The Corrupt Reign of Emperor Silvio

Papi: Uno Scandalo Politico (Papi: A Political Scandal)

by Peter Gomez, Marco Lillo, and Marco Travaglio
Milan: Chiarelettere, 331 pp., P15.00 (paper)

Il Regalo di Berlusconi (The Gift of Berlusconi)

by Peter Gomez and Antonella Mascali
Milan: Chiarelettere, 339 pp., P15.00 (paper)

Gradisca, Presidente: Tutta la verità della escort più famosa al mondo (At Your Pleasure, Mr. President: The Whole Truth About the Most Famous Escort in the World)

by Patrizia D'Addario, with Maddalena Tulanti
Reggio Emilia: Aliberti, 237 pp., P17.90

Guzzanti vs Berlusconi

by Paolo Guzzanti
Reggio Emilia: Aliberti, 573 pp., P19.90


a film directed by Erik Gandini
Lorber Films
Poster for Erik Gandini’s documentary on Italy, Videocracy, 2009

In the past year, Italy’s political life has come to resemble some strange cross between a Mexican soap opera and Suetonius’ description of the imperial excesses of the Caesars. First there were the revelations of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s peculiar relationship with Noemi Letizia, a teenage girl from Naples who called him “Papi,” prompting speculation about whether she was his illegitimate daughter or an underage lover. “I wish she was his daughter!” Berlusconi’s wife, Veronica Lario, commented; she asked publicly for a divorce, saying that she could no longer stay with a man who “frequented minors” and “was not well.”

Next there were the photographs of the bacchanalia with topless girls and pantless politicians at Berlusconi’s pleasure palace villa in Sardinia, recalling images of Tiberius at Capri. Finally, there was the case of the call girls attending Berlusconi’s parties at the presidential palace in Rome, many of them paid by a Southern Italian businessman interested in winning government contracts for his health care business.

Berlusconi’s bizarre behavior kept spilling over into international relations, leading to numerous embarrassing episodes. Seemingly jealous of Barack Obama’s star power, he referred to the newly elected US president as “tall, handsome, and suntanned,” and then, in explaining why he would not attend Obama’s inauguration, he said that he was a star, “not an extra.” After meeting Michelle Obama, he remarked that she, too, was suntanned.

At the same time, as if in the third ring of the circus, there were Berlusconi’s continuing legal troubles, a sixteen-year saga that has left a long trail of evidence of corruption, bribery, and contacts with organized crime. Last October, Italy’s highest court rejected a law that Berlusconi had passed granting himself immunity from all prosecution while he is in office. This meant he was again a defendant in a case in which his former British attorney, David Mills, had already been convicted of taking a $600,000 bribe from Berlusconi’s company to keep his name out of a series of other corruption investigations.

Berlusconi’s critics called on him to resign and, using the Internet, organized a mass protest in Rome on December 5 called “No Berlusconi Day,” which, despite the notable absence of Italy’s main opposition party, drew an estimated 350,000 Italians. Berlusconi proclaimed, with typical exaggeration, that Italy was on the point of civil war. And just when everyone thought it couldn’t get weirder, on December 13 a man with a history of mental illness struck him in the face with a stone replica of the Milan cathedral during a political rally in the city, breaking his nose and two teeth.

Within hours, his political associates—Maurizio Gasparri and Fabrizio Cicchitto, leaders of Berlusconi’s coalition in the Italian Senate and Chamber of Deputies—mounted a ferocious offensive, insisting that while the prime minister’s attacker may have been a mentally disturbed…

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