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Italy

Opinion: Bye bye Berlusconi - but not quite

Is that it, now? Or will the man called politically "dead" again pull off the impossible? Silvio Berlusconi might return to power, writes DW's Bernd Riegert, but Europe wouldn't deserve it.

SIlvio Berlusconi blows a kiss to someone off camera

Silvio Berlusconi

After a heated debate, Italian Senator Silvio Berlusconi was finally handed the punishment he deserved. Now, for the first time in 20 years, Berlusconi does not hold a mandate in parliament, or the government. Without immunity, he's politically naked, so to speak. With the help of his continually loyal followers, the 77-year-old political zombie tried to make a martyr of himself at the very last minute. In vain.

As for clemency, he is too proud to ask. President Napolitano, who thinks little of Berlusconi, would have rejected it anyway. A final attempt to implode the coalition government under Democratic Party Prime Minister Enrico Letta fell apart.

Blackmail efforts brought him nothing, except a split in the conservative camp. Berlusconi re-founded his old party, Forza Italia. It's via this private party, which follows the battlecry of soccer fans, that Berlusconi successfully returned to power. His political pupil, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, broke away from Berlusconi and remained with a small troop of former Berlusconi disciples in Letta's government. The old power broker had not reckoned on that.

Bernd Riegert smiles at the camera in a professional photograph.
Photo: DW/Per Henriksen

Bernd Riegert of DW's German department

Does this now mean we are witnessing the final, terminal end to the Berlusconi era, which lasted more than 20 years?

Europe rejoices, Italy splits

Beyond Italy's borders in Europe, hardly anyone - and definitely not a head of state - has shed a tear. Berlusconi proved too erratic and scandalous in his final years in government. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy effectively forced Berlusconi from the office of prime minister in 2011. During the eurozone rescue he was dead weight. But, the Berlusconi era is not yet over.

The billionaire who reigns over an intricately woven corporate empire and influential media outlets, could certainly be mulling revenge in a return to the political arena. That's not out of the question.

Should the Letta government's economically-oriented policy course end up crashing in the coming years, new elections could return Berlusconi to power through a coalition between his Forza Italia and other right-of-center parties. His expulsion due to tax evasion is only temporary. He only has to have patience, and then hope that he won't be convicted of another crime.

There are opinion surveys which show that Berlusconi, in spite of all the scandals related to sex, money and bribery, still enjoys 20 percent support among the electorate. Many small business owners admire the self-made billionaire. That the obstinate old lech plays macho and loudly insults judges and prosecutors for being like the "Taliban" or "communists" doesn't hurt him at all in the eyes of his followers. Quite the contrary..

Abroad, the theatrics in Rome are considered laughable or absurd. It's a reflection of Italian society: insecure as a result of the economic crisis, in love with political drama and also deeply skeptical of the advice and proposals from European partners. Let's not forget that, not only Berlusconi, but nearly all political parties have rediscovered their voice through euro-critical topics and critiques of austerity policy. Mario Monti is the exception.

From womanizer to laughing stock

The drama now enters its final round. In the third and final court appeal, Italian judges will decide whether Silvio Berlusconi, as a result of sex with an under-aged prostitute, should go to jail for seven years.

"Bunga bunga," or the men's club parties at Berlusconi's villa in Milan, could be the political neck-breaker. Earlier, the successful politician could count male politicians, such as Tony Blair or Vladimir Putin, among his friends. Then he missed the window of opportunity for a dignified exit.

Today, perhaps the words spoken of him by his former spouse, Victoria Lario, hold true. "He's sick somehow." The newest rumors from Italian gossip outlets seem to show sympathy. According to them, Berlusconi is under the whip of his new fiancé, a 28-year-old show producer from Naples. She has forbidden him from attending parties, it's being said. Strange and tragic at the same time. That's how we love Italy.

DW.DE

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