By Aaron James Creuz
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is known for his controversial political practices, was under scrutiny by Simona Wright, professor of Italian at the College, during last Thursday’s politics forum in the Business Building lounge.
“Berlusconi is the single biggest threat to European freedom,” Wright said. Berlusconi is Italy’s third richest man and second longest serving prime minister.
From his start as a Milan real estate developer with backing from a Swiss company, questions have surfaced over the legality of his business practices and possible organized crime connections.? “When (Berlusconi) encounters a law that stands in his way, he has it changed,” Wright said.
According to Wright, after regulations on monopolies and television prevented him from creating the media empire he desired, Berlusconi “befriended” then Prime Minister Benedetto Craxi. Soon enough, the government agencies in conflict with Berlusconi were subdued. As Berlusconi continued to gain wealth and control, he purchased a portion of the largest investment bank in Italy and was granted entry into the circles of the Italian social and business elite. ? Wright said Berlusconi made his decision to enter politics only after investigations were launched into his possibly fraudulent accounts. This way, Wright continued, he could control not only the media but the legal system as well. Using his connections, Berlusconi united the secessionist northern party, Lega Nord, and the neo-fascist southern party, Alleanza Nazionale, to create the People of Freedom Movement. Wright explained that by running on a platform of lower taxes and higher employment, Berlusconi has been able to maintain his successful political career. ? Wright said the Italian prime minister has even gone so far as to have several of his lawyers elected to Parliament positions to help him control the writing and amending of laws.
Then there is the legge bavaglio, or “gag law.” Under this legislation, the government can silence any journalists they deem unacceptable. Foremost among these are those who speak out against the Prime Minister and question the legality of his actions, Wright said.
“In Italy, judges and other members of the judicial system have been hailed by citizens and national media outlets as heroes,” Wright said, citing attempts to stop the gag order and see that free speech is returned.
“In his own party, disagreement over the act has caused division and mistrust leading to disunity,” she said. As a result, many, including Wright herself, are predicting the political end for Berlusconi and his party after the next election when the people of Italy can vote him out of office.