The Berlusconi Paradox

ROME – One storm has passed in Italy. Another, perhaps bigger storm, has yet to begin.

Not for the first time, Italian politics are a landscape of paradoxes and oxymora. Thus, a prime minister who gained massive support from voters only two and a half years ago, won mid-term elections, survived two confidence votes in Parliament, and still enjoys high approval ratings is constantly under pressure.

Sixteen years have passed since Silvio Berlusconi, a blessing and a curse for the Italian people, made his first foray into the political ring. Berlusconi has been in power for eight of those years, though, as Giuliano Ferrara, the editor of Il Foglio, puts it, the popular perception is that, given his commanding personality, he has ruled the whole time. The Berlusconi era is approaching its twilight, yet his sun is unwilling to set.

Berlusconi, the head of a diversified media empire (television, radio, press, Internet, movies, advertising, and books), decided to establish a political party at a time when he believed that post-communists could win power otherwise. Until 2006, Berlusconi relied on three supporters: Northern League federalists, the post-fascists led by Gianfranco Fini, and the Catholic Union of the Center (UDC), under Pier Ferdinando Casini’s leadership.