The significance of Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation can be assessed in several ways. I shall choose two of a strictly empirical nature. The first one is the moment itself: the evening of last November 12 thousands of Italians spontaneously gathered in Roma, waiting for the official notification of his resignation while shouting slogans like "Go home buffoon!", "Enough of mafia in our parliament!", to name only a couple that did not include four-letter words. Then the news broke in, and there were celebrations, Italian flags, choirs of Hallelujah and "Bella Ciao" (the anthem of the Italian anti-fascist resistance), car horns, street dances: it felt like winning the World Cup. Now, if you can think of any other case, in any country, where the resignation of a Prime Minister (note: "resignation of a Prime Minister", not "victory in the elections" or "defeat of a dictator") was met with such joy and excitement, and if - as I suspect - you can’t come up with anything similar, then you might get an idea of the degree of frustration and exhaustion that Italians reached in the last 17 years.
The second way to approach the event is a cold calculation of the various reasons why this person has been the most tragic political event in Italy since Mussolini. Not too often an accurate list of this type was delivered. Scandals have been popping up one after another during the last decades (even before he got involved in politics), but I doubt anyone was really counting. There we go, then:
1) Berlusconi was or is involved in no less than 29 juridical prosecutions, for such charges as corruption, bankruptcy, false testimony, different forms of fraud, embezzlement, defamation, tax noncompliance, prostitution traffic (including underage prostitution), drug traffic, complicity in murder, and criminal association (including mafia). Think about a guy with such records being Prime Minister.
2) Of these 29 charges (five of which still on-going), nine found him guilty, but he always managed to escape the law, one way or another. In two cases, he was pardoned with an amnesty (and next time behave!). In five cases, prescription intervened: too much time had passed since the beginning of the trial (as if crimes are bad memories that time heals). Note also that during his legislation, the prescription times were shortened, so three of the prosecutions that were about to be finalized ended up in nothing. In two more cases, he used his position as Prime Minister to pass bills that made his crimes not illegal anymore. The most prodigious of these bills was to turn "falsification of accounts" into "creative financing". Creative! Forgery of balance became a form of art. Imagine going to a supermarket and instead of paying your groceries you steal them. Then you get caught, but the law saves you: "Come on! That was not stealing! That was creative payment!" What’s next? To call rape "creative cuddling"? Pedophilia "creative tutoring"?
3) The archived cases are also pretty interesting. Particularly in those related with his mafia associations, not enough evidence was found, although his name was repeatedly mentioned by repented criminals and prosecuting magistrates, including Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, on whose assassinations suspicions of Berlusconi’s involvement were also raised. In any case, abundant evidence of mafia association was found in both Vittorio Mangano and Marcello Dell’Utri, two long-time, close collaborators and personal friends of Berlusconi.
4) Among the sentences of acquittal, one occurred because the judges were bribed by lawyer David Mills. This case of corruption therefore became another charge for Berlusconi, and it is one of the on-going cases. Another acquittal is probably the funniest of them all. In the fraud prosecution to Medusa, his film production company, Berlusconi was found not guilty because - I kid you not - he was "too rich" to be aware of what was going on. Which is more or less like discharging a serial killer from assault because he is actually "too violent" for just beating up someone.
5) Berlusconi was also a member of the Masonic lodge and criminal organization "Propaganda Due" (P2), the "shadow government" implicated in numerous Italian crimes and mysteries. His registration number was 1816, and the receipt of his subscription is now publicly available (you can Google it).
6) When, back in 1994, he became Prime Minister for the first time, a lot of people saluted him as an excellent business man finally guiding Italy and its economy. Excellent? During his business career he received illegal funding through several sources, including P2 itself, but most of all, by 1992 his companies had accumulated debts for ca. 4000 millions of Euros, as opposed to 500 million of capital. Calling this the work of an "excellent business man" is like saying that a boxer who wins one match every eight he fights is an "excellent sportsman". Doesn’t sound exactly like Muhammad Ali, does it?
7) With all these debts, and several prosecutions already started back then, his only solution to avoid bankruptcy and jail was to enter the Parliament and, one by one, pass specifically-tailored bills that would fix his financial problems and legal charges. So he did: in 17 years, no less than 19 bills were approved that would produce specific benefits on Berlusconi’s personal interests and none for the community. No wonder his cabinets never had time to address such marginal questions as unemployment, financial crisis, pensions and others.
8) Enough time was however assembled to reduce freedom of speech (by controlling media, firing disobedient journalists, changing editorial staffs, etc.), collect international blunders (including the famous "Kapò" epithet addressed to German Euro-Parliament member Martin Schulz), publicly deliver cheap chauvinist jokes about sex and female beauty (or lack thereof), and organize regular sexual encounters with adult and underage prostitutes.
This is, considering only countable aspects, how much Berlusconi’s resignation meant to Italy. The problem of "The man behind the world’s most dangerous economy" (Time magazine), and "The man who screwed an entire country" (The Economist) was not anymore only a debate between political orientations. It rather became a question of the basic values of a civilized society: democracy, institutions, laws, modernity, reputation, dignity, decency, and even politeness.
So, can we put an end on this tragic era?
No. Not yet.
It was Berlusconi who resigned, not Berlusconism. As the great singer-songwriter Giorgio Gaber used to say, "Non ho paura di Berlusconi in sè, ma di Berlusconi in me" (a nice pun standing for "I do not fear Berlusconi as such, but the Berlusconi in myself"). To say that Berlusconi did all this on his own would be a serious mistake, and a compliment to him. In this world, there is a sinister tendency to kind of admire a villain who achieves power and money in cunning, ruthless and illegal ways. I suggest instead we don’t forget that Berlusconi was and is a man who failed in his business enterprises, who has been internationally acknowledged as an incapable politician, whose oratory will not go down to history for inspirational speeches but for popularizing the expression "bunga bunga", and who needs to pay his sexual partners, rather than seduce them with the appeal of his power. It doesn’t lead to an acceptable definition of "great man" to me.
To get where he got, and for so long, he needed the support of the majority of the Italians. In fact, he had to be "the product" of this majority. Berlusconism, in other words, was the cause of Berlusconi, not his effect. If his resignation certainly brought a wave of optimism, it must be clear that this is just the beginning of Italy’s reconstruction. A reconstruction that has to start, first and foremost, from the Italians, as people and as mentality. To start with, we shall once and for all emancipate from our Messiah syndrome: single, charismatic, "divinely chosen" figures who come and rescue everybody from misery. We were seduced by this or that Roman emperor, by Jesus, Machiavelli’s Prince (possibly a white one in shining armor), Foscolo’s Napoleon, Garibaldi, Mussolini, Berlusconi... it is now time to realize that it is more effective (and altogether quicker) to save ourselves with our own hands.
More importantly, the last 17 years have been dominated by three species of supporters of Berlusconi, all of which have to be reduced to an insignificant minority. The first species I call Berluscophiles: the ones who love Berlusconi, and definitely voted for him (although, when asked directly, pretend they are not really interested in politics). They belong to a not particularly cultivated layer of society: they love Berlusconi, because they are not like him, but so much would love to. They find him charismatic, entertaining, they understand his jokes, sympathize when he says he is persecuted by judges and communists, and envy the fact that he has enough money to afford luxury and escorts. They constitute Berlusconi’s most significant political victory, because most of them are from the working class, a historic territory of leftist parties.
The second kind I call Berlusconids. They, too, love Berlusconi and voted for him (openly and proudly). These are the guys who welcomed the "excellent business-man" to lead Italy. They love Berlusconi because they are like him: cunning, arrogant, business-oriented in the ruthless and selfish sense of the term, tax evaders. They think much of themselves and you can often spot them abroad practicing sexual tourism. They are not only witnesses of Berlusconism (as the Berluscophiles): they also contribute to its creation, finalization and - most of all - promotion. They existed before Berlusconi; in fact Berlusconi was one of them. They also look a bit like each other (they are all into "airport fashion", if you know what I mean), and after their forties they all look like Flavio Briatore.
The third kind, possibly the most difficult to eradicate, is nearly everybody else (myself included, I’m afraid): the Berluscogens. These are the ones who thought they didn’t vote for him, only because they didn’t put the cross on his name during the elections. Otherwise, they have been "voting" for him every day, with their actions and/or immobility, contributing to create more Berluscophiles and Berlusconids (sometimes becoming them). They count themselves as parts of the progressive-leftist portion of Italian society, with ideals that however are always confined to words - and, in fact, are not that progressive either. Berluscogenic are all the opposition parties in the Parliament, which had thousands of chances to impeach Berlusconi, and managed to waste every single one of them. Berluscogenic is the impoverishment of language and thoughts that brought our communication to SMS-level grammar and to a regression in meaning: morality became moralism, opportunism became intelligence, vulgarity became sincerity, and so on. Berluscogenic is the fact that, because we are all frustrated for the economic difficulties, we have become as impolite and intolerant as the Berlusconids. Berluscogenic is the effortlessness by which we forgot our past as migrants, victims of discrimination in central/northern Europe, and became ourselves racist and intolerant. Berluscogenic are a thousand of other actions and lifestyles that, at a first glimpse, seem totally unrelated with Berlusconi.
A complete historical assessment of these last 17 years will have to take into account our responsibility as citizens. Berlusconi is just the prototype of Berlusconism, and in that sense it is correct that the phenomenon is named after him. But woe betide us if we think that his end coincides with the end of the phenomenon!
Make no mistake: it is a long and winding road.
At the same time, there are many reasons to be cheerful. First, after a "Messiah" falls - Italian history teaches - a phase of responsibility and enthusiasm follows. We shall be ready to catch the wave. Second, Berlusconi was so careful in keeping the power all to himself that he failed to produce any credible political heir (nor did he need any: after all, he became a politician only to escape the law). Third, chances are that our next leaders will not have so many personal interests to accomplish: their politics might actually be also in favor of the community. Fourth, it is almost impossible to have less sense of state than Berlusconi: chances are that the next leaders will not produce national embarrassment every time they open their mouth. Fifth, Berlusconi’s decadent lifestyle is quite difficult to compete with: I have no whatsoever problem with politicians frequenting escorts. I just think it shouldn’t be done with public money, with a prostitution traffic attached, and with underage subjects. Morality, not moralism: they are still two different concepts.
And, to conclude, we might not have defeated Berlusconism, but, yes, we got rid of its most disastrous, sly and dangerous representative, and that definitely calls for a huge sigh of relief.
Make no mistake: it was a long and winding fraud.