ROME — We must remember that Wednesday's vote to oust Silvio Berlusconi from the Senate does not mean his political demise. Still, his exclusion from Parliament, the sentence for tax fraud and the other alleged cases — involving underaged prostitution, extortion, the bribing of parliamentarians, and corruption of witnesses — put the former prime minister in a most precarious condition.
These cases take their toll on a person, as well as the normal wear and tear that a 20-year career in politics brings. If this isn’t the end, it’s clearly the beginning of a decline that may be very steep, and fast.
But even before we see the end of the Berlusconi era, comes a lingering question: Will Berlusconi go down in history as the man who epitomized the so-called "Second Republic" of the past quarter-century of Italian public life?
Will Il Cavaliere be remembered as one of the most innovative entrepreneurs, bringing commercial TV to Italy, which contributed to the modernization and cultural changes comparable to that of the national broadcaster Rai, in the 1950s and 1960s?
Or instead, was Berlusconi simply an unscrupulous corrupter of politics, customs, civic life, a character devoid of any sense of ethics — or common sense? Was this a man only concerned with himself and his own business affairs?
As we wait for the historians to dissect this issue, which will take time, you’ll see that what concerns Berlusconi today is a question that in the past has involved almost everyone in charge during Italy’s "First Republic," and a good chunk of those in the Second too.
The revelations of Tangentopoli (a wide-reaching judicial investigation in the early 1990s into political corruption that can be translated as Bribesville) offered the conclusion that Italian politicians were not responsible leaders, but tout-court delinquents.
In the case of disgraced former Prime Minister Bettino Craxi — ten years after he died — President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano has had to intervene and restore the historical truth: Beyond the individual conclusions of the corruption trials, Craxi was a politician of the first magnitude, capable of imposing cutting-edge innovations in the country.
As for former premier Giulio Andreotti, despite his acquittal after being accused of involvement with the mafia, nobody ever dreamed, when he died earlier this year, that he could have been an organized crime boss.
But this may exactly be the fate that awaits Berlusconi.
His judicial record should not be the sum total of his biography. When the sun is setting, a calm assessment of all the results, errors, and merits of his public life must be taken into account.
For this reason, Berlusconi would have done better to make his last speech — just like Craxi did — in the government itself, rather than from a window to the shivering crowd gathered on Via del Plebiscito, near his private villa in central Rome. Likewise, he could have resigned even just one minute before getting the boot from his opponents.
“At least I tried to change some of the things I wanted to do," he could have said. "Many of you were right, but rather than give you the satisfaction, I’ve decided I’m leaving.”
If he had done it this way, he would have bowed out as a statesman. Instead, so as not to go down in history as a convict and inappropriately try to erase the shame of the sentence, Berlusconi has no choice but to fight his last, desperate battle until the very end. History is repeating itself: The Second Republic has finished exactly the same way as the First did.
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