Hubris to Chagrin: Berlusconi Resigns
It was a moment that shocked. At about 4 pm yesterday the Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, in a behind-closed-doors meeting, tendered his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano. Throughout Berlusconi’s scandals, Napolitano has remained a respected political figure, albeit one who, until recently, was not perceived as having much influence. However, in a rapid exchange of power, Italy’s future now rests with his counsel and ability to maneuver within the Italian Parliament.
There was no speech (editor’s note: Berlusconi did, actually, give a speech the next day. It is embedded below). Nor was there any type of staged media appearance, though photographers did capture Berlusconi coming and going in his car, waving to the gaping crowd. It was not that long ago that he was partying with female escorts and singing his own praises. Berlusconi liked to speak to his own greatness.
Throughout the day yesterday, as media reports of his pending resignation amplified, massive crowds began gathering outside Berlusconi’s residence in Rome. For a period of time they sang Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus and shouted “buffone.” Berlusconi had been Prime Minster for 17 years, and that made him Italy’s longest post-war PM. But his legacy was marred by sex scandals, including one that involved an under age prostitute dubbed “Ruby Cuore” — Ruby heartstealer— by the Italian press.
Women seemed to either adore him—a sentiment expressed by the many models and escorts that partied at the palace, Arcore, and received his lavish gifts and attention. Once Berlusconi boasted, “I made love to eight women in one night.” Many, though, vehemently despised him. One Italian female reporter quipped during an interview, “Non sono una donna a sua disposizione,” which translates, “I’m not one of the women at your disposal.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald observed that the rich are not like the rest of us and Berlusconi epitomized that remark. He had quirks, like his penchant for self-tanner and his white under-eye liner. He was demonstrably out-of-touch with the life of the everyday Italian. Today, he appears, with his family, #21 on the Forbes World’s Most Powerful List. That may soon change. There are only two Italians on this list. The other, Mario Draghi, the President of the European Central Bank, #12, did not appear until recently. Despite his power, Italy has endured a long period of stagnation under his leadership.
At times Berlusconi appeared humble and gracious. He even displayed a certain likability that offset his grandiosity. He could be funny and self-effacing in a manner that warmed people to him. He often made remarks that poked fun at rumors. During one appearance he joked, “When asked if they would like to have sex with me, 30% of women said, ‘Yes’, while the other 70% replied, ‘What, again?’”
Yet the many struggling Italians despised him. Still, until yesterday, most believed he was as much a fixture as the historic ruins throughout Rome. Less than a week ago, most political commentators and global economists were tweeting that he would not go silently into the night. Ironic, now, as this is exactly what he did, though many advise not to count him out—that there’s already a strategy brewing to restore him to power.
One could speculate that Berlusconi’s being out of touch is what led to his demise. As he watched from his Ivory Tower, Italy’s unemployment rate soared, but it was the recent debt crisis that provided the impetus to oust him from power. On the heels of the situation in Greece, European Union leaders were quickly losing confidence in Italy’s ability to pass much-needed austerity measures. Berlusconi had also recently refused IMF funding and monitoring.
At the conclusion of the recent G20 summit, he bragged, “The life in Italy is the life of a wealthy country: consumptions haven’t diminished, it’s hard to find seats on planes, our restaurants are full of people.” This angered Italians but, more importantly, clearly demonstrated to world leaders that he just didn’t get it. And they began to pressure the Italian Parliament for a resolution.
Now, the man rumored to replace Berlusconi is economist, and former European Union commissioner, Mario Monti, who is touted to have not just the acumen, but the morality to garner respect. Napolitano will hold parliamentary confirmation meetings throughout the day and the announcement is expected tomorrow. It is rumored that Berlusconi supporters won’t back Monti. Instead they want to see former Justice Minister Angelino Alfano installed as Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, in Rome, the crowds still gather. People shout, “È Finito!” as they pop champagne corks. For a brief moment, an enormous Conga line developed. One gets the sense that while, for many, this is about Berlusconi’s downfall, for the majority it is, more so, about a new beginning for Italy.
Watch the speech that Berlusconi gave the day following his resignation.
Jenifer Mangione writes about art and Italian culture. She is the editor and founder of this publication.