Mamma mia, he’s still here

With the law granting him immunity
from prosecution freshly lifted, it’s a fitting time to take a closer
look at the character of Silvio Berlusconi, the highly controversial
leader of Italy.

To the amazement of many, Silvio
Berlusconi swept back into power in Italy after the elections in April
2008, and is now serving his third term as Prime Minister. A question
comes to mind, that how the gaffe-prone leader of the People of Freedom
-movement, implicated in several corruption investigations and
questioned for his business linkages and private scandals, still enjoys
the trust of the majority of Italians?

A self-made man

his business success, Berlusconi was already a household name when
entering politics and winning the elections with his Forza Italia
-party in 1994. Barbara Zanchetta from the Finnish Institute of Foreign
Affairs believes that the reason for his success was the fact that he
came from outside the traditional political establishment.

had a negative view about the dysfunctional political system, and
Berlusconi, a self-made business man, was seen as positive change,” she
notes. It was hoped that he would put his skills to use in helping the
country, and judging by his ongoing success, this appeal still seems to

But being a political outsider has also caused
Berlusconi a lot of harm in the form of embarrassing jokes and baffling
statements. “The background for these is that he is not a politician,
which still shows in many occasions. He is not able to relate with
other politicians in diplomatic terms,” Zanchetta believes.

has also been noted by Erkki Tuomioja, Finland’s former foreign
minister, who admits that he, among others, has sometimes wondered how
a character like Berlusconi can be the leader of an EU country.
“Judging by my own experience and stories from others, Berlusconi is
quite difficult to deal with,” Tuomioja adds.

Media control

well as having vested interests in the business world, the biggest
controversy shadowing Berlusconi’s career has been his huge media
power. He owns Mediaset, the country’s biggest commercial broadcaster,
and allegedly steers RAI’s program policy as well.  

“In theory
his media ownerships are very problematic,” admits Zanchetta “but in
practice there is plenty of criticism aimed at him. Saying that there
is no pluralism is pushing it too far.“

Tuomioja is far more
critical when asked if Berlusconi’s ownerships are in line with
democratic principles. “Absolutely not. For the functioning of
democracy and securing freedom of speech, no person, politician or
other, should be able to gather himself that kind of media power.”

Berlusconi made his career with his media might, then? Zanchetta thinks
it has helped him, but says it’s unrealistic to think that his success
is based on it. Tuomioja stresses that Berlusconi has used his power
machinery to silence his opponents. “But one has to also note, that the
opposition in Italy has been fairly week.”

The performance

about Berlusconi’s political performance, has he delivered? “In some
aspects you can say that he has, put people definitely still do expect
more of him. The fact that he was re-elected despite all the
controversies gives credit to some of his achievements,” Zanchetta
says. Berlusconi has been praised for his work on taxation,
immigration, the educational system as well promoting Italian interests

On foreign policy, Tuomioja mostly gives credit to
Berlusconi’s foreign ministers. “I don’t remember him making any
interventions in any meetings that would actually have led to an issue
being solved.” Economywise, judging by the downward slide of the
Italian economy, it looks like the business tycoon hasn’t been able to
transfer all his know-how into leading his country.

Tuomioja notes, more messages are coming from Italy that the people are
ashamed of his actions, and his problems are seen to already damage
Italy. What keeps his head above water then? Zanchetta notes that most
of the people are aware of his questionable actions, but some of the
critique we see is one-sided and intentionally used against him in the
politically divided country. “He still presents himself as a reformist
and bringer of broad-scale change, and that’s what people want,“ she

The future?

decision by Italy’s constitutional court on 8 October to drop
Berlusconi’s immunity shelter comes amidst calls for his resignation by
his opponents. Zanchetta believes that the decision will cause trouble
for him, as the opposition will push for the corruption cases to go
into court right away, thus making it hard for him to concentrate on
his work.

Tuomioja’s goes on to hoping that this will be the
political end of Berlusconi. “Thus far he has been able to escape these
allegations, and one important question will be, how his own party is
going to act. His way of dealing with things is not approved by the
majority, and then there are also his private scandals that have led to
a drift with the Vatican as well.”

For many, bringing down
Berlusconi is not the main thing, however: “Many people in Italy think
that the judiciary system needs to be reformed. Leaving aside the issue
of Berlusconi’s honesty, many people suspect that politicians and some
judges are intertwined,” Zanchetta notes.  

“It’s undisputable
that he has his hands in many things, and that he lacks some
transparencies. But the majority of the people believe that the
political system in general is the main problem, and that attacking him
personally won’t lead to real progress,“ Zanchetta sums up. Moral is
expected from the politicians, but promises of reform are valued even

Considering his story so far, Berlusconi just might fight
to see the end of his current five-year term – collecting a few more
adversaries along the way, while keeping a smile on his face. He is,
after all, “the greatest leader in the country’s history”.