The underlying pattern is the same despite the variations on the surface. Berlusconi is not the first man in government to abuse his power vis-à-vis more or less willing women.
• At the less harmful end there are men like the late Greek Prime Minister, Andreas Papandreou, who back in the 1990s decided to marry a young stewardess forty years his junior, and who used his thus gained image of ongoing virility to win the elections a second time.
• Then there is Putin who, much in the same way like Sarkozy, will go after the media if they dare publish anything about his extramarital affairs (or, in the case of Sarkozy, also those of his wife).
• Clinton denied his affair with Monica Lewinsky for a long time, holding on to a rather narrow and strange definition of sexual intercourse. His bearing helped the religious right gain strength within the Republican Party and tainted his and his wife’s public image for a long time.
• Former Israeli President Katsav was recently convicted for raping at least one female subordinate and sexually harassing several others.
… The list could probably be expanded.
Berlusconi beats all—not only because he has been a repeat offender but also because his sex and marital scandals are the tip of an iceberg of financial and political corruption. As media mogul he dominates the private television chains and as head of state the public broadcasting corporation. Consequently, you get on Italian television what Berlusconi himself likes to watch, that is, half-naked young women swinging hips and tits in hypnotic regularity.
Then came Ruby, and now Berlusconi stands to trial for paying to have sex with her while she was still underage. The trial began last week and was yesterday recessed to the end of May. Judging from the Katsav case, this will not be decided within weeks or months, and Berlusconi can be trusted to do all in his power to delay the trial till he has either managed to bribe or replace the judges, or has changed the laws governing immunity and the statute of time limitations regarding court cases.
It is therefore premature to anticipate Berlusconi’s end, as it were in a similar way to Al Capone, who was finally brought to justice for tax evasion rather than for his more serious crimes of murder and corruption. Berlusconi will be ousted through elections or death. The former is preferable and might be faster.
Achieving that requires a better understanding of why Berlusconi has managed to dominate the Italian political scene for so long. The answer lies less in his media power or his joker status, however important facilitators both might have been. It has much more to do with his smart manoeuvring of the country’s weak federalism in combination with the Italian prototypical mistrust of political institutions and of the need for reforms.