The Berlusconi Thing Comes To The White House

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Before boarding a flight to the U.S. on Sunday, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said that he was heading to Washington “handsome and tanned.” This was a joke–if you can call it that. Back in November, after President Obama won election, Berlusconi had described the new American leader as “young, handsome and sun-tanned.” Apparently, the Italian leader can’t get enough of his own humor. Ha. Ha. He pleases himself.

A complete accounting of Berlusconi’s offensive acts, to his family, his country, the Italian democratic process, and even to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is long, and I won’t bother to repeat the littany here. (The New Yorker has an excellent primer here, though registatrion is required to read it.) He is a man who always seems entirely pleased with himself.

As I write, Obama is preparing to meet with Berlusconi at the White House. Sun tans are unlikely to come up. Everything is expected to be cordial. But the meeting gives me an excuse to post an editorial that the Nobel Prize winning author Jose Saramago in El Pais, the Spanish newspaper. (An Italian publisher owned by Berlusconi recently refused to publish a Saramago book, which described Berlusconi as a “delinquent.”)

Here is translation of Saramago’s quite biting editorial, courtesy of this website.

The Berlusconi Thing by José Saramago

I don’t know what other name I could give it. It’s a thing that looks dangerously like a human, a thing that throws parties, that organises orgies and rules a country called Italy. This thing, this illness, this virus threatens to become the cause of the moral death of Verdi’s country. If a deep vomit doesn’t succeed in ejecting it from the consciousness of Italians, the poison will end up corroding the veins and destroying the heart of one of Europe’s richest cultures. The basic values of human coexistence are trampled daily by the viscous feet of the Berlusconi thing; amongst its many talents, it has a funambulesque ability to abuse words, perverting their intention and meaning, as in the case of the People of Freedom, the name given to the party with which the thing took power. I’ve called the thing delinquent and I don’t regret it.

For semantic and social reasons that others will be able to explain better than I can, the term delinquent has in Italy a much stronger connotation than it has in any other language spoken in Europe. I use the meaning given to the term by Dante’s language in order to translate clearly and forthrightly what I think about the Berlusconi thing—though it is more than doubtful that Dante ever used the term. In my Portuguese, and according to the dictionaries and the current practice of communication, delinquency means ‘the act of committing crimes, disobeying laws or moral codes’. This definition fits the Berlusconi thing without a wrinkle, without any jarring, to the point that it seems more like a second skin than the clothes that the thing puts on itself. For years and years the Berlusconi thing has been committing crimes of a variable but always demonstrated seriousness. It’s outrageous that it not only disobeys laws, but worse, it invents them to safeguard its public and private interests as politician, businessman and the companion of minors. Where the moral codes are concerned, it’s not even worth talking about it, there is not a person in Italy or the rest of the world that doesn’t know that the Berlusconi thing fell into the most abject of states a long time ago. This is the Italian prime minister, this is the thing that the Italian people have elected twice to serve them as a role model, this is the path to ruin which is dragging along the values of liberty and dignity that suffused Verdi’s music and the political actions of Garibaldi—the ones that, during the struggle for unification in the 19th century, made of Italy a spiritual guide for Europe and for Europeans. This is what the Berlusconi thing wants to throw into the rubbish bin of History. Will the Italians end up allowing this to happen?