Rootgate: Berlusconi’s bordello antics captivate Italy
TWO years ago, Veronica Lario did something extraordinary.
After marrying the now Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in 1990, the former actress had maintained a low profile; rarely seen in public and avoiding the sort of official functions wives of national leaders do.
But on January 31, 2007 that changed when she bizarrely wrote a letter to the editor calling on her husband to apologise.
Berlusconi had days earlier attended an awards night and remarked to a pretty young showgirl that if he wasn’t married, he would whisk her off.
Lario had had enough.
“I see these statements as damaging my dignity. To both my husband and the public man, I therefore demand a public apology, since I haven’t received any privately,” she wrote in a letter published by the left-leaning anti-Berlusconi newspaper La Repubblica.
Across Italy a nation waited for a response and Berlusconi did not disappoint.
He wrote a letter apologising to his wife ... and later made the former showgirl Mara Carfagna the Minister for Equal Opportunity in his government.
Thus began a new season of the Berlusconi soap opera that has enthralled Italians for two decades but is now attracting a worldwide audience with new plots involving nude pool-side romps, prostitutes and alleged dalliances with teenagers that would even shrink in embarrassment the cigar-smoking intern-loving Bill Clinton.
It’s quality drama and no matter how many new characters enter the plot, it continues to be a ratings winner for the 72-year-old enjoying greater poll popularity from home audiences than ever before.
But Berlusconi’s antics say less about a dirty old man than they do about Italian society’s degradation. Once it was all about God and family now it’s casual indifference to both, at least when it involves its leaders. It’s not quite the fall of Rome but highlights systemic failings that see corruption and scandal as just a way of life to be tolerated and enjoyed whether as player or observer. Berlusconi is Dolce Vita for the masses.
As long as people can watch football on television for free, who cares how morally and institutionally corrupt others are?
Indeed Italians put up with Bettino Craxi as leader despite branding his office a “court of midgets and dancers” encapsulating the immoral traits of a government allowed to thrive on personal acquaintance over merit.
Then there was Giulio Andreotti – elected to three terms – despite the nickname Beelzebub and “The Prince of Darkness” because of his alleged Mafia connections and implication in a murder and a kidnapping.
But that’s life in macho man Italy that today has to thrive more on rumoured titillation inside their Parlamento Italiano since Berlusconi controls almost all the media and that which he doesn’t own outright, he owns the companies that control advertising revenue. Public exposure of his antics are largely stymied and thus his popularity remains solid in the face of sex scandals that in his mind, are better discussion than the more serious allegations of his corruption.
In April this year, Ms Lario wrote another letter.
This time she criticised her husband for consorting with young girls and branded as “shameless rubbish” his selection of female beauties as candidates for European Parliament.
Indeed, everyone was looking at Italy’s choice of MPs generally after the promotion of Ms Carfagna, voted the world’s sexiest politician.
A few weeks later Lario (who began a relationship with the then married Berlusconi in 1980 and had a child with him before he divorced his wife) filed for divorce after her husband attended the birthday party of a pretty 18-year-old. Berlusconi didn’t attend the birthdays of his sons but showered with gifts Noemi Letizia, who called him “papi” and was told he would make her a politician.
Then photos emerged of one of his parties, complete with cavorting naked men and women. He ordered they be seized by the Prosecutor’s Office of Rome but they leaked to the press in Spain.
Berlusconi said the only thing scandalous was that the private party pics were published. Suddenly in Italy, men wanted to be him and women be with him to at least get a chance to be one of his next MPs.
Prostitutes have since come forward to talk about sex with “The Sultan” and his alleged offers to make them politicians.
He responded in style: “I have never paid a woman. I have never understood what satisfaction there is if the pleasure of conquest is absent.”
And a nation must be proud.
It’s great entertainment for those living outside the Roman walls but for Italians the realisation they are part of the joke will come only after Berlusconi leaves office.
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