the long tenured Italian Prime Minister, will resign for good after the approval of the Italian government's 2012 budget.

Mr. Silvio Berlusconi rose to power back on March 1994 thanks to three things: namely, the voters' disgust with the massive corruption in the long-lasting coalition government under the Christian Democrats; his savvy use of the media; and the lack of a political alternative in Italy, as the Democratic Party of the Left, the successor of the Italian Communist Party, was completely discredited due to the fall of the Soviet Union.

His 1994 victory was supposed to herald the reformation of an Italian political system that was rife with corruption and lethargy, causing the Italian economy to be less developed compared to the other economic giants of the Europe, notably Germany. In the end, however, Berlusconi was proven to be another "creature" of Italian politics, as he blended in rather than reformed the dysfunctional social and political system, which is lampooned in the following parody:

In thinking about the long career of Mr. Silvio Berlusconi, one cannot help but to recall Orson Welles' (in)famous line from the movie The Third Man:

You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
The entire line about the Swiss now applies to Italy, as it essentially pinpoints the problem with Italian political system: governments prefer internal peaceful coexistence over making the rough and tough changes necessary to produce better Italian politics. The government only has a very narrow majority, and it only rules thanks to the weaknesses of the opposition. To make situation worse, the government itself is based on a very loose coalition of parties with vastly divergent platforms, with one major partner, Umberto Bossi's Lega Nord per l'Indipendenza della Padania (North League for the Independence of Padania), advocating a complete independence of Northern Italy.

Such a toxic combination created an incentive for politicians to avoid doing any painful and much needed reforms in order to remain in power and resisting any pressure to do so. And at this point, there is simply no guarantee that the next Italian government will act more forcefully than Berlusconi. Not surprisingly, even the Economist magazine sardonically noted:
Yet Italy is stubbornly resistant to reform. The indolent political generation brought forth by Mr Berlusconi may finally be booted out, but there is no obvious replacement.
It is possible that the next Italian government will be willing to face the music and force the nation to eat the bitter pill of political and economic reform, but as the Greek resistance showed, the country might revolt and this could jeopardize the entire European Union experiment.

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