ROME—Rubygate it’s called. The final act of the Berlusconi saga. Over fifteen years of comedy for the outside world. A comedy played out against a background of non-government and misery for many Italians.
For years now, each new scandal, each new act of corruption, is identified with the suffix “gate.” Deriving from the original Watergate, even though the latter was not actually a “gate” as used today to pinpoint scandalous behavior and the resultant cover-up. During these last stages of the Berlusconi era there has been Noemi Gate, named for another of Sultan Silvio’s teenage favorites. Then, the Bunga Bunga Gate, in reference to the sex games and “orgies” in the Sultan’s luxurious private residences in Milan and Rome. In Italy, in Commedia dell’Arte fashion, the gate suffix means scandal, speculation and gossip.
“Bunga bunga” is a new word in the Italian vocabulary, familiar to probably 99 per cent of the nation’s sixty million inhabitants. Allegedly, Berlusconi borrowed the word from his friend, Muammar Gheddafi, the dictator of Libya known for his extravagant excesses, to describe his own private parties. Bunga bunga means sex games. Girls who have been there describe Berlusconi’s bunga bunga room, equipped for pole dancing and such. A room for explicit sex games. Group sex, in the popular belief. Like twenty half nude young women caressing each other for the amusement and stimulation of the Grand Old Sultan. Berlusconi claims that his hard, dedicated work for the people excuses his nocturnal passions: nights, he needs relaxation and entertainment. He needs bunga bunga.
Strangely, few Berlusconi supporters censor the Leader. They are titillated by the bunga bunga image and would do the same if they had the means. Their advice to Berlusco is: Resist! Resist! Resist! Resist the old-fashioned opposition that wants to carry modern Italy back to the dark ages. And resist he does. A new poster depicts a Berlusconi-Balboa wearing boxing gloves, his guard up, his face a mask of blood, while the fighter repeats out of the corner of his contorted mouth, “I’m not worried at all!”
Every Italian knows that Ruby gate refers to the minor, “Ruby,” that is, Karima El Mahrough, a Moroccan teenager, whom Sultan Silvio the First instructed to refer to herself around the Milan clubs and bars she frequents as an Egyptian and a niece of Mubarak. Then, she claims, he paid her a total of 187,000 euros, about $250,000, for her sexual services and his personal entertainment. That was before his perhaps fatal intercession with the Milan police to release her after she was arrested for theft.
Now four judicial processes against Berlusco are scheduled during the next forty days: a series of cases of false accounting, tax fraud, corruption, bribery of police officials and judges, charges known to most everyone in Italy. The man who claims to be “the most persecuted man in the world” is on the verge of transformation into “the most prosecuted man in the world,” as he should have been a decade and a half ago.
Ah Ruby, Ruby! Karima, Karima! If the Sultan had only imagined where his irrepressible lust for teenagers would lead! There it goes again, as with Noemi, so with Ruby-Ruby. What his mafia association didn’t accomplish, teenage beauties did. Jail sentences await the man who dreamed of becoming Italy’s next President with the power of his friend, Vladimir Putin. Instead he faces both jail and banishment forever from government service. Lifetime exile from public life awaits him. The countless girl stories have amalgamated into his one great perversion: lasciviousness and lechery.
“Old man,” the girls say behind the back of the short, neckless old man with his ridiculous wig or whatever it is he wears on his round head and his built-up shoes. Old man pretending to be a young buck. So hyped up on Viagra that his own doctors worry about his heart. “Culo flaccido,” flaccid ass, the girls of the harem call him, the girls he put up in a luxurious apartment house in his very own Milano 2, the residential city of 10,500 apartments allegedly financed by mafia money. Maybe the harem-apartment building too was another Gheddafi idea.
Well, well! Rubygate. The Sultan’s undoing. Or is it? Things have a tendency to go haywire in this land of lemon tree gardens. Bet on a losing horse and win a million. Bet on a winner and lose a fortune. Mussolini, like many Roman emperors, learned too late about the fickleness of Italian electors. Now it’s showdown time for Berlusconi the First. His sundown. The decline has set in.
Now, let’s weigh the yeas and nays. Since his wife—a former soubrette herself who charges that he fucks minors—denounced him as a “sick man” in need of psychological care and divorced him, now one million Italian women have followed suit and come out in a massive demonstration against Sultan Berlusco in a demand for respect for their dignity. The Church has turned its back on this great sinner. Trade union workers, the lowest paid among leading nations of the European Union, oppose him. Part of his coalition, chiefly many ex-Fascists who were made salonfähig by Berlusconi and amalgamated in the Sultan’s party, has defected, though as I write these lines, some defectors are re-defecting, bought back by Berlusconi in his acquisition campaign (which he runs as if it were his Milan Soccer Club) in order to maintain a parliamentary majority. He remains in office and thus far out of jail thanks to his media and financial power, “money suasion.” The force of his immense wealth has created a class of “parliamentarians in transit,” rewarded with cash or paid-off mortgages in exchange for their passage from the opposition to the side of the victors.
Internationally, Berlusconi is infamous for his reckless remarks about the internal affairs of other nations. In that milieu, he has shorn any credibility he once had. He lacks the proper prestige and overall comportment expected of a statesman. And statesman he is not. Statesman he has never been. And will never be. He offends the dignity of the dignified leaders of the European Union’s 27 member states. A class that cares very much about its dignity and prestige. Berlusco, the outsider, cracks his corny jokes at the wrong moments, hams up group photographs, or sings a song. Members of Italian delegations to international conferences must shudder that he will have them sing together his personal hymn, Meno male che Silvio c’é , Thank Goodness There’s Silvio.
Yet, gate after gate, lie after lie, betrayal after betrayal, the man resists. One asks all over Europe, as does the “liberal” and “Left” Italian media, how and why Italians continue to vote for him. It is an enigma. Italians did the same for Mussolini, who carried them to destruction. Despite many politico-sociological explanations, a large core stubbornly continues to vote for the Sultan. He still sits well with much of the middle class, the haute bourgeoisie, and wide strata of the Lumpenproletariat. Like many places in the capitalist world, the ignorant cast their votes for the person who hangs out the most placards and images of himself. Just as during Mussolini’s twenty years.
Polls show that despite all the many gates and arches under which Silvio Berlusconi the First has passed, many of his voters remain faithful to their glorious leader. The leader of many promises. It is his promises and his anti-professional politician’s stance. But I insist, he gets their vote also because he reflects the base and ugly qualities—qualities that Berlusconism itself also created—of many contemporary Italians who want it all, now. The attractive young girl who believes she can become an actress or a politician overnight. He is the Leader of a vulgar culture in which “to seem” crushes the very idea of “to be.” Where any attractive young woman, once pinpointed by a political pimp, is willing to share the Sultan’s bed and can expect those great rewards, the actress role or a high-paying political post. Such attitudes of seeming, shred of even a modicum of self-esteem and personal worth filter down and down to the regional level, to the provincial level, to the communal level. It is Berlusconism, the modern modus vivendi. Berlusconi is the paradigm for all those TV-molded persons who strive to arrive quickly. His People of Freedom Party leadership belongs to the arrivistes. A party he bought: created, named and molded. He represents the culture that has transformed the land once loved by people of the world into a hell to live in.
An interesting observation of recent days is that the end of Berlusconi means also the end of Italy’s pitiful political attempt at a two-party system in imitation of America: Berlusconi’s People of Liberty Party on one side and the moderate left, the Democratic Party, on the other. Now however center parties have revived, as has the far left. Italy is returning to its true, splintered political self which in reality has never disappeared.
Now, new revelations by Wikileaks show that Berlusconi made a secret deal with Washington: Obama’s support for his government at last year’s G8 in Italy in exchange for greater Italian participation in the spread of the US empire: more Italian soldiers in Afghanistan, elite soldiers freed of restraining caveats and rules of engagement, troops free to do combat alongside Marines. And more US military bases in Italy itself. Bases with extra-territorial rights operating free of Italian interference.
Lechery. Moral corruption. The old, old idea of the self-made man. Such considerations inevitably invite the question: is this moral degeneration only an Italian phenomenon? Or is it universal in our times?
In the case of Italy however, the question I raised above remains unanswered: has Berlusconi changed the Italian and Italy, or is he and his lifestyle the paradigm of the real Italy? I prefer the former, but cannot help but fear the latter. Today, on the peninsula reaching out toward Africa, the general atmosphere is that of the end of an epoch. Of a Götterdämmerung for Berlusconi the First.
One wonders what Silvio is thinking as he follows the effusions of the nude teenagers swarming around him, engaged in their bunga bunga antics to earn their compensation. Does he feel anything in his pants? Or is he asking himself if he can risk another Viagra despite doctors’ orders? Is observation enough? No! Observation is too little. He is the man. He must display his manhood to one (or more?) of these beautiful girls younger than his own daughters. Take that Viagra. Take it now! To hell with tomorrow’s Council of Ministers during which he can anyway nap in peace. If he is needed one of his aides will wake him. Adjusting his hair piece, he sails up, up, to the sky, to the horizons. There are no limits. He has the wealth. What is his wealth worth anyway if he cannot even buy a few more moments of bliss?
Nonetheless, I believe Silvio Berlusconi has lived his life inside a web of self-deceit. Most likely he himself still doesn’t realize or accept that deceit. But the day he comes to see himself as many others see him could be fatal for him. I would not be too surprised to read some morning in the spring, when life sprouts everywhere, that Silvio, deserted by all, finally alone on his long ego trip, alone in his world of fantasy about himself, his boundless, invincible, enviable self, immune to the laws of man and decency, I would not be surprised that he decided not to take the Viagra and instead ended it all in one desperate gesture, perhaps the first true one of his life.
I have dedicated a British song of the 1930’s—in this case a dirge—to Sultan Silvio Berlusconi the First, who lived a life of dream, a dream as if it were life:
Underneath the arches
We dream our dreams away . . .
Every night you’ll find us
Tired out and worn
Underneath the arches
We dream our dreams away.