A Country Modeled on Silvio?

The former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been kicked out of the Senate by his peers. Is that the end of an era? Not necessarily so.

To begin with, polls show that at least 1 voter out of 4 would still vote for him. M5S's leader Beppe Grillo is also proof that there is no need to be in parliament to lead a political party. In fact, ousted from parliament, Berlusconi will be in a privileged position: inside the system as a political leader and able to determine events, but enough outside of it to blame it on others and even play as the innocent victim.

The acceleration of Berlusconi's Senate eviction -- without waiting for the Court's pronouncement -- also strengthened his supporters' belief that he is a victim and that "the system" is against him. People who had to fight the slow Italian Judiciary are likely to be appalled by the comparative quickness in this case, reinforcing their idea that the law is not the same for all.

Also, Berlusconi was convicted of tax fraud. In a country like Italy -- with over 50 percent taxation -- tax evasion is a national sport, often self-justified as a mere way to survive. There is no sense of shame in it. Hence, many Italians, rather than being scandalized, are likely to praise him in private.

Same goes with the bunga-bunga girls (likely to gain Berlusconi his next conviction). Having many beautiful women is a dream of many Italian males. Sexist remarks are part of Italy's everyday life and considered not only fully acceptable, but even funny.

Each time I have held a somewhat prominent position, especially in government, I had people half smiling hinting that "of course" I got the job, with the "of course" clearly not referring to my résumé... Like many other skilled women leaders, we often get sexist remarks by our peers or superiors and we are supposed to smile and treat them as compliments. Women are heartily advised not to challenge these people and attitudes; when they do, they are often harassed in such painful ways that they end up leaving their positions to the benefit of more conciliatory women or male colleagues.

The real problem with the last 20 years in Italy is in fact the decadence of public morality, the lowering of the bar of what is considered acceptable and what is not. The Berlusconi era -- his politics, his TVs, his editorial empire -- have permeated Italians and the Italian culture in a way that it will be very hard to change. The inability of the progressives to oppose a credible alternative has done the rest.

In a remarkable article, Beppe Severgnini claims that "there is a little of Berlusconi in each of us". Indeed, it is.

On December 8, the Major of Florence, Matteo Renzi, is likely to win the leadership of the Democratic Party. He fully deserves it: he lost a bit last year but then the party lost the elections, proving his case. Matteo says sensible things that others, in his party, should have said a long time ago. He is young and totally into the XXI century, while the party seems stuck in the 1900s. He gives a hope of change to a country that, unlike the rest of Southern Europe, is still showing no sign of recovery.

Yet, his way of communicating is much nearer to the first Berlusconi -- the one of the early 1990s, raising new hopes in a country shattered by the Clean Hands affairs and the subsequent collapse of what is now known as the First Republic -- than to any politician of the progressive front. Ironically, therefore, in order to (try to) defeat Berlusconi, the Democratic Party will have to bet on Silvio's better copy.

Matteo's personal history is proof that at least he will spear Italy a new bunga-bunga, but for all the rest, the way to change Italy in going to be long, hazardous and painful.