OPINION

Goldfinger Silvio

After two decades at the pinnacle of his country’s political life, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi already represents an important chapter in modern Italian history. His rise and rocky tenure, however, offer valuable lessons to anyone interested in politics in the age of television democracy, regarding the limits of the personal and the institutional. Berlusconi’s ascent alarmed many in Western democracies, because he represented the triumph of the ambitious businessman at the expense of political professionals. With his huge personal fortune and dominance over the country’s mass media, Berlusconi burst onto Italy’s musty political scene like a hurricane, pushing aside other personalities and customs. His personal style – a mix of popular charmer and sugar daddy – along with his wealth, gained him strong support among large numbers of voters. From the start, he dealt with the slings and arrows of his political opponents, and inquiries by the judiciary, with personal complaints and tons of money. He has described himself as «the politician most persecuted by prosecutors in the entire history of the world throughout the ages,» saying that he has paid out 200 million euros in legal fees. Berlusconi has repeatedly tried to obstruct judicial inquiries into his actions, passing laws to suit his needs. On Thursday, though, the Italian Constitutional Court ruled that he would no longer enjoy automatic immunity and that it was up to presiding judges to decide whether investigations against politicians should be postponed until they were out of office. It immediately became known that a prosecutor is looking into whether Berlusconi abused his office by intervening to secure the release of a 17-year-old prostitute who had been remanded in police custody for theft. Apparently, accustomed to intervening personally in everything, and getting his way, Berlusconi overstepped the mark and intervened personally on behalf of «Ruby the Thief of Hearts.» Now, like Midas of myth, Silvio with the golden finger is in danger of learning belatedly the dangers of leaving a trace with every touch.