Last night, Silvio Berlusconi was a guest at the Italian TV programme “Servizio Pubblico” (Public Service), aired by private TV channel LA7. The show had been long awaited, for several reasons: above all, because the host of the show, Michele Santoro, and Berlusconi have an on-going row that started many years ago. Santoro is one of the victims of the so-called “Editto Bulgaro”, a statement that Berlusconi made in 2002 while he was in Bulgaria about three Italian TV personalities who, according to him, had made a “criminal use” of public television. When used by Berlusconi, the phrase “criminal use” simply means that those three people, namely comedian Daniele Luttazzi and journalists Enzo Biagi and Michele Santoro, had said unpleasant truths about Berlusconi or had criticised him too much. Following the “Editto Bulgaro”, Berlusconi sued RAI, the Italian public television, and Michele Santoro was fired (but then reinstated after he won his cause for unfair dismissal).
The idea of Berlusconi and Santoro facing each other was exciting enough; furthermore, among the guests there was also Marco Travaglio (fyi, my favourite Italian journalist). Travaglio is famous for being extremely well-informed about almost everything; it’s like he has a database in his head. Above all, he knows EVERYTHING, and I really mean everything, about Berlusconi’s connections and about his trials. Travaglio is also known for his sarcastic and critical tone, and for targeting Berlusconi more often than not (I personally disagree: some people claim that, if it weren’t for Berlusconi, Travaglio would be unemployed; but those who regularly read his articles know that Travaglio has been, and still is, extremely critical even towards Monti).
Journalists Marco Travaglio and Michele Santoro
The show was followed by 9 millions Italians. Everyone was wondering what would happen: would they fight? Would Berlusconi leave before the end? What would Berlusconi say to Travaglio?
The first part of the show was going relatively well. Berlusconi was simply being himself. He resorted to all his old favourite topics: when he was in charge the Italian economy was doing extremely well; he never paid a woman to have sex, it’s just that he is very very generous; all the people he knows who are charged with Mafia ties are innocent and are actually really nice guys; and (my favourite one), the evil plotting Communists, who always pop up when he has to blame someone for every single thing that is wrong in the world. So, just what we could have expected from him.
Things started to go very wrong after Travaglio talked. He made what I regard as a beautiful speech about not so much Berlusconi’s mistakes, but about his lacks when he was PM: he could have used all his years and his power to defeat the Mafia, but he didn’t; he could have fought fiscal evasion, but he didn’t; he could have taught the respect for the laws and the Constitution, but all he did was trying to change them to his advantage.
After this, Berlusconi wanted to read a letter to reply to Travaglio’s; a letter that, he specified, he didn’t even write himself. The letter was simply a list of all the civil cases in which Travaglio has been involved over the years; Berlusconi actually called him a “professional calumniator”. At this stage, Santoro started yelling that Berlusconi was just wasting the show’s time. After trying to reply, Berlusconi, who was sitting in Travaglio’s spot, got up to go back to his seat, which was at the moment occupied by Travaglio.
When Travaglio got up, before sitting down, Berlusconi did the most offensive thing of the all show: he pretended to clean up the chair where Travaglio had been sitting.
And, when Santoro told him off angrily, Berlusconi replied: “You can’t even take a joke”. That's the man who represented our country for almost 20 years. A minute's silence, please.
Today, reading hundreds of comments about the show, I understand that many people think that Berlusconi came out as the “winner” of the debate, while Santoro was “pathetic” for yelling and just playing Berlusconi’s game. Personally, I don’t know if the show will make Berlusconi lose or gain votes; I think that Berlusconi was just being as he has always been: telling his same old lies and looking like he actually believes them.
I’ll be partial now, because as I mentioned I really admire Travaglio, but I think that he came out as the actual winner, as he showed more class than Santoro and Berlusconi combined: he did not yell, he stayed calm and simply replied: “Clearly I’m not a criminal, because if I were, you (=Berlusconi) would have, to the very least, appointed me as President of the Senate”.
For those who understand Italian, at this link you can see the whole show: http://www.serviziopubblico.it/
I only include the video of Berlusconi cleaning Travaglio’s chair, just to show that I did not make that up. You really don't need to speak Italian to get what's going on. He certainly is the one and only political leader in the world who could do such a thing and not even surprise anyone… Political absurdity, made in Italy.