For 17 years, the 75 year-old, Silvio Berlusconi has more than clung on to power. Lauded for his Joe Blogs personality, his openly macho attitude and populist politics, many outside of Italy still fail to understand his magnetic pull over the country.
His cult personality and well-honed image may just have been his greatest domestic achievements and most failsafe political weapons. Owner of three major private television stations and controller of all three public RAI stations, many saw the internet as the only medium open to expressing oppositional opinions. From his political shoots he was a businessman with a well-oiled PR machine but his influence reaches much further than this.
…politics became part an arena of entertainment…
Blessed with being well connected, even before the inception of his media conglomerate, Berlusconi, even in the late 70s, had direct links to the Socialist Prime Minister, Bettino Craxi. It was Craxi who helped him to break the state monopoly over media, allowing him to set up his first national broadcasting station. Using this media machine, Berlusconi helped transform the face of politics, making it less ideological. Political shows became shouting matches, the occasional glasses of water were even thrown in fits of passion: politics became part an arena of entertainment of which Berlusconi was the ringmaster.
The Media helped him to reach a star-like status but links with Italy’s shadier underground dogged him throughout his political career. Allegations stem as far back as 1973, with the hiring of later-convicted mafia-man, Vittorio Mangano, to protect his children and family. In 1996, another ex-mafioso-turned-informant suggested that Berlusconi had paid anywhere up to £300,000 to the Sicilian Mafia Cosa Nostra to keep things in order.
Another prominent case was that of Marcello Dell’Utri, a close associate since the 1970s. He held political positions ranging from party organizer of Forza Italia (Berlusconi’s football inspired political party) in Sicily to Member of the European Parliament, Italy’s Parliament and the Senate. In 2010, he was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for Mafia associations, only to later be acquitted on charges of extortion.
Many of the top officials appointed by Berlusconi have direct links with his business enterprises and thus hold personal loyalties to him. The once youngest Minister of Justice, Angelino Alfano, who oversaw the introduction of the controversial law that allowed Italy’s four highest officers of state immunity from legal prosecution, is also being touted as Berlusconi’s potential successor within the People’s Freedom Party. Many would also flag up the numerous beautiful but politically untrained women who currently hold seats in parliament as another example of the stretch of his personal network of influence.
Even though his position had become untenable, Berlusconi’s resignation may just be another cunning PR moves. With strong economic cuts having just been pushed through, Silvio the man of the people will not be recorded as the one to have wielded the axe. Publically, Berlusconi may have stepped down from power but if anything the deep connections he has fostered throughout his political career will ensure that he continues to keep things in order.
Images courtesy of Silvio Berlusconi