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Silvio Berlusconi's return to government suffered a setback yesterday when the former sultan of Italy was found guilty of paying for sex with an underaged prostitute and using his office to cover it up. The latter charge relates to an incident when the prostitute in question, Karima el-Mahroug or “Ruby the heart-stealer”, was arrested for theft, and Berlusconi called Milan's chief of police to get her off, saying that she was the daughter of the President of Egypt, and charging her with theft would have caused an international diplomatic incident. Berlusconi was sentenced to seven years in prison (which he will not serve, as Italy does not jail those aged over 70) and banned for life from holding public office. Berlusconi maintains his innocence, claiming (a) that he gave el-Mahroug money out of the goodness of his heart to get her off the streets, (b) that he sincerely believed that she was Hosni Mubarak's daughter (presumably reduced to theft and prostitution on the streets of Milan for some reason), and (c) that the charges were the result of an ongoing Communist conspiracy to destroy him and Italy.
The typical thing for il cavaliere, as he is known, to do would have been to get his allies in parliament to table a law retroactively legalising bunga-bunga parties, dropping the age of consent for prostitutes and changing the technical definitions of corruption in a way that would not apply to acting prime ministers; his party, the right-wing-populist People Of Liberty (PdL), is part of the governing coalition, and could in theory threaten to bring down the government if such a bill is not passed. Now, though, that may be harder to pull off, as the other parties are vehemently opposed to Berlusconi and everything that he stands for, and the accompanying assumption of such a tactic—that after a snap election, PdL would be better poised to govern in its own right or choose more pliant coalition partners to share power and its benefits with—might not stand if its leader is a convicted criminal.
The worst may be yet to come for Berlusconi, though; by the end of the year, Italy's supreme court will issue the final ruling in a tax fraud case concerning him.
Benito Mussolini, the World War 2-era Italian fascist dictator, is enjoying a resurgence in popularity in Italy, and not just from the usual extremists either:
The decision by a town south of Rome to spend €127,000 (£100,000) of public funds this year on a tomb for Rodolfo Graziani, one of Mussolini's most blood-thirsty generals, was met with widespread indifference. Other more mundane examples include the leading businessman who proposed renaming Forli airport in Emilia Romagna – the region of northern Italy where the dictator was born – as Mussolini airport, or the headmaster in Ascoli Piceno who tried to hang a portrait of the dictator in his school.There are several explanations: some people are drawn to the idea of a populist strongman in the age of austerity, and compartmentalising all that unpleasantness with racial laws and deportations of Jews and such away from the cozy ideal of village post offices and a leader willing to bloody the noses of the elites in the name of the common man. Part of it is that, unlike in Germany, an admiration for fascism never completely left the sphere of acceptable opinion in Italy: a 1952 law forbidding fascist parties or the veneration of fascism has never been seriously enforced, and there are neo-fascist parties comprised not of shaven-headed thugs and football hooligans but of the kinds of reactionary though otherwise ordinary middle-aged and older people who, were they in Britain, would merely read the Daily Mail and grumble about how the world's going to hell. Though another likely cause in the rise of pro-fascist sentiment would be the dog-whistle politics of the Berlusconi era, in which many of the former pornocrat's close allies actively praised Mussolini and his ideals, and Berlusconi himself, whilst not explicitly doing so, did make light of Mussolini's suppression of dissent, and brought neo-fascists into his coalition:
"Today, Mussolini's racial laws against Jews remain an embarrassment, but people don't care about his hunting down anti-fascists," said Maria Laura Rodotà, a journalist at Italy's Corriere della Sera. "That became one of Berlusconi's jokes."
Admiration for Mussolini is common in Berlusconi's circle. Showbusiness agent Lele Mora, who is now on trial for allegedly pimping for the former prime minister, downloaded an Italian fascist song as his mobile ring tone, while Berlusconi's long-time friend, the senator Marcello Dell'Utri, has described Mussolini as an "extraordinary man of great culture".
In Italy, the Berlusconi government is planning to introduce regulations requiring anyone uploading videos to the internet to obtain government approval. The government claims that the regulations (which can be passed without a vote) are an enactment of an EU directive on product placement; conveniently, they also outlaw a lot of competition to established media, such as, for example, the Mediaset group owned by the current Italian Prime Minister.
Article 4 of the decree specifies that the dissemination over the Internet "of moving pictures, whether or not accompanied by sound," requires ministerial authorization. Critics say it will therefore apply to the Web sites of newspapers, to IPTV and to mobile TV, obliging them to take on the same status as television broadcasters.The regulations follow an earlier attempt by the Italian government to regulate bloggers by subjecting them to the same rules as newspaper publishers. Italy also requires all users of internet access points to register their identity, under an "anti-terrorism and anti-paedophilia" law.
There is growing speculation that the recent attack on embattled Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi was staged, to give his flagging popularity a sympathy boost and allow his allies to push through useful restrictions to civil liberties:
A video sequence posted on YouTube shows television footage in which Berlusconi immediately covers the lower part of his face with a black plastic bag after the attack and keeps it there while being bundled into a car with no blood visible.
The first video asks why Berlusconi emerged from the car a few minutes after the attack, showing his bloody face to the cameras, including a deep wound below his left eye which did not appear in the first images.
There's a new documentary which looks at how Italian president and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi has, over the past three decades, changed his country's culture, society and politics. Videocracy, by Swedish-based Italian filmmaker Erik Gandini, starts 30 years ago, when Berlusconi's channels started introducing gratuitous female nudity to mainstream programming, ramping up the amount of vacuous, vaguely pornographic titilliation, and culminating with their owner becoming president, twice. The film interviews a number of characters symbolic of the system, including a hapless, fame-hungry talent-show contestant, a fascist-sympathising media fixer, and a paparazzo and convicted extortionist turned celebrity. There are more details here, and (with a trailer) here.
Beginning with a young Berlusconi’s arrival on the commercial Italian TV scene three decades ago, the film opens with archive footage of a stripping housewife quiz show – proving that this Italian TV gem is not the urban legend some assume it to be – and segues into a montage of busty variety show starlets (one of whom is now minster for gender equality in Berlusconi’s government). Videocracy then introduces us to the three main characters whoare used as benchmarks for the moral madness that the director sees as being induced by the dumbed down world of Italian commerical TV.Videocracy is screening at the Venice and Toronto film festivals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, both Berlusconi's private TV channels and the Italian state broadcaster RAI have refused to run advertisements for it.
An argument has erupted between Italy's brusquely right-wing Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and archtitect Daniel Libeskind (best known for the Berlin Jewish Museum, New York's planned Freedom Tower and the Metropolitan University student union building in Holloway Road), after Berlusconi criticised Libeskind's design for a tower in Milan for not being straight enough, and emanating "a sense of impotence":
"In Fascist Italy, everything that was not 'straight' was considered 'perverse art'," said Libeskind. "My tower is inspired by the work of Leonardo da Vinci, and great Italian culture. [Mr Berlusconi] does not have the time or intellect to study these.
"As an American and Jew brought up in Poland, I find Berlusconi abominable. His concept of nationalism, of closing borders and denying what's different, is repugnant. He hates foreigners."Some are now speculating that Berlusconi will have planning permission for the project revoked. (Which suggests that in Italy, rule of law is sufficiently feeble to allow the prime minister to override local decision-makers out of pique.)
The Independent lists the musical pasts of various public figures:
Silvio Berlusconi: Politician
The Italian media magnate and former prime minister paid his way through university by singing and playing the piano on cruise ships. He has been known throughout his colourful political career for his habit of breaking into song unexpectedly.
The article mentions a number of other famous people who had played music in their pasts (such as comedian Ricky Gervais, who was a new-romantic sensation (though only in the Philippines), Jamie Oliver's third-division Britpop career, and Tony Blair's infamous student rock-band past. One notable example not mentioned, though, is US Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan's former career as a calypso singer.
A C Grayling: Philosopher
Grayling, a professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, and the author of a biography of William Hazlitt and other books, was once part of the expat rock scene in Northern Rhodesia – now Zambia – where he was born in 1949.
He says: "From the ages of 14 to 16, I was in a group called the Rebels – three guitars and a drummer. I started as the bass guitarist but then it turned out that not only could I not sing well, I couldn't sing at all and play the bass guitar, so I graduated to the rhythm guitar. I wore a pair of black, plastic-sided, high-heeled 'Beatle' boots that were two sizes too small. I thought I was the bee's knees."
Italian Prime Minister and media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi has made statements defending a footballer, facing criticism for using the Fascist salute as "a bit of a show-off". That, in itself, is not particularly shocking for a conservative politician; however, he followed it up with a defense of the legitimacy of Fascism:
"Fascism in Italy was never a criminal doctrine. There were the racial laws, horrible, but because one wanted to win the war with Hitler," Mr Berlusconi told foreign journalists.Of course, given that Berlusconi has near-total control of Italy's television (owning the largest private TV network and controlling state-run TV, which, presumably, is not funded by a BBC-style license fee), he stands a chance of getting away with it and winning the next election (which he is confidently boasting that he will).
From this week, anybody wishing to use an internet cafe or public telephone or fax machine in Berlusconi's Italy will have to produce their passport or identity papers. Furthermore, the managers of internet cafes and communications centres will be obliged to keep records of the times customers enter and leave the premises and which computers or telephones they use.
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