erasing clouds

Book Review: David Lane's Berlusconi's Shadow: Crime, Justice and the Pursuit of Power

by anna battista

Interviewed in September 2003 by British journalists Boris Johnson and Nicholas Farrell from the magazine The Spectator, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi claimed the country's magistrates were "mad twice over. First, because they are politically that way, and second, because they are mad anyway. To do that job you need to be mentally disturbed, you need psychic disturbances. If they do that job it is because they are antropologicamente different! That is why I am in the process of reforming everything." To find the reason of Berlusconi's attacks to magistrates and justice, we have to go back in time, to the '90s, when the Mani Pulite (Clean Hands) team of magistrates discovered that corruption was rife all over Italy. Also Berlusconi's company Fininvest was investigated, and he was on trial for bribing judges and tax inspectors and for false accounting. Il Cavaliere never seemed to recover from those charges and simply used the power he gained after he was elected to unleash his revenge upon Italian magistrates. After all, in Berlusconi's imagination, magistrates are biased left wing instigators who are trying to send to jail an innocent.

Penguin's Allen Lane has now released Berlusconi's Shadow, a contemporary history of Italy that focuses on magistrates, especially on the Mani Pulite team, on Tangentopoli (Bribesville) and on the relationships between Berlusconi, trials/laws. The book, written by journalist David Lane, Italy Business and Finance Correspondent for the Economist, opens with a chapter about Mafia and the murder of two magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. Readers will later discover the connections between Italian politics and Mafia and Berlusconi and noted Mafia figures. The author will introduce from chapter two Silvio Berlusconi to his readers, starting from his early career as a building contractor, his colonosation of Italian television and of the publishing market, his connections with Masonic lodge P2, the birth of his party Forza Italia and Berlusconi's victories at the 1994 and 2001 Italian elections. Throughout the book Lane tries to find the truth behind Berlusconi's wealth and off shore companies, investigates his connections with other politicians and analyses the laws and decrees he made to save himself from justice.

What comes out of the book is the portrait of a corrupted political world, of a Prime Minister who's made honest Italians despair of their country and who's become famous all over the world for his infamous jokes (which often created diplomatic incidents), for his vanity and bad taste (last December he underwent plastic surgery and recently received the Blairs dressed like a modern Italian cafone) and for being "the Italian anomaly". Sua Emittenza ("His Emittenza", a joke on the words "eminence" and "broadcasting emittance" - as Berlusconi is often called by journalists) is indeed the richest and most powerful man in Italy, he is the Prime Minister and the owner of TV channels, newspapers, a publishing empire, an advertising company and a football team. The "Italian anomaly" has been repeatedly condemned by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) which stated that Berlusconi's empire is a "challenge to the European constitutional architecture" and a bad example for the new democracies.

Towards the end of the book, Lane compares Berlusconi to Mussolini, the fascist leader Il Cavaliere admires so much (according to him, Mussolini never killed anyone but only used to send people in exile). Lane notes that Berlusconi might have not raised "his right arm in the Roman salute" or harangued "crowds from a balcony in the capital's Piazza Venezia," yet he used and uses his power to control the Italian means of communication and manipulate Italian laws. Perhaps Mr Berlusconi is more of a crossover between Mussolini and an Orwellian Big Brother: he doesn't need a balcony to pronounce his delirious speeches from, he can use his TV channels and papers to do it.

Il Cavaliere won't be too pleased by Berlusconi's Shadow: in 2003 he sued the Economist (which he re-christened the Ecomunist - note: the Prime Minister also hates communists, according to him, he sacrificed his life to politics to save Italy from communism, hence who offends him is labelled as "a communist") for having published an investigation about his relations with Mafia, his mysterious Swiss funds, the new laws he made, the trials in which he was involved and his P2 membership. Before the 2001 elections, the Economist had already criticised Berlusconi, defining him "unfit to lead Italy" and, in 2003, before the rotating presidency of the European Union was assigned to Italy, the magazine described him "unfit to lead Europe". Thing is, Berlusconi is just "unfit" to do anything: since he regained power in 2001 he defended his interests, manipulated the legal system, turned Italy into a banana republic and dragged the country into the war in Iraq.

Berlusconi's Shadow is a detailed and precise history of corruption and crime in Italy and contains also exclusive interviews with magistrates, lawyers and with former Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro. The book is also a celebration of justice and of all those magistrates who fought against criminality. In a letter written a year ago, Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi stated "Italian citizens trust magistrates and consider them an institution that, even among many difficulties, is committed and devoted, autonomously and independently as the constitution provides for, to administer justice so that the rights of citizens and legislation are respected." Italy might still be a nation steeped in violence and corruption, where bribery and back-handers are commonplace and where Mafia has relocated itself from Sicily to the seats of the Parliament, but it takes more than a crooked Prime Minister to make honest citizens forget the battles in which many magistrates were and are engaged. If there is a flaw in this book is the lack of further information about the present conditions of the Italian means of communication. But for that, Lane would have needed another book.


Issue 26, September 2004

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