Geopolitics

“I Am Tired” The Berlusconi Interview: A Singular Political Career Draws To A Close

Berlusconi speaks with La Stampa’s editor, confirming his plans to resign, but insisting that new elections must be called, even if he will no longer be a candidate. He also compares himself to Mussolini and lashes out at those who “betrayed” him.

(EPP)
(EPP)
Mario Calabresi

It's late at night, and you'd expect to find the man worn out and depressed. Instead, Silvio Berlusconi's voice coming over the telephone line is lively, even if his words are clear and unambiguous.

"As soon as the stability pact is approved in Parliament, I will resign. And seeing as there are no other potential governing coalitions, the only possibility I see are elections in early February – elections in which I will no longer be the candidate."

In the words of the man known as "Il Cavaliere," Berlusconi's decision to step aside is complete and definitive. "The center-right candidate will be (current Freedom Party chief and former Justice Minister) Angelino Alfano. He is accepted by everyone and it would be a mistake to taint him now in trying to imagine a new (transitional) government headed by him."

It seems impossible to imagine that Silvio Berlusconi is really ready to pull out definitively from politics, but he confirms it to me several times, as he did earlier in a private meeting with the President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano, who considers the resignation already handed in.

"First thing is that we must give an immediate response to the markets: we can wait no longer to approve the agreed upon measures. I made a commitment to Europe to do so and I want to maintain that promise before leaving. But now, I make a plea to all parties, center-left and center-right, to pass the bill as quickly as possible, and then I will resign."

Early elections, however, are not automatic. It is the head of state Napolitano who has the final word, after meeting with all top leaders in Parliament. It would also be unprecedented in Italy to have national elections in the heart of the winter. Still, Berlusconi repeats that there is no other realistic scenario of a ruling coalition or transitional government. "The arithmetic tells me there is no way other than elections."

When asked about what has been called a "market coup," Berlusconi insists that Italy should see the reforms imposed as an opportunity. "The markets push us to push through the reforms that we were never able to do, those liberalizations that I have always put in my platforms but against which I have always found so much resistance."

Acts of betrayal

The prime minister is not so sunny, however, when I raise the subject of his political allies who pulled their support in Parliament, thus forcing him to resign. "Something unbelievable happened: I was betrayed by those who I have carried in my heart through a lifetime. I'm thinking of (Roberto) Antonione, and I still can't believe it, thinking about all that I did for him. He even made me his daughter's godfather. It's incredible: I'm his daughter's godfather, and he betrays me. I can't believe my eyes. I asked him to meet, but he was scared to come see me, and disposed of it all with a letter. The others I won't even talk about."

Asked what he would do once he resigned, the 75-year-old said he would be the "founding father of my party…and maybe return to being president of the AC Milan" soccer team, which he owns.

Berlusconi denies reports that his children had urged him to fight to hold onto the prime minister post. "My children are very happy that I am leaving politics, hoping to be able to wake up in the morning and not have to read newspapers around the world full of attacks against me. And they also know that I am tired."

There is silence, as Berlusconi takes a long pause, before continuing. "I am tired of not being able to impose my will and not being able to push the policy that I would like. I am more powerful as a free citizen than as prime minister. I was reading a book on the letters between Mussolini and (his mistress) Claretta and he tells her at a certain point ‘You don't understand that I don't count at all, all I can do is hand out favors." I felt like I ended up in the same situation."

As I point out the context of a fascist dictatorship, he interrupts: "Of course, I am not a dictator, even if you (in the press) have written that I am for years. What I mean is that the founding fathers of Italy, precisely out of fear that history would repeat itself, went too far in weakening the executive role. I ask you: can you be the head of the government if you can't make the minister of the economy carry out the economic policy that you believe in?"

Speaking of Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti, a longtime ally with whom Berlusconi has clashed repeatedly in recent months. "The personal relationship isn't bad," Berlusconi said. "But then at the end he does whatever the heck he pleases."

Berlusconi closes by saying he is consoled by knowing that he was "the longest-serving (Italian) Prime Minister in history." But I interrupt to correct him, pointing out that Giovanni Giolitti had served longer back in the 19th century. I also note that he would have surpassed Giolitti if he had held on until the end of the legislative session in 2013. "Yes, I meant post-War history," Berlusconi says. He is quiet for a moment, then adds. "This (record) of Giolitti, I didn't know about. That's a pity, really a pity. Well, good night."

Read the original article in Italian

Photo - EPP

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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