Arrivederci il Magnifico

Berlusconi is the only person who could have sorted out Italy’s problems

12 November 2011

6:00 PM

12 November 2011

6:00 PM

Berlusconi is the only person who could have sorted out Italy’s problems

Where the monstrous regiment of judges, journalists and the other toxic derivatives of Italian communism failed, the Germans and the French, armed this time only with the euro, have triumphed.

Silvio Berlusconi, or ‘Silvio il Magnifico’ as I am still not ashamed to call him, the 75-year-old media tycoon who has dominated politics in Italy since 1994, has lost his majority and has promised to resign as Prime Minister, and not to stand again.

First the Germans and their French ‘caniche toy’ did for the Greek Prime Minister, George Papandreou, riding roughshod over the Greek people. Now it is the turn of ‘il Cavaliere’ (the Knight) and the Italians who elected him in 2008 for the third time with the largest ever majority of votes of any postwar Italian Prime Minister.

Neither Angela Merkel nor Nicolas Sarkozy nor anyone else in ‘Europe’ seems to know or care that Berlusconi, (whose idol is Margaret Thatcher) represents Italy’s best hope of cutting its astronomical sovereign debt — €1.9 trillion, the third highest in the world, and five times larger than the Greek debt. And they do not seem to know or care that Berlusconi, a self-made billionaire, represents Italy’s best hope of hacking back the jungle of laws that paralyse Italy’s labour market.


Neither the debt nor the bureaucracy is Berlusconi’s fault because — heh — they have been part of the scenery in Italy since at least 1968. Indeed, the reason that the majority of Italians have voted for him so often is precisely because of his election campaign pledges to sort them out.

The truth (though Carla Powell says otherwise in this issue) is that there is no valid alternative to Berlusconi. Do Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy honestly think that the Italian opposition, heirs to Europe’s largest communist party outside the Soviet bloc, would cut public debt by doing something, say, about the most expensive public pension scheme in the world (14.2 per cent of GDP)? Would they make it possible, say, to sack incompetent or excess employees? (It’s currently against the law, in any company with more than 15 staff.)

Non scherziamo
(let’s not joke)! To the Italian left, such moves would be tantamount to ripping out the drip that keeps it alive. There is much talk of a ‘technical’ government with Mario Monti, an economics professor and former European commissioner, as premier. Such governments, as Italians know only too well from the past, merely tread water.

It is a pity that the markets did not look more kindly on Berlusconi’s famous letter to the G20 meeting in Cannes in which he pledged yet again to tackle Italy’s debt and labour laws. Armed with the blessing of world leaders, he could perhaps have finally muzzled opponents not just outside but within his own coalition (his ally, the Northern League, for example, is partial to public debt solutions) and thus forced through enough reforms to dampen the raging fire.

Of course, a bad workman does tend to blame his tools, and Berlusconi has always done this. But in his case the tools, the Italians, have a lot to answer for. As the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini put it: ‘Governing the Italians is not impossible, it is merely useless.’ Berlusconi has pulled uphill with the strength of ten men, as they said of Peter the Great, but millions have pulled downhill.

I have lived in Italy for 13 years and consider myself an honorary Italian. I seethe with anger every time I read the views of foreign journalists, especially British ones, on ‘Il Magnifico’. They just don’t get Italy and so they don’t get him. The explanation for their blind spot, I have concluded, is twofold.

First, they are guilty of racial stereotyping. So your average Italian is a dodgy bottom-pincher with the gift of the gab. Berlusconi fits the bill brilliantly. He used to be a cruise-ship crooner before becoming a property developer and then, after breaking the state-owned television monopoly, a media mogul. Where did the money come from? Good question. And yes, he does even today, despite recovery from prostate cancer, love a spot of bunga bunga. There is talk not just of ‘la pillola blu’ (Viagra) but ‘la pompa’ (the pump), ‘la puntura’ (injection) and even ‘la piccola gru’ (the little crane).

Second, foreign journalists are the dupes of possibly the most dishonest yet most efficient propaganda machine in the civilised world. You might assume, and foreign journalists do, that Berlusconi, who owns three of the seven national television channels in Italy, plus its biggest publishers, Mondadori, and a couple of important newspapers, exercises an iron grip on the Italian media. You could not be more mistaken. Berlusconi’s opponents, who also include many other tycoons, control the media. You only have to switch on the tv or read a newspaper to understand this. Ninety per cent of political talk shows, even on Berlusconi’s own channels, are patently left-wing, as are the vast majority of Italy’s newspapers.

As for the judges, they are not like British judges. They, like every organisation in Italy, including the Round Table and the Rotary Club, are highly politicised, and the left-wing ones among them have hounded Berlusconi ever since he became a politician. Not once has he been convicted definitively. And these judges also intercept the telephone calls of hundreds of people, including him, in the hope of nailing them. (In one part of the bunga bunga investigation in which Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with an underage girl, the judges intercepted 100,000 calls.) These judges then regularly leak the transcripts to their newspaper contacts.

One of the things that foreign journalists have a real problem with is trying to understand why Italians, regardless of all the judicial investigations and the hate-filled media, keep on voting for Berlusconi. They must be brainwashed, they conclude. No, they are not. They just know Italy.

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Show comments
  • Italianexpat

    Bravo, Bravissimo!!
    I lived in Italy for almost five years-I agree 100% with what you wrote. The former communists (-which by the way privatized state owned companies selling for pennies on the dollar to their banker friends most of Italy’s real assets when they were in control-Romano Prodi, Giuliano Amato)do not want to let go of their emoluments and go to work like the rest of us. That is why they hate “Il Magnifico”, because this old billionare does not need state money to have his fun (unlike those other state parasites who use tax money to buy cocaine and prostitutes).
    Though I don’t agree with you on everything Silvio, you are the only one that can help Italy.

  • vania

    Dear Mr Farrell, you just don’t get it.

  • Matteo

    Apparently you know Italy better than Italians – as, since three years now, everybody down here just can’t stand anymore Berlusconi. And is not a matter of communism, is a matter of thinking rationally. But maybe is you that just don’t get this.

  • James

    Nicholas, you are quite right. Berlusconi is the only one who could have done something about the Italian economy because he alone among Italy’s political classes actually had a mandate from the people.

    Unfortunately, he has failed, thanks to the famous ingovernabilita’ of the Italians. The best thing he can do now is to leave.

  • haskell

    This Berlusconi of which you speak sounds like an energetic guy with some good ideas. Maybe if he ever got elected Prime Minister he could do something about the problems you mention.

  • Valerio

    Well written Nicholas Farrell.

    Finally a British writer that does understand Italy and the Italians.

    Berlusconi had won 3 times the elections and when he lost in 2006 he lost only by 20,000 votes, equivalent to the 0,02% of the electorate. The Left will tell you because of the “media”, but that is a lie because Berlusconi is always critized in media and TV. The Left is very good at attacking Berlusconi but that is the only thing they do, all the bloody time.

    What we have to understand is many people see Berlusconi as the devil because they are envyous of his success.

    What we need now is a new election.

  • Michele

    I think this could be “English humour”, please you couldn’t know which was the daily impact of Berlusconi non-politic action. He only “cry and fuck”…after 17 years and about 10 years of government nothing was done. This is his own guilty
    sorry for grammar mistakes

  • Alessandro Tiberi

    This is like reading something out of 1994.
    Thankfully, times change and people perhaps will now realize we don’t need a Magnifico Signore to change our country for the best.

  • Konrad B

    Mr Farrell, Margaret Thatcher ACHIEVED things. All that Berlusconi did was cover his ass, devising laws to save him from jail. I lived in Italy 1980-89, when your Magnifico created his empire.
    It’s patronising to quote Mussolini about the governability of Italy. I continue to work with intelligent Italians who are ashamed of the whole thing. And by the way,inutile

  • E Hart

    A constant confusion between personal prejudice and reality and for that reason – although well-written – it has little or no merit.

  • Paul Worthington

    Entering into a political union with this country was obviously a big mistake. Entering into a de facto debt union was insane. The nuts are still running the nuthouse in Euroland.

  • Hawk

    so glad there are british out there that understand and that there isn’t just the Economist’s presumptous “truth”

  • stefy

    I agree with you 100%. You seem to be the only British journalist to know who Berlusconi really is and how many lies have been said about him. I wonder how The Financial Times and The Economist have been able to write all those horrible things about our Prime Minister.Many Italians suppose they just copy their articles from the papers of our opposition or have Berlusconi’s enemies send them directly from Italy.A serious foreign newspaper should have their journalists living in the country they want to write about ; this is the only way to have first hand reliable news.Here they might know that Communism is still alive and might learn what it is like: the British don’t really know what it is like since they never had it represented in Parliament. The left here is not an opposition party but a machine unable to create alternative projects but only able to throw mud and destroy everything.

  • John Leake

    Responding rather late the article (I’m only just now reading in my paper copy abourd my ship), I’m astonished at one of Farrell’s claims. The Italian TV system must have changed markedly for a 90% left-wing bias on political shows to be actually meaningful. As I remember it five years ago, the only channel with free political debate was RAI3, which is the channel that was formerly under Communist patronage. The astonishing thing was the almost complete absence of political debate on other channels, not the left-wing bias of the one left-wing channel.

  • Ashen Munaweera

    The specator is the worst newspaper in the world right now, try reading Sick man of Europe , how dare you, seriously call italy that, the society is not termanily sick… Respect