Berlusconi’s guilty sentence: all you need to know

The first thing you need to know is that the sentence is final: Silvio Berlusconi is guilty of tax evasion and has been sentenced to four years imprisonment with no further chance of appeal. He is also to be banned from holding public office for a period of time yet to be established.

Finally, we have a guilty sentence. Something to which half the nation can point. It is now a matter of forensic truth that Berlusconi created a slush fund of over 400 million euros by funnelling, through a series of off-shore, ad hoc companies, the purchase of the broadcasting rights for a number of American films and television shows over several years. It is not the only crime he’s been accused of, nor the most serious. But the race is over: he has been caught up with, at last, in spite of the myriad laws he passed when in he was in government to stretch the length of the race course and buy himself more time.

His right-hand man was found guilty of corruption, once, and sentenced to five years imprisonment. The corruption was carried out on Berlusconi’s behalf. But he was Prime Minister then, and could not be tried. By the time he could, the statute of limitations kicked in: yet another textbook instance of bourgeois justice, where the servant pays while the master walks free. But no more. Not this time. Yet whatever satisfaction you might feel today, while you wait for other, juicier proceedings to reach their sentencing stages, will be spoiled by the second thing you need to know: that at the time of the sentence, Berlusconi was not only in government – as filmmaker Nanni Moretti had imagined when he shot the story of these final days for his film The Caiman – but in government with the Left.

This is the final indignity of the Berlusconi story: that the forces that he ostensibly entered into politics to vanquish, those former Communists that he has always insisted (up to and including the speech he gave a few hours ago) on calling Communists, and who in his mythology have always ruled Italy in spite of never being in government by controlling powers such as the judiciary – that these forces, I say, that for twenty years have lived in his shadow, always trying, always ultimately failing not just to defeat him politically (for they could never manage that – not decisively enough) but to have him disqualified from holding office, as in most other nations of laws he would long have been, should now, on the day of reckoning, have the most to lose from his downfall, for it threatens nothing but the continuity of their power.

It’s poetic justice. In 1993, when the centre-right Christian Democratic bloc crumbled amidst corruption scandals and an economic crisis, the erstwhile Communist Party supported a government of national unity led by banker Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, only to lose the elections the next year to a newcomer, Silvio Berlusconi. He was their creature, their monster, born of a bizarre determination to hold our moribund political institutions together, along with the capitalist state. Thanks to that brief Left/Right alliance, Berlusconi was able to portray the neonate Democratic Party of the Left as the ruling power, and blame them for the state of our economy and the paralysis of our politics. Then in 2011, when the extraordinary, improbable political edifice that Berlusconi had erected and held together for so long finally crumbled, they did it again, supporting an even more technocratic government (this time with no politically elected ministers), led by another banker, Mario Monti, instead of holding the elections amidst the rubble, as the only remaining force standing. And so this year they lost, again, but it was a worse kind of defeat, in that they came first, so theirs was the responsibility to form the government that would seal the end of the continuous historical project of a ruling political Left in Italy.

I wrote in March that Berlusconi was dead, and it was true. This is the last thing you need to know: that nothing happened yesterday. Berlusconi will not go to prison. The government that he’s supporting, and that a man of the Left leads, will continue to oversee the nation’s terminal political and economic decline, calmly, grimly. There can be no sense of triumph, and why would there be? It’s no victory when a man is found guilty of tax fraud. It throws no light on twenty years of our history. It brings no change.

Giovanni Tiso

Giovanni Tiso is an Italian writer and translator based in Aotearoa/New Zealand and the editor of Overland’s online magazine. He tweets as @gtiso.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. Good stuff, Gio. Does Berlusconi still retain control over Mediaset, with fingers in other media pies? I recall an Economist cover story of several years ago which declared “This man is not fit to run a country”. It has taken a long time to get to this point.

    1. Yes, he still controls Mediaset, cinema distribution, the advertising market, various newspapers – in addition to the one he owns directly – and so forth. One of the most amusing moments of his political/entreprenurial life since he resigned as Prime Minister to make room for Monti was when his party – which was still the largest in Parliament at that point – wanted to hold primaries to choose a new leader, and he refused to bankroll the process, so they weren’t able to. Without him, a lot of people he elevated to public life go back to being nothing.

      As for The Economist, it must be said that their main quarrel with him was that he wasn’t a neoliberal – so not the particular brand of right-wing politician they hoped for.

      1. Thanks. Incidentally, have you published articles on memory, in wake of your PhD? I need to read more about memory, to better understand and explain the interviews I have been doing with four elderly ladies I have interviewed–recalling their involvement in Shirley Temple ‘double’ competitions in New Zealand in the 1930s. Really long-term memories!

  2. Great article. To Geoff, you might be interested in reading the 2012 book ‘Good Italy, Bad Italy’ by Bill Emmott who was the Editor in Chief of The Economist at the time of the ‘Not fit to run the country’ article. The book was made into a documentary ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’. You can follow them on Twitter @Giacfilm12 @bill_emmott.

    1. Not to actual jail, no. Three of the four years of the prison term fall under an automatic discount for crimes committed before 2006. For the remaining 12 months, Berlusconi fits the criteria for home detention or enrolment in a community work programme. It would be amusing to see him carry out the latter, I suspect he’ll be sentenced to the former.

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