By Anne Kingston - Friday, November 18, 2011 - 6 Comments
Silvio Berlusconi was dogged by scandals. But it took an economic crisis to bring him down.
It wasn’t the notorious “Bunga, Bunga” hooker orgies that did him in. Nor was it any of the 19 criminal and civil charges over 17 years, including allegations of bribing judges, tax fraud and embezzlement. Nor was he felled from within, like Caesar, or rejected by the vox populi. It took a deus ex machina—global financial markets freaked out over the eurozone debt crisis—to unseat Italy’s scandal-saturated prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. Concerns over Italy’s high bond rates, not some kinky bondage escapade, forced the 75-year-old billionaire to resign last week, with less than two years left in his term. As with the mobster Al Capone, who was imprisoned for tax evasion, the train Berlusconi couldn’t hear coming was the one that hit him.
Not that Italians hadn’t grown weary of the Silvio Berlusconi reality show, a grotesque burlesque that dominated—and distracted—national life for decades. His public approval rating, down to 30 per cent, had been in decline since 2009, the year the perma-tanned, pomaded, seal-like “playboy” permanently shifted from satyr to satire. His second wife, Veronica Lari, publicly announced she’d filed for divorce, fed up with her husband “consorting with minors,” and a parade of prostitutes boasted they’d shared paid intimacy with him. The final straw came last February, when Berlusconi was ordered to stand trial for paying for sex with an underage erotic dancer, Karima El Mahroug, who goes by the stage name of “Ruby Heart Stealer.” He was also charged with abusing his office by interfering in a 2010 police investigation when El Mahroug was being held for theft, accused of calling a police station and claiming she was the niece of then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Discontent with the man once dubbed “Il Cavaliere”—the Knight—was evident last month as women took to the streets calling for Berlusconi’s resignation with signs proclaiming “Italy is not a brothel!” Local elections in June saw a leftist mayor voted into power in Milan, Berlusconi’s birthplace and former stronghold. Some 40,000 residents swarmed the Piazza del Duomo chanting “Berlusconi go home” and “Berlusconi, you are finished.” Frustration with Berlusconi’s reign was also on full display after his resignation in Rome last Saturday with the kind of dancing-in-the-streets jubilation seen after the fall of dictators Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi. The analogy is apt: the media tycoon became the world’s ﬁrst democratic despot by shrewdly exploiting the resources he controlled. Long before he was elected, he’d amassed wealth and cultural power; later, he built on it by nimbly navigating a media-saturated world. The self-styled political saviour was the “first postmodern” politician, says Alexander Stille, author of the 2007 book The Sack of Rome: Media + Money + Celebrity = Power = Silvio Berlusconi. “He’s about selling an image, personalizing politics; he’s not about ideas or policy or winning legislative battles,” Stille told Maclean’s.
By macleans.ca - Monday, November 14, 2011 at 1:27 PM - 0 Comments
Support from Berlusconi’s party essential
European Commissioner Mario Monti was in frenetic talks with political parties, trade unions and employers on Monday, as he rushes to appoint a largely technocratic cabinet that Italians hope will restore faltering investor confidence in their country’s ability to repay its debt, Reuters reports. Monti is expected to seek a vote of confidence for the new government by Friday. However, the Financial Times writes that Silvio Berlusconi, who resigned from the post of prime minister on Saturday, struck a defiant note, noting that support from his People of Liberty party is essential for Monti to be able to govern. “We are ready to pull the plug,” Berlusconi reportedly said.
By macleans.ca - Friday, November 11, 2011 at 11:18 AM - 0 Comments
PM expected to resign on Tuesday
Italy’s senate approved on Friday a key package of deficit-cutting reforms that’s set to pave the way for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation early next week, the Financial Times reports. After a second vote in the senate later today, which is usually a formality, the bill will move to the lower chamber for final approval on Saturday. Italy’s head of state Giorgio Napolitano said earlier this week Berlusconi would resign after the approval of the legislation, which contains measures demanded by eurozone leaders to reduce Italy’s budget deficit and liberalize the economy. The market reacted positively to the news, with Italian bond yields dropping below the 7 per cent “red line” they had crossed in recent days, wading into what analysts said was default territory.
By Michael Petrou with Stavroula Logothettis - Friday, November 11, 2011 at 11:00 AM - 33 Comments
Other Eurozone countries are faltering, with far more worrying consequences
“We are finished as a nation,” says Marko Gjini, a 39-year-old unemployed construction worker in Athens. “The country has been sold off. We have no say in anything anymore. Greece is owned by the Germans.”
Like many Greeks these days, Gjini is bitter and despondent because of his country’s financial mess, and the austerity measures that have been imposed in an effort to contain it. His wife, Aleka, a public hospital nurse, has seen her income drop from 1,200 euros a month to 800 euros. Now, facing more taxes and cuts to public expenditures, the family expects to have a net monthly income of less than 500 euros. Marko and Aleka are investing whatever money they can toward English lessons for their twin eight-year-old boys in the hope that they might have a better future somewhere else. “Let the government fall,” says Gjini, “[German Chancellor Angela] Merkel is the boss now anyway.”
Greece’s financial troubles have been accelerating since 2008, and have now reached a crisis point. Unable to pay debts accumulated through years of wild spending and financial mismanagement, covered up by blatant cooking of the books, last May the country accepted a $150-billion bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund and other members of the eurozone—those European Union countries that use the common euro currency—in return for imposing harsh austerity measures. These weren’t popular among ordinary Greeks; strikes and street protests followed. Three bank officials died in May when rioters set fire to their bank branch in downtown Athens.
The Greek government, meanwhile, missed its financial targets. Rescue loans were delayed. And the recession got worse. Facing the very real possibility of defaulting on its enormous national debt, Greece last month negotiated another bailout package involving cash and a 50 per cent “haircut” off all its privately held debt, if Greece would agree to further cuts to public spending and increased taxes.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, November 10, 2011 at 12:01 PM - 0 Comments
Berlusconi reportedly prepared to back Mario Monti
Former European Commissioner Mario Monti appeared to be the favorite to become Italy’s new prime minister, replacing Silvio Berlusconi, who is set to resign as soon as parliament approves a package of key economic reforms. As in Greece, consensus in Italy is building around the idea of an interim government lead by a technocrat at the helm of an emergency coalition. Monti, currently the president of Milan’s Bocconi university, is “the choice of investors, Italy’s opposition parties and Giorgio Napolitano, head of state,” the Financial Times reports. Berlusconi, who had initially insisted the country should head for snap elections, appears to have decided to back Monti, caving in to pressure from his own party and the markets.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, November 8, 2011 at 3:10 PM - 0 Comments
Italy’s PM to step down after key vote this month
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will resign once parliament approves the 2012 budget bill, Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano said. The key vote, which is likely to take place later this month in both houses, will ensure that Italy adopts urgent deficit-cutting reforms demanded by eurozone leaders. Napolitano said in a statement that he would hold consultations to form a new government after the PM’s resignation. Berlusconi’s government appeared to no longer muster a parliamentary majority on Tuesday, when it won a key budget vote with 308 votes, eight votes short of the absolute majority in the lower chamber.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, November 8, 2011 at 11:27 AM - 0 Comments
Opposition asks for PM’s resignation
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi appears to no longer have a majority in the lower house of parliament, a development that could lead to a crisis of government, the Wall Street Journal reports. Berlusconi’s governing coalition mustered only 308 votes, in the 630-member chamber, on Tuesday during a vote on a routine budget bill. The measure was passed, but only because 321 lawmakers abstained from voting. Berlusconi is now expected to hold talks with President Giorgio Napolitano, Italy’s head of state, about whether he should step down.
By macleans.ca - Monday, November 7, 2011 at 10:12 AM - 2 Comments
PM denies he will resign
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is denying reports stating he would resign on Monday or Tuesday. Stocks traded on the Milan bourse soared earlier today when two pro-Berlusconi newspapers ran headlines announcing that the PM was about to leave the political stage. Now, though, new reports suggest Berlusconi will go ahead with plans to push a package of EU-backed economic reforms through parliament. Though he’s expected to survive in the Senate, it’s not clear whether he still musters a majority in the lower chamber, where the opposition could call for a confidence vote. Investors reacted to news that Berlusconi would try to hold on to power by sending bond yields back up to near euro-era record heights, at 6.6 per cent. Behavior on the Milan stock exchange, writes Financial Times Rome correspondent Guy Dinmore, “indicates that Italy has a Berlusconi problem more than a fundamental problem.”
By Erica Alini - Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Maurizio Viroli
“When an enormous . . . power establishes itself in a country, the court system is born,” writes Viroli. And that, he maintains, is exactly what Silvio Berlusconi has created in Italy. Viroli’s is a gripping and at times funny, if overall depressing, exposé of how the prime minister and media mogul has hollowed out the country’s democracy. Surrounding Berlusconi in parliament and everywhere else, he writes, is a modern-day court populated by thick ranks of flatterers, and, of course, beautiful, busty women who resemble the courtesans of a bygone era.
Anecdotes illustrating the servile mentality that glorifies Berlusconi abound. A Rome city councillor proposed dedicating a square or street to Berlusconi’s mother. An elderly woman, one of the survivors of the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila, which killed 309, excused herself in front of TV cameras for appearing toothless just as the prime minister was on an official visit to the quake-stricken town. Cheering crowds in port cities welcomed the Azzurra, the luxury ocean liner fitted with an on-board auditorium for up to 5,000 people with which Berlusconi toured Italy during an electoral campaign.
The book is filled with references to Italian literature and philosophy—from Machiavelli to the less well-known Torquato Tasso, a 16th-century poet, to the 19th-century patriots who fought for the uniﬁcation of Italy—constant reminders of the high-minded ideals and uniquely rich artistic heritage Italy also produced.
Viroli, however, is far too lenient on the Italian opposition. The centre-left, he writes, had no idea that Berlusconi “might deal a fatal blow to republican political liberty. If there had been such an understanding, the opposition might well have been more intransigent.” It’s a flattering portrayal of a political force that doesn’t seem to be able to beat Berlusconi even as his approval ratings have plunged.
By macleans.ca - Friday, October 14, 2011 at 12:50 PM - 0 Comments
PM’s reputation damaged by economic mismanagement as Europe lurches toward recession
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi won a key confidence vote in his country’s parliament on Friday. Berlusconi has come under increasing scrutiny for his handling of the Italian economy as Europe struggles to contain the sovereign debt crisis and the continent heads toward a recession. Though he survived the centre-left’s attempt to remove him from power, the mismanagement of Italy’s finance’s as well as a series of recent sex scandals have left Berlusconi’s public reputation in tatters. The latest opinion poll put his popularity at a dismal 24 per cent.
By Erica Alini - Tuesday, October 4, 2011 at 11:00 AM - 7 Comments
The plastic-covered couches, the two kitchens—how migrants created new traditions unheard of back home
Like any Italian nonna, Victoria Orlando relishes the chance to reminisce about the good old days, including her early years in the southern Italian village of Gagliato, growing up in Timmins, Ont., and settling in Toronto, where she raised two daughters with her late husband, Salvatore.
Unlike the nonnas who still live in the Calabrese village where she was born, Orlando’s stories feature houses with two kitchens, Christmas parties with 50 family members, and stacking the basement shelves with jars of homemade tomato sauce, preserves, sausages and wine.
At 79, she’s still a proud Calabrese, but she was only four when she left Italy. Though she arrived in 1937, a decade or two before the great wave of postwar immigrants, Orlando was the same age as the generation of trailblazers who created a transplanted culture of their own, filled with traditions either long forgotten or completely foreign to the folks back home. These include backyards given over completely to the growing of tomatoes and peppers, plastic-covered sofas and colossal weddings.
By Patricia Treble - Monday, October 3, 2011 at 9:45 AM - 0 Comments
Parents in Italy can’t get their kids out of the house
Shooing adult kids out of the family nest can be stressful for parents. One Venetian couple is so frustrated by their freeloading 41-year-old son that they’ve taken the unusual step of siccing a lawyer on him. “We can no longer go on like this,” the unnamed father complained to Andrea Campi, their lawyer from a local consumers’ right association, who then told Italian media. “He has a good job but still lives at home. He demands that his clothes be washed and ironed and his meals prepared. He really has no intention of leaving.” Life has gotten so desperate, the father said, “my wife is suffering from stress and had to be hospitalized.”
The son has been served with a legal letter telling him to move pronto—otherwise the parents will go to court. He isn’t alone in being reluctant to leave home. Italy’s National Institute of Statistics reports that nearly half of all adult offspring under the age of 40 still live with their parents. It’s partly because many work on short-term contracts and can’t find permanent positions, but also fussing mothers have raised a generation of mammone (mummy’s boys), dependent on such dedicated, and free, 24/7 housekeeping service. Even a cabinet minister, Renato Brunetta, admits his mother made his bed until he was 30.
By Erica Alini - Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 9:20 AM - 4 Comments
New revelations about Berlusconi further erode his image, but no one seems ready to bring him down
On Sept. 19, Italy had its debt rating slashed by Standard & Poor’s. Three days earlier, the world had learned the country’s leader privately calls himself a “spare-time” prime minister.
The remark, along with several snippets of phone conversations that were never meant to leave Silvio Berlusconi’s inner circle, found its way into national and international headlines when wiretap transcripts tied to an ongoing investigation became public. The controversial excerpts featured the prime minister insulting Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, and boasting about sleeping with eight women in a single night. Most importantly, the tapes revealed that he may have been the object of blackmail by some close associates who used to supply him with prostitutes and aspiring starlets for his parties. The wiretaps also uncovered high-level corruption at Finmeccanica, a state-controlled defence and industry group. Though the inquiry has not lead to charges being laid against Berlusconi so far, it represents the fifth judicial proceeding the prime minister is embroiled in, on top of four court cases where he is defending himself against accusations including corruption, tax fraud and paying for sex with a 17-year-old girl.
The new scandals have come at a time when Berlusconi’s approval ratings were already plumbing unprecedented lows—at around 24 per cent, according to one newspaper poll—and no other political personality or party seems ready to supplant him at the helm. The Italian leadership is coming to resemble a headless chicken, just when the country must pull together to implement a $73-billion austerity package meant to reassure rattled investors that it won’t become insolvent on $2.6 trillion in public debt.
By Erica Alini - Friday, September 16, 2011 at 2:30 PM - 13 Comments
Berlusconi is exactly what I was fleeing when I left Italy for good
I usually avoid writing editorials about Silvio Berlusconi. I also avoid reading them. I get tired of the usual arsenal of witty turns of phrase about “Italy’s gaffe-prone prime minister,” “the flamboyant media tycoon,” “the scandal-hit Casanova”…he’s just too easy a target.
And yet, the latest, spectacular verbal slip of the septuagenarian, who heads the country I was born and grew up in made me want to type away. He allegedly called Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel a culona inchiavabile, which roughly translates to—pardon my French—“unf–kable big-ass.”
The comment brought back memories of growing up in Italy. Continue…
By Jessica Allen - Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 11:59 AM - 2 Comments
Florence Fabricant wrote about a disturbing new food trend in the New York Times dining section recently: people are messing around with traditional tiramisu by adding new stuff, like lemon and berries, to it.
I know. I’m panicking too. Fabricant reports that a new specialty shop that serves six variations of the classic Venetian dessert has just opened up on Christopher Street in Manhattan. And get this: a similar-themed spot also opened up not too long ago in the motherland itself (Milan, specifically). Continue…
By Emma Teitel - Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 9:55 AM - 1 Comment
Cittadella’s mayor has a beef with Turkish kebabs
The walls surrounding Cittadella were erected to protect the northern Italian city amid violent, 13th-century wars. The fighting has long since ended, but another, more bizarre war is under way: Mayor Massimo Botocci has taken aim at the kebab, a Turkish meat sold at streetside stands. “They aren’t part of our tradition,” the mayor explained, adding that “the smell it gives off” doesn’t fit with the city’s rich, Italian heritage. “If someone wants to eat a kebab, he can do it at home or outside of the historic centre,” he said, citing health and sanitation regulations.
Botocci, a deputy with the populist, anti-immigrant Northern League, part of Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling, centre-right coalition, is not alone in taking umbrage with the kebab: in 2010, the mayors of Lucca in Tuscany and Milan imposed similar bans, which were widely interpreted as an attack aimed at the country’s Middle Eastern and Indian immigrants. But Botocci is facing a tough fight in Cittadella: Italy’s north boasts the country’s best kebab. He may find that the city’s medieval walls are better at keeping out foreign invaders than foreign foods.
By Jason Kirby and Michael Petrou - Friday, August 19, 2011 at 8:00 AM - 16 Comments
Europe’s grand experiment seems to be failing
Until recently, the tiny German town of Guben was best known—to those who knew it at all—for two things. With only the narrow Neisse river separating it from the Polish town of Gubin, it is one of few place where Germans and Poles live so close together. That, and Guben is also where the controversial anatomist Gunther von Hagens, famous for his museum displays of skinless human cadavers seated at poker tables, set up a factory six years ago to treat and preserve corpses.
Now Guben’s mayor, Klaus-Dieter Hübner, has set off alarm bells in Europe by calling for border controls to be put in place to stop Polish “criminals” from looting German businesses. Since 2007, when Poland joined the Schengen zone, a border-free travel area consisting of 25 European countries, Germans and Poles have freely criss-crossed into each other’s countries to shop, dine and work. With his call for security checks at the border, Hübner has challenged one of the pillars of modern Europe: the free movement of people and goods between nations.
Taken on its own, the border squabble in Guben is a seemingly minor concern, but it comes as the twin forces of economic stagnation and surging nationalism threaten to tear Europe apart. Even as European leaders struggle to halt the spread of the debt crisis—a task that they increasingly appear unable to handle—a wider backlash against European integration poses an existential crisis for the continent. Europe is failing, both economically and politically, leading to the question: can it be saved, or is Europe destined for the embalming slab in Guben?
By Erica Alini - Friday, June 3, 2011 at 11:07 PM - 2 Comments
Italians seem to be getting over the “Berlusconi effect”
What followed the announcement that the Italian city of Milan had elected a leftist mayor last week looked like nothing short of a colour revolution. Reminiscent of pro-West protesters in Ukraine, some 40,000 Milanese swarmed to Piazza del Duomo, the city’s main square, sporting orange T-shirts and balloons, the campaign colour of local lawyer Giuliano Pisapia, who’d just won at the polls. “Berlusconi go home,” the orange wave was chanting, and “Berlusconi, you are finished.”
Many analysts agree. The latest round of local elections, which saw some 1,300 towns, cities and provinces vote across Italy, has been a bitter awakening for Italy’s conservative prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. In Naples, where his centre-right coalition was expected to prevail, a rival candidate swept to victory with a 30 percentage point margin. Right-wing mayors in Cagliari, Sardinia’s main city, and Trieste, an important port city in the country’s north-east, were unceremoniously unseated, and even in the small town of Arcore—which houses the villa that is the PM’s primary residence—a novice opposition candidate comfortably beat the centre-right incumbent. The deadliest blow, though, was in Milan, where the left won with a convincing 55 per cent.
“It’s a sensational event,” says Stefano Folli, a columnist for the business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. Milan, the prime minister’s hometown and the base from which he launched his business and political careers, “is the very symbol of Berlusconi’s political season,” he adds. The voters’ final verdict, delivered in run-off elections held on May 29 and 30, came on the heels of a campaign that was vicious even by the standards of Italy’s notoriously brutal politics. The PM and his allies warned that a left-wing mayor would turn the city into anything from a haven for nomads and Islamists to a prime destination for gay tourism. Milan, one of the world’s fashion centres and Italy’s business and financial hub, would become a “gypsyopolis” and “Europe’s last communist capital,” they said.
And, remarkably, the electoral show was dominated by the PM himself, rather than Milan’s conservative incumbent mayor Letizia Moratti, a darling of the centre-right who also served as education minister. Sensing that the Milanese were less than happy with Moratti’s record in office, Berlusconi turned the mayoral election into a referendum on himself, says Marco Cacciotto, a Milan-based political marketing consultant. “He completely eclipsed her,” he says of the PM, who even entered his own name on the ballot. Berlusconi was following a well-known script, says Cacciotto, a strategy that always worked: Mobilizing voters through hyperbolic rhetoric and his personal charisma.
This time, though, there was no “Berlusconi effect.” During the first round of ballots, the centre-right lost 80,000 votes compared to the previous elections of 2006, while the left-wing opposition scored roughly as it did five years earlier. Many conservative voters, in other words, vowed to stay at home or cast their ballot for third candidates who had no chance of winning, inflicting a “hemorrhage of votes” to the centre-right and sending a clear message about the power of the PM’s charms.
Some have already written off the result as the beginning of the end for Berlusconism, the personality cult of Italy’s flamboyant leader that has dominated the country’s politics for the last 17 years. According to Piero Ignazi, a professor of political science at the university of Bologna, the electoral defeat is a sign that Berlusconi has lost the key support of the Milanese bourgeoisie, the country’s business elite. The city’s industrialists had hoped that Berlusconi, Italy’s most famous entrepreneur, would fix the economy, and govern with an eye to their needs, says Ignazi. But Italy’s GDP has virtually flatlined since the early 2000s, and the government’s reform agenda bogged down by Berlusconi’s recurrent troubles with the judiciary (he is currently defending himself from accusations of corruption, tax fraud, and paying for sex with an underage prostitute in three different trials in Milan). “The bourgeoisie had been expecting that Berlusconi would embody a moderate, liberal right-wing force,” says Ignazi, “but things have gone in the opposite direction, towards a populist party strongly centred on the leader.”
In fact, Berlusconi casts such a long shadow on his People of Freedom party (PdL) that many predict that the group will simply dissolve if its leader truly proves to be politically defunct. “The PdL is a [political] organism that’s used to relying on its supreme commander,” Folli wrote in an editorial for Il Sole 24 Ore, adding in an interview with Maclean’s that he finds it hard to imagine the party without Berlusconi. The recent abysmal electoral showing is also likely to widen existing cracks between the PdL and its coalition partner, the Northern League, a smaller party that rallies around regionalism and anti-immigration themes. To be sure, in the immediate aftermath of defeat, the movement’s leader has pledged unwavering loyalty to Berlusconi. But the party’s lower ranks are clamoring for the party to ditch Berlusconi, after the League’s support in its key constituency of Northern Italy dropped by over 20 per cent in the latest local ballots compared to the previous election.
No major political earthquake, though, is likely to happen in the short term, says Folli. Italians are loathe to sacrifice even a few days of their summer to pick a new government, and even fall or winter snap elections are unheard of. But if the billionaire prime minister continues to look like a political dead man, spring could bring about a radical reshaping of Italian politics. The demise of Berlusconi could be the end of an entire party system, says Ignazi, not unlike what happened in the early 1990s, when a slew of corruption scandals and trials known as Mani Pulite (clean hands) wiped out the entire political class that had ruled Italy since the end of World War II.
Still, some are warning it might be too soon to pen Berlusconi’s political post mortem. It’s hard to keep track of how many times his adversaries at home and abroad have predicted his inexorable downfall only to watch him climb back up opinion polls and electoral ballots, says Cacciotto. “Berlusconi is incredibly resilient,” he adds. Not to mention the utter lack of alternatives to his leadership. The left has been in disarray for years, struggling to come up with a coalition arrangement that will bring together centrist currents with the more radical fringes. Significantly, winning left-wing candidates in both Milan and Naples belonged to minor parties, and not Italy’s major centre-left force, the Democratic Party. Voters may be reluctant to give Berlusconi the boot if they are uncertain about who is going to replace him, says Cacciotto. A new centrist grouping called the Third Pole, supported by business magnates such as Luca di Montezemolo, head of Ferrari, runs into the same problem—with Italians leery of untested political novelties, they’re more likely to opt for the devil they know.
Whether Berlusconi is truly finished or just weakened, then, Italy seems to be in for a period of political paralysis that could further damage its economy. But if the current turmoil serves to sweep to power a new, bold, reformist government when spring comes, many Italians will think it will have been well worth it.
By Leah McLaren - Monday, April 18, 2011 at 2:20 PM - 0 Comments
As the Italian PM’s sex trial begins, the masses are sharply split
On a balmy spring morning in a Fascist-era courthouse last week, Silvio Berlusconi’s hotly anticipated sex trial opened in Milan. But unlike the late night “bunga bunga” sessions in which the 74-year-old Italian prime minister is accused of participating, the proceedings showed little staying power. After less than 10 minutes, Giulia Turri—the presiding justice in what local media have dubbed “the broad squad” of female judges—adjourned the trial until May 31, the next date the Italian prime minister has said he is available to show up in person to defend himself.
As the gavel dropped, the stuffy courtroom packed with European press erupted in laughter and a mixture of Italian, French and English chatter. “It’s bizarre, yes, but we are used to bizarre states of affairs in Italy,” quipped Beppe Severgnini, an influential columnist for the newspaper Corriere della Sera. He arched an eyebrow under a pair of spectacles and brushed a piece of lint off his grey summer suit. “This trial is like High Noon—a shootout between the judiciary and Berlusconi. Who knows what will happen, but someone’s going to get hurt.”
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 1:30 PM - 0 Comments
Court adjourned after only eight minutes, Berlusconi a no-show
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s trial on charges of paying for sex with an under-age prostitute opened in Milan on Wednesday, however proceedings were adjourned in less than ten minutes. Neither Berlusconi nor the alleged prostitute, Karima El Mahroug, were present at the trial. Berlusconi faces up to 15 years in jail if found guilty, but both Berlusconi and Mahroug deny the charges. Observers are expecting an extended trial full of delays and challenges, with 20,000 pages of evidence and a list of 78 witnesses yet to be examined. Prosecutors allege that Berlusconi, currently a defendant in four different trials, is accused of paying for sex with Mahroug when she was 17.
By macleans.ca - Monday, March 7, 2011 at 12:58 PM - 7 Comments
‘This is not just an Italian problem, it’s a European problem’
Another 1,000 migrants fleeing Tunisia and Libya have landed on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, adding to the more than 6,000 who’ve done the same since mid-February. With just 850 beds, the small island’s reception centre is dramatically under-equipped to service the migrants. Italy is seeking funding from the EU, the BBC reports, amid fears of much larger exodus from North African countries. Last week, Italy, Spain, France, Cyprus, Malta and Greece presented joint proposals to the EU, urging the body to share the burden of accepting migrants, and to set up a common EU asylum system by 2012.
By Julia Belluz - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 8:45 AM - 6 Comments
For a few dedicated gastronomes, meat must be cured in harmony with lunar cycles
Every year, when the cold in Toronto levels off to a late-January sting and the moon begins to wane, Nilo Palu drives his polished gunmetal truck to a nearby slaughterhouse and hauls two butchered pigs (some 500 lb. of pork) back to his basement. He lays the mountain of meat on a wooden table near the taxidermic animals he captured on various hunting trips. Then, with a group of friends, Palu carries out an ancient tradition he has practised since his boyhood in Italy.
For these sixty- and seventysomething Italian Canadians, slaughtered pig can only become prosciutto and salami during the luna calante, after the full moon, when the silver orb recedes into the black sky. “If we don’t cure by the moon,” Palu explains with a furrowed brow, “the meat could go bad.”
Planting a garden or making wine according to the lunar cycle—the principle of biodynamics—is well documented. The movement was initiated in the early 20th century by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, who suggested that crops should be grown organically, in harmony with the stars and planets. Before Steiner, farmers followed moon lore, and still do. (See the Farmer’s Almanac.)
But lunar curing? Experts in the world’s gastronomic capitals appeared to know nothing of the practice. “I’m afraid I’m stumped on this one,” said a New York University food studies professor. Harold McGee, the Curious Cook and author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, also said he’d never heard of cosmic charcuterie. The Slow Food Movement folks were similarly perplexed, as were anthropologists and food historians at the famed University of Gastronomic Sciences in northern Italy. Paolo Cornale, an academic who teaches animal production at the school, even investigated on our behalf. “I spoke with 10 people, experts and meat producers,” he reported. “To be honest, many of them have never even heard of the moon’s influence on meat production.”
Still, the moon guided Palu’s annual ritual, passed down through the generations. Growing up in Friuli, he recalls holding the leg of a pig, with three other men, as it was being slaughtered. This would happen every winter when temperatures dropped and “the moon was going down, to the new moon,” the calo di luna. If they didn’t dress the hog then, the puciter, or pig master, who helped local families turn their pigs into prosciutto, warned the meat would simply turn black.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, February 15, 2011 at 1:45 PM - 0 Comments
Prime Minister says he has no intention of resigning
An Italian judge ruled Thursday that Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi will have to stand trial on charges of paying for sex with an underage prostitute, and abuse of power for trying to cover it up. Berlusconi and Karima El Mahroug, a Moroccan nightclub dancer also known as Ruby Heartthrob, deny the prostitution accusations. The prime minister also denies pressuring a Milan police chief to release the girl from detention, where she was being held on charges of theft. The trial is scheduled to start on April 6, but the prime minister said he has no intention to resign, and accused the judiciary of staging a coup to force him out of office. The news broke just as Berlusconi faces the resumption of two long-delayed trials in Milan on charges of fraud and tax evasion. It is the first time, however, that judges are calling on Berlusconi to defend himself in court on charges related to his private life. Giorgio Napolitano, the Italian head of state, who has the power to dissolve parliament, hinted last week at the possibility that the renewed clash between the prime minister and the judiciary could lead to early elections.
By macleans.ca - Monday, February 14, 2011 at 2:19 PM - 3 Comments
Italian PM could be facing sex crimes trial
Hundreds of thousands of Italians marched against the country’s prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in protests held across Italy on Sunday. The rallies, mobilized by women campaigners, were the biggest sign to date of the level of popular disgruntlement with Berlusconi’s scandal-ridden government. The success of the initiative, dubbed “If not now, when,” surprised organizers themselves, who said around one million people gathered in the piazzas of over 200 towns across Italy. The 74-year-old prime minister stands accused of paying for sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of power for trying to cover it up, claims he denies. On Tuesday a Milan judge will decide whether to proceed to trial.