Italy Wobbles, and a Demon Appears in the Clouds

As usual, whenever the situation permits, the British press -- led by the screaming meemies at the Financial Times -- calls for the defenestration of Silvio Berlusconi.  "In the name of God and Italy, go!" the FT intones at the beleaguered PM.  A bit pretentious, yes, but then they're the smartest newspaper in the world and so they consider themselves fully authorized to speak on behalf of the Almighty, and  of their favorite vacation spot.

You probably know that the Brits have long had a love/hate affair with Italy.  They love it because it's so pretty, the weather is usually better than what they've got (although these days the weather in Italy is catastrophic, but never mind), and they hate it because it seems to them that the Italians have a lot more fun than they do.  As well they may, although Italy's a lot tougher than the romantics suspect.  The campaign against Berlusconi has been raging for many years, and he's been convicted of so many crimes in the British press (although, to the rage of his critics, not by Italian courts, whose judges are for the most part on a very different part of the political landscape from Berlusconi) that the very sight of him at international meetings provokes new outbursts.  The latest is of a piece with that tradition.

It has always seemed odd to me that so many self-proclaimed defenders of press freedom are so vitriolic about the man who may well have saved Italy's media from total control by the country's political parties.  It was Berlusconi who funded private tv way back in the seventies, at a time when every news broadcast on the official, state-owned networks was under party management, as they mostly remain today.  The liveliest and most independent newspaper in the country, il Foglio, is underwritten by the Berlusconi family.  Meanwhile, "his" TV broadcasts are chock full of anti-Berlusconi journalists.  So what, exactly, is their problem?

(Answer:  They don't like competition).

And of course, going back to the Brits' stereotype of the Italians, it's obvious to a blind man that Berlusconi et. al. have a great deal more fun than the pols in London, although it's certainly not for lack of trying, as we all know.  I will never forget a plaintive editorial in an Italian newspaper about the Profumo scandal in Great Britain, with its all-star cast of gorgeous spies and harlots, and the Italian editorialist moaned "the Brits and the Americans have endless sex scandals;  we're supposed to be the Latin lovers and we haven't had a decent sex scandal for years."

Berlusconi solved that bit of national shame.