Berlusconi Is Going, Going…Almost Gone

Oct 8, 09 | 7:19 AM   byMichael Wolff
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It could be that in the years ahead every Italian alive in the strange years of Silvio Berlusconi, as both his nation’s leading media mogul and dominant political figure, will take a certain pride in being able to tell the tale. Grandchildren will gather round. Historians will debate the significant moments and, for years hence, be dishing out new details. And, for generations, there will be the aftereffects of the catharsis of his fall. Nixon for Americans will be a pale shade of villainy compared to Berlusconi for the Italians.

Anyway, it does appear that this week is, finally, the beginning of the end.

True, this man's run has seemed to have reasonably ended more times than any politician in any democracy. No politician has ever been so surrounded by ridicule, legal problems, and scandal, and survived so long. And, this isn’t survival merely by trickery and corruption, but survival based on the remarkable tolerance, even awe, possible love, of a hefty majority of his countrymen.

Still. There is always an end. And it really does seem to be here.

Earlier this week, after almost two decades of litigation, which in turn has spawned rivers of ancillary litigation—including criminal convictions of Berlusconi henchmen for bribing the judge, and a criminal indictment (yet one more) of Berlusconi himself—the prime minister had been ordered to pay $1.1 billion to Carlo De Benedetti, another Italian billionaire, from whom Berlusconi swiped a media company in 1991.

Even for billionaires a billion dollars is real dough. It’s enough money to shake the business empire that has supported the Berlusconi political empire.

Then, yesterday, came an even more resounding blow. Berlusconi’s strategy to avoid the criminal indictments that have plagued his political and business career is a law, passed by his legislative cronies, that makes it impossible to bring the top four people in the Italian government to trial for anything while they are in office. As Berlusconi’s lawyer explained to me, in perfectly Berlusconi logic, early this summer, “In Italy, there is a constitutional right to participate in a trial, but if you are the prime minister, with the responsibility for running the country, you could not have the time to participate. So this is a way to protect the rights of the prime minister.” Of course, it has been Berlusconi’s intention never to leave office. (His plan is to become president, also a protected post, after finishing his term as prime minister.)

But now that protection has been struck down. Gone.

These two reversals in a week are not just about justice having prevailed, but about a new sense of the prime minister’s weakness. It’s a hemorrhage of strength that began last April when he was spotted at the 18th-birthday party of a young woman in Naples, and has continued through a summer of further revelations and ridicule.

Never, perhaps, has a politician been so…naked. Never perhaps of a leader’s people known their leader so well.

Berlusconi represents a new and historical benchmark in reality.

He will not, of course, go quietly. The process of tearing him from office, of clawing back his power and his money from him, has just begun. His demise may well be as dramatic and incredible as his rise (it already is). But it will happen. At least it really seems now that it will. Really.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at You can also follow him on Twitter:
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