When thinking about Italian politics, the adjectives of choice are Byzantine, cynical, operatic, paradoxical, comic, tragi-comic and tragic. Oh, and corrupt. Berlusconi's government of the last twelve months has been the Walking Dead, clothed in the reeking rags of every one of those adjectives. Having survived a confidence vote in December via the not entirely original method of buying parliamentary deputies to make up for the few (too few) ones who because of principal or miscalculation had jumped ship, the government lumbered on and did nothing constructive as the economic crisis progressed, preferring to occupy itself once more with legislation aimed specifically and explicitly at easing Berlusconi's personal legal complications. Many outside of Italy are probably curious to know why someone like Berlusconi has managed to dominate Italian politics for nigh on twenty years and in the process become the longest running political leader since Mussolini. Explanations are exasperatingly dismissive at times, to the point of racism. Berlusconi is a Latin lover that seduces the electorate, with a queue outside the bedroom door panting for it. Or perhaps Italy is a country that constantly searches for the charisma of the Leader (Mussolini calendars are on sale everywhere at Xmas and are still a big hit). However, the picture is more complicated than that. Italy is an intensely divided country. It surrounds a couple of independent states (the Vatican and San Marino). German is spoken in Alto Adige, Ladino in the Dolomites, Sardinia and Sicily have their own identities, dialects (or languages) and histories. One of Berlusconi's coalition parties, the post-fascist Lega Nord, was born from the wish to separate the prosperous North from the poverty and crime ridden South and thus create a mythical independent country called Padania. Imagine Hobbiton run by Goebbels. In the same coalition, for a time, Berlusconi also had the Alleanza Nazionale, a more traditionally post-fascist party which promoted the unity of the patria and was based mainly in the South. In the same coalition. Berlusconi was Orwell's 'double think' in person. His survival depended on the ability of the electorate to keep two opposing ideas in the mind as both being true and still function at the same time. He's for family values but sleeps with girls who could be his grand daughter; he's anti-communist but best friends with Putin; he's for a united Italy but favours the North; against organised crime but also against the magistrates who are in the front line in the battle against organised crime. People didn't even have to vote for him to get him. They knew if they voted for the Lega or any other coalition party, they could be against him but still effectively gift him with power. The opposition has been divided both politically (left, right and centre) and also in methodology. Nanni Moretti, the noted director, gave a speech castigating the left for not having anyone capable of challenging Berlusconi and then set in course a form of political opposition that consisted of standing around institutional buildings, holding hands and forming a kind of daisy chain. This misguided political theatre (the girotondi) simply reinforced the image that the opposition wasn't serious. Berlusconi might be comic but he was always in control of his own comedy. The left ended up looking foolish which is far more politically damaging than just not getting someone's jokes. The end of Berlusconi (or this chapter at least) came not with the left, but with the right. Berlusconi was getting old and had lost all credibility. The double think was stretching to snapping point. And more than anything Italy was getting bored of Berlusconi. He had gone on too long and simply the word Berlusconi would now evoke groans. Add to this some real fear about the economic disaster Italy was facing and it was time to get serious. But again, before we sing victory, his defeat has not been a political victory for the left. The electoral reform carried out by his government means that it is now extremely difficult for a party to get a clear majority in both houses, hamstringing his successors. The government that takes over is technocratic rather than political and their actions are likely to be dictated by the IMF and the Central European Bank, rather than considerations of social justice and they may well feel their mandate doesn't extend to introducing serious electoral reform. In a year's time, it wouldn't be impossible that Berlusconi's party, having perhaps opposed the austerity measures and thus won back some consensus, will go on to win an election and in 2013 will nominate as President of the Republic, Silvio Berlusconi. Or he could be in jail. Or knowing the extent of absurdity double think can accommodate, perhaps both.
John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.