Too Late To Celebrate

This piece first appeared in El País on November 12. It has been translated from the Spanish by Eli S. Evans.

Strange days here in Italy. In the newspapers and on television, they tell us that an era is ending. On the streets, as though hardly believing it ourselves, we tell each other that the dawn is finally breaking on this long, black night. Berlusconi and his empire of decadence have fallen, and we all hope that a glorious Renaissance will follow the Dark Ages to which his reign returned us.

But if we are indeed witnessing the end, it is an ending that appears as though directed by some sort of reincarnated Kurosawa. Berlusconi’s fall has been imminent—torturously, impossibly imminent—for as long as many of us care to remember. Some, and in particular those for whom il Caimano has incarnated political power for the greater part of their lives, insist that this has been for the best; that changes of such magnitude do not happen often in politics, and that history must be granted the time it needs to unfold properly. The rest of us can hardly wait for the impact. During the past seventeen years we have seen our democracy crumble, piece by piece, under Berlusconi’s thumb, and with it our reputation and our self-esteem. The age of Berlusconismo has witnessed the humiliating substitution of our democratic values for those of a smug, vainglorious emperor. In place of knowledge and merit, fame and cheap success; in place of the representative ideals of the Republic, a regime of profit run according to the ruthless logic of the marketplace.

For seventeen years, our fate has been tied to a man who has governed according to his own interests. A man who referred to the “nation” as though it was a company he owned. A man who replaced the language of politics with petty sports and business metaphors, as though politics itself was unspeakable. A man who entrusted pretty young actresses and high ranking executives in his various companies—people the majority of us would not trust to valet our cars—with the work of administering the state, who long before he “took the field” in politics, as he himself might say, had already infiltrated our consciousness with his magazines and television programs, and who operated as though having overseen FC Milan’s most glorious years on the pitch and become the richest businessman in Italy during the Tangentopoli years qualified him to govern just as he saw fit, without having to answer to anybody.

Perhaps we would be celebrating the end of this reign of terror with more joy than trepidation if there were much to look forward to. But in truth, there is not. Berlusconi leaves us, angry but helpless, buried neck-deep in an economic crisis from which, too busy with his own legal concerns, he did not even bother to try to save us. Meanwhile, the casting of Mario Monti—favorite of the European Central Bank—in the role of savior offers little reason for optimism, especially for those of us who would prefer to see the reins of power handed over to someone whose own future depended, if only in part, on our collective future.

So while, seventeen years later, Berlusconi seems to have finally fallen, one can hardly help but suspect that it will take even longer for Italy to rid itself of his ghost.

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