The Berlusconi Conspiracy

Criticizing Berlusconi's "Bunga Bunga" attitude won't stop his resurgence - it will only convince more Italians that the world is out to get them.

Whenever Mr. Berlusconi resurfaces in the Italian media, my international friends ask me the same question again and again: Why? As an Italian living in Berlin, I have plenty of opportunities for discussion – partially because Berlin is (obviously) full of non-Italians, and partially because the political maestro has an unnerving tendency to swim below the surface for months, only to resurface suddenly and devastatingly like a great white shark in the movie “Jaws”.

Let’s make one thing clear in the beginning: we are flattered that internationals are so keenly interested in Mr. B. For decades, Italy has been led by more or less dignified politicians who did not spark any attention beyond the country’s borders. Or have you ever hear of Giulio Andreotti (seven-time prime minister), Amintore Fanfani (six times), or Mariano Rumor (five times)? My guess is that if you enjoyed the average middle class education, you have not. Yet nowadays, even immigrant taxi drivers in Manhattan, upon hearing that I am Italian, cannot help but turn away from New York traffic and declare happily: “Bunga Bunga!” Berlusconi has made us famous, for better or for worse.

Yet the “Bunga Bunga” phenomenon has also prevented non-Italians from understanding Berlusconi. Revelations about Mr. Berlusconi’s nocturnal performances (not to mention his track record) have mostly been the product of skillful journalism of the center-left media, and in particular of the work done by the excellent newspaper “La Repubblica”. Although scant reports about a politician’s relations with underage girls would have provoked an immediate resignation in any industrialized country, they did not in Italy.