Berlusconi: will women prove his downfall?

The Italian Prime Minister faces trial on vice charges. He’s a controversial figure who’s escaped the courts before. But will this be his final bow?

‘I am the Jesus Christ of politics,’ said Silvio Berlusconi. ‘I am a patient victim, I put up with everyone, I sacrifice myself for everyone.’

But while he thinks he’s a messiah, others regard Italy’s Prime Minister as a corrupt political Houdini. He now faces trial for sex with an under-age prostitute, and they’re keen he doesn’t escape again.

‘Women are not considered in the right way in Italy,’ said one of the million women protesters on the streets this weekend. They were there to register opposition to their country’s longest-serving post-war Prime Minister and to defend the dignity of women.

Aware of the many sex scandals that have surrounded Berlusconi, and the now infamous ‘bunga-bunga’ parties he paid for, one poster simply said ‘Italy is not a brothel.’

Known for his hair transplant and the plastic surgery around his eyes, this perma-tanned and wrinkle-free 74 year old once said ‘Better to like beautiful girls than to be gay.’

But it is the beautiful Karima el-Mahroug (aka Ruby the Heartstealer) who may finally bring down this political survivor. He is charged with paying for sex with her when she was 17, which is illegal in Italy.

This is not a new allegation. Veronica Lario, his second wife, announced in 2009 that she was divorcing him, saying ‘I cannot stay with a man who frequents minors.’

Berlusconi claims he loves women; and in the country dubbed ‘the land feminism forgot,’ it has been the working-class middle-aged women who have kept him in power, with Berlusconi the self-styled Latin lover.

But now he faces a different sort of woman, for on April 6th, when his trial starts, all three of the judges are female. As a Catholic weekly magazine said, ‘So the verdict is in the hands of three ladies. The word that comes immediately to mind is ‘nemesis’.’

Decision day
In a recent poll, 61% of Italians thought Berlusconi should resign, while 33% wished him to stay. Berlusconi is a wounded beast – but even wounded he remains a formidable opponent.

He may have started life selling vacuum cleaners, crooning in nightclubs and on cruise ships, but he has since become one of Italy’s richest men.

The business empire of this billionaire includes advertising, construction and Mediaset, the country’s largest media outlet. He also owns AC Milan football club.

He calls himself ‘the most persecuted man in the world’, and has survived 106 court cases in the last 20 years. Will he survive the 107th? Let the women decide.

You Decide

  1. ‘A prime minister’s sex life is his or her own business.’ Do you agree?
  2. The prime minister in Italy is called ‘The second most important person after the Pope.’ Who would you prefer as your leader – Berlusconi or the Pope?

Activities

  1. Create some banners/images/slogans/poems to take on a protest march about Berlusconi, for or against.
  2. Italy is called a ‘matriarchal society’ in which strong women rule in the home. Is this a form of power? Or is economic power the only true indicator? Write a short piece answering the question: ‘What makes someone powerful?’

Some People Say...

“Countries get the leaders they deserve.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why was Italy called ‘the land feminism forgot’?
A report on the economic gender gap put the country 74th out of 134, below the likes of Malawi and Kazakhstan. Apart from Malta, Italy, with 46%, has the lowest proportion of working women in Europe.
Is Berlusconi to blame?
Not on his own, but he doesn’t help. He insists on beauty queens being part of his government, and told the New York Stock Exchange to invest in Italy as a land of ‘beautiful secretaries.’
He’s faced 106 court battles before this one?
Accusations of embezzlement, tax fraud and false accounting. But this is the first one to involve his personal behaviour.
And will he have to resign before the court case?
No, Italian law allows the PM to remain in office while in the dock. But then he may face up to 15 years in prison.

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