Andrea Mammone: The legacy of Berlusconi-ism will run for a while more


For many Italians, the last two decades will be viewed as one of the most unfortunate periods in the long history of a beautiful country. But it could also be seen as the latest test in a laboratory of democracy, which has taken in Mussolini's fascism, the strongest communist party in the West and, until now, Silvio Berlusconi.

The media tycoon was seen in the early 1990s like the saviour of a political system which many saw as broken. Political polarisation, the erosion of traditional ideologies, and a widespread system of bribes seemed the rule.

Berlusconi offered a sort of new Promised Land. He was successful, and rich. The situation could only improve. The media tycoon also became the projection of a certain stereotypical italianità (Italian-ness) - smart, shrewd, a Latin lover, funny, but also 'status-seeker'. He was paradoxically helped by the centre-left and leftist parties. These proved to be a quarrelling galaxy with different interests and ideas - able to get rid of Romano Prodi twice, despite the fact that he was the only one able to win elections against Berlusconi.

Unfortunately for him, Berlusconi lost credibility over the years: both nationally and internationally. Politics became a 'one-man-show' centred on the increasingly-absurd figure of Berlusconi: sexual scandals, police investigations, defence of his financial empire. This went along with increasingly hard-line proposals to stop wiretapping, change juvenile prostitution laws, and prevent journalists scrutinising politicians - it was an idea that modern democracies could be governed like a personal business without too much internal opposition and international interference. This was the triumph of personal interests over public duties and collective needs, and like the Emperor Nero, government leaders seemed to play the violin while Italy was financially 'burning'.

But like the Anglo-American troops liberated (with the backing of anti-fascist partisans) the country from fascism, international forces - the European Central Bank, the EU, the Franco-German leadership, and financial markets - similarly helped Italy dismiss this failing and often very embarrassing contemporary, Berlusconi's leadership. There was of course also growing opposition from his fellow industrialists and even from the Church, and economically his leadership has been devastating.

Yesterday showed the political wind had well and truly changed. Berlusconi survived the budget vote, but he lost the parliamentary majority. He tried not to step down, but there was an outcry - including from some of his main allies. Now, after a consultation with the Italian President, Berlusconi said he will resign after parliament passes the necessary economic plan requested by the European Union. This can be a matter of weeks - if not before.

This essentially represents the end of the tycoon's political career, but the legacy of Berlusconi-ism will still run for a while more. He finally lost, but he will surely not be forgotten soon.

Andrea Mammone is a historian at Kingston University London. He has co-edited books including 'Italy Today: The Sick Man in Europe'