Silvio Berlusconi’s sex antics disgust me and other Italian women


Silvio Berlusconi
Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi has come under fire
for his dalliances with young women. ?
Photograph: Gregorio Borgia/AP

One of Italy’s leading journalists bemoans the prime minister’s philandering and the culture of machismo that celebrates his habitual womanising

I feel trapped. I try to get on with my life, but he finds me everywhere. On my couch, when I turn on my computer, and in my office, where he dominates all discussion. He’s there in the morning, when I drink my cappuccino at the Ruschena bar in Rome and my fellow customers make jokes about him. He’s there at parents’ evening, where apparently conservative parents stop and ask me whether we should start a revolution. And he’s there in the evening, when I meet my exhausted, centre-left friends. The girls’ nights out are the worst. The constant exposure to images of him, our 74-year-old prime minister, and of the half-naked young women allegedly linked to him is seriously affecting our mood. Not to mention our libido. Being an Italian in what are – maybe – the last days of Silvio Berlusconiis confusing. Being an Italian woman is even more so. Many of us are worn out and ashamed, but we are also divided. There are those of us who can’t take it any more. But there are also those who seek somehow to justify Berlusconi’s behaviour. “Oh well,” they shrug. “Men will be men.” We don’t care, they say, about what he does in the privacy of his own home(s) as long as his government protects us from crime and immigration. Quite what they make of the latest headlines to grace our country’s newspapers, therefore, is unclear. I’d especially like to hear their opinions on Karima Keyek, the 17-year-old second-generation immigrant who frequented the prime minister’s parties. Or, indeed, on allegations that his state jet was used for such grandiose functions as delivering cannabis to his Sardinian villa. So lurid were her accounts of the soirées she attended that there were those of us who dared to think that Keyek – better known by her stage-name, Ruby – had finally done the unthinkable and pushed Berlusconi’s public image beyond the point of no return. Try as he might to insist the phrase “bunga bunga” was just an expression he used while telling jokes, Berlusconi’s party game is now infamous – and not for its humorous potential. In the online Urban Dictionary, bunga bunga is now defined as an “erotic ritual which involves a powerful leader and several naked women”. Even this, however, was not enough to dent the shield of indifference which many Italians have built around themselves. Bunga bunga has become an instant, supposedly hilarious, household expression. We are now getting used to musical parodies on the radio, YouTube videos and constant one-liners. Even the revelation that Berlusconi called the Milanese police in May after Ruby was arrested for stealing €3,000, asking for her release and explaining – falsely – that she was Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s niece, has been considered funny by many people. Many of my compatriots have grown so accustomed to our dear leader’s excesses that they are immune to indignation. And so the story limps on. In fact, in our darkest moments, it seems as if it might never end. Every day brings yet more sleaze. We have read the allegations of Perla Genovesi, a former staffer to an MP in Berlusconi’s party, that several prominent politicians close to the prime minister were linked to a cocaine and prostitution ring, and we have heard escort girl Nadia Macri tell of her two sexual encounters with Berlusconi – and the €10,000 she was given in return. (It was Macri, incidentally, who told magistrates she believed the cannabis she had seen being used at the villa was flown in by the state jet.) And it wasn’t only female companions who came forward. Berlusconi’s security detail had something to say as well. Some of them, interviewed anonymously by the newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, said that they had had enough of standing guard to flocks of call-girls, many of them probably minors. The head of one of Berlusconi’s TV news programmes, Emilio Fede, is now accused by Macri of selecting young girls for his friend Silvio.   Amid all the sound and fury of this sorry tale, how does our protagonist see fit to react? First off, by being rude about homosexuals (“It’s much better to have a passion for beautiful girls than to be gay”); and then, on Friday, by declaring himself a victim of the mafia. “In what other country in the world would the head of the government have to defend himself against a barrage of made-up stories?” asked our downtrodden leader. We, meanwhile, were asking ourselves a different question: what other country in the world would allow him to stay in office? And the answer to that is not easy. Italian politics has always been complicated. But now it is truly entangled. Italy’s macho culture is still alive and kicking, and Gianfranco Fini, the man perceived as Berlusconi’s fiercest opponent, is simply seen as not being man enough to defeat him. A former neo-fascist turned centrist with a newly formed movement, Future and Liberty, Fini has effectively been emasculated by a summer media campaign targeting his family. Meanwhile, although there are signs that the Northern League, Berlusconi’s closest ally, is distancing itself from him, the relationship between the prime minister and the League’s leader, Umberto Bossi, seems too strong to be broken. The official opposition is weak, divided and very, very litigious. And almost everyone, at least the men, consider the sex scandals more of a political weapon or a political liability than a serious ethical matter. Newspapers supporting Berlusconi are starting to glorify the prime minister for his incredible womanising. A front-page headline in the rightwing northern daily Libero proclaimed: “Ci risiamo con la gnocca!” (“Here we go again with the pussy”). I presume that the British, the Russians and the Burmese are with Berlusconi in a love of la gnocca. But at least they do it more discreetly. After 16 years of on-and-off Berlusconi rule, and after 30 years of watching his television channels, many Italians feel encouraged to brag about it. And feel encouraged to envy Berlusconi and his hordes of beautiful girls. “But are they so beautiful? The ones we’ve seen seem to me more like caricatures of what a beautiful woman should be,” says my friend Sara Bentivegna, professor of sociology at La Sapienza university in Rome. “They look like interchangeable dolls, not real women. I’m not sure Berlusconi really likes women.” He is simply the mainstay and the champion of our “maschilista” culture. On televised debates, Berlusconi’s Catholic political allies have also been trying to justify his behaviour, their arguments becoming a litmus test for our national hypocrisy. Last week Maurizio Lupi, vice-president of the lower house of parliament and a member of the Catholic group Comunione e Liberazione, stood up to defend Berlusconi. His efforts were met with exasperation from Rosi Bindi, a Democratic party MP who is accustomed to being the butt of Berlusconi’s jokes. “Lupi, stop here,” she urged. “Do it for yourself.” I, too, hope we Italians, women and men, will be able to stop here. Unfortunately, right now, we just don’t know how.   Maria Laura Rodotà is the former editor of Italian women’s magazine Amica and a columnist with Corriere della Sera

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