Berlusconi: When Lies and Tricks Stop Working

Within just a few days, a sad era lasting almost twenty years has ended. During these past decades Berlusconi has done his utmost, both as a powerful opposition leader and as head of state, to avoid the sentence which has finally been delivered: four years in prison for tax fraud and a five-year ban on holding public office.

Berlusconi entered politics to settle business accounts and take shelter from justice. He managed to do this for two decades, making all of us pay dearly. To criminals his problems were like manna from heaven, because he enacted miracles for all of them while covering his own tracks. He eliminated important crimes like false accounting, he shortened the the statute of limitations, and he humiliated public institutions by enlisting them for his personal use and forcing them to issue ad personam laws. With his bad example he spread corruption everywhere, along with a brand of politics understood simply as the pursuit of personal advantage at any cost. He left Italy worse than he found it, with a corruption that is deeper and even more ruthless, widespread, manipulated, and legalized than it was in the epoch of Bribesville, a political scandal exposed during the 1990s.

In the end, the comb found its knots. Despite his discrediting and defamation of judges, despite the ad personam laws, the truth rose to the surface. A few days before the conviction, Berlusconi withdrew his candidacy for presidency, showing that he realized his lies and deception were no longer working -- neither as a political leader nor as a man charged with serious crimes.

Berlusconi is leaving the scene, but his entire legacy remains. The Parliament -- the Italy of Values party excluded (centrist, populist and anti-corruption party) -- and this technocratic government have drawn up and passed a sham anti-corruption law that does not resolve any of the huge problems created by the president-accused. If anything, they have made it worse. False accounting was not a crime yesterday, and it isn't one today. Same for money-laundering. The statute of limitations has gone from short to fleeting. The crime of soft extortion, on the other hand, which not even Berlusconi dared eliminate, no longer exists thanks to President Monti, Minister Severino, and this anomalous majority coalition.

For this one out-bound Berlusconi, many little Berlusconis have formed in his image, in public institutions, the government, and local administrations. All of them convinced that politics is the safest and most effortless way to appropriate public goods and seize privileges without ever paying a penalty.

Finally, after 20 years of Berlusconian hypnosis the country is struggling to reawaken, and it risks getting duped by the first trickster who appears, just like Silvio Berlusconi knew how to do in 1994.

Yesterday's urgent task was to free Italy from Berlusconi; today's is to free the country from Berlusconianism, and this will be even harder. The fact is, the Italy of Values party plan for the coming years is to erase the disastrous legacy of Berlusconianism. Even while some very solemn men are protecting it -- men who appear to be the opposite of Berlusconi but whose concrete choices, both economic and legal, so closely resemble his that they might as well be the same.