Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Sep 23 12:07:45 MDT 2003

NY Times, Sept. 23, 2003
A Shocking Award to Berlusconi (2 Letters)

To the Editor:

Re "Jewish Group to Honor Friend It Calls 'Flawed' " (news article, 
Sept. 19):

On Tuesday, the Anti-Defamation League plans to hold a dinner for Prime 
Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy to present him with its 
Distinguished Statesman Award. This is shocking to anyone who knows Mr. 
Berlusconi's controversial history.

Most recently, Mr. Berlusconi was in the news for his comments about 
Benito Mussolini. "That was a much more benign dictatorship," Mr. 
Berlusconi was quoted as saying. "Mussolini did not murder anyone. 
Mussolini sent people on holiday to internal exile."

This is not true; Mussolini was responsible for the deaths of many 
political opponents, Partisans and Jews. He persecuted Jews with his 
racial laws and, during World War II, was responsible for the 
deportation of almost 7,000 Jews, who died in Nazi camps.

Mr. Berlusconi has apologized to Italian Jews for his statements. This 
is not enough; he has not apologized to Italians generally.

Apparently, the A.D.L. is giving Mr. Berlusconi its award because of his 
support of Israel and of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. But support of 
Israel should not be sufficient. In this case, it is bad for the Jews, 
bad for Italy, bad for the United States and even bad for Israel.

Cambridge, Mass., Sept. 22, 2003
The writers, emeritus professors at M.I.T., are Nobel laureates in 
economics. The letter was also signed by four other professors at M.I.T. 
and Harvard.


To the Editor:

Re "Jewish Group to Honor Friend It Calls 'Flawed' " (news article, 
Sept. 19):

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy met in Rome on Wednesday with 
representatives of the Jewish community. He apologized for his comment 
that Benito Mussolini was a benign dictator and expressed regret for the 
pain it caused the Jewish community. His apology was accepted.

Associate National Director
Anti-Defamation League
New York, Sept. 19, 2003


NY Review of Books, Volume 50, Number 15 · October 9, 2003

Italy: The Family Business
By Alexander Stille
Italy and Its Discontents: Family, Civil Society, State, 1980-2001
by Paul Ginsborg
Palgrave Macmillan, 521 pp., $35.00

"The Patrimonial Ambitions of Silvio B"
by Paul Ginsborg
New Left Review 21, May–June 2003

The Dark Heart of Italy: Travels Through Time and Space Across Italy
by Tobias Jones
London: Faber and Faber, 266 pp., £16.99
A revised edition will be published in the US by Farrar, Straus and 
Giroux in June 2004.

On January 26, 1994, Silvio Berlusconi —the country's richest man, owner 
of a vast real estate, publishing, financial, and media empire—appeared 
simultaneously on the three private TV networks he owns and announced 
that he was founding a new political party and running for prime 
minister. Berlusconi's sudden appearance in the living rooms of most 
Italians, commandeering the airwaves for what sounded like a 
presidential address, created the bizarre sensation that he was somehow 
already prime minister even though the campaign was just beginning. It 
began to seem inevitable that he would be elected, and he was.

Instead of creating a million jobs as he promised in his first campaign 
for prime minister, Berlusconi seemed more interested in taking over the 
state broadcasting system. As evidence of systematic bribery of 
officials and political payoffs by some of his companies emerged, 
Berlusconi began to dedicate much of his energies to trying to derail an 
investigation into his corrupt practices, including paying off judges in 
a civil case involving a corporate takeover. His fractious coalition 
fell apart; he was indicted on bribery charges and his government fell 
after only eight months.

Although he had to wait more than six years to return as prime minister, 
Berlusconi was not really out of power. His party, Forza Italia (Go, 
Italy!), a name taken from the soccer slogan chanted at Italy's national 
soccer games, remained the largest party in parliament and he has 
continued to expand his power base, protecting his monopoly of 
television, weakening the Italian judiciary, and remaining Italy's most 
visible, audible, and powerful politician, not least by personally 
employing thousands of Italians who help him achieve his political 

For example, fifty deputies elected to parliament on Berlusconi's 
original Forza Italia list in 1994 worked for his advertising company, 
Publitalia, while dozens of others were employed by other Berlusconi 
companies or owed their livelihood to him in one way or another, working 
as lawyers, consultants, television stars, or journalists, or holding 
contracts as contributors to his vast network of newspapers, magazines, 
and TV stations. Those of Berlusconi's associates who were at greatest 
risk of winding up in jail in the various investigations into his 
business dealings were elected to parliament so that they could enjoy 
immunity from arrest. Few of them, busy with their outside jobs, 
bothered to show up at the meetings of the national assembly—until their 
trials began, at which point they claimed they needed to attend every 
session of parliament as a way of dragging out court proceedings by years.

In his first government, Berlusconi appointed as minister of the budget 
Giulio Tremonti, his own corporate tax attorney, who drafted a law that 
gave Berlusconi's companies a tax write-off of 250 billion lire (then 
about $150 million). The law was supposedly designed to encourage new 
investment, but Berlusconi's company Fininvest—now called 
Mediaset—simply shifted its assets from one Berlusconi company to 
another. When the write-off was challenged, Tremonti insisted that it 
was entirely consistent with the law he had written.

All these people, in a country in which being a member of parliament is 
itself an extremely lucrative sinecure, are acutely aware of owing their 
good fortune to the generosity and power of the supreme leader. "To 
personalize the [2001] campaign Berlusconi insisted that his should be 
the only face on Forza Italia's" campaign posters, Paul Ginsborg writes 
in his excellent new book, Italy and Its Discontents:

"His face was everywhere—on huge roadside posters, in the atriums of 
railway stations, on election bunting running down whole streets, as in 
the popular quarters of Naples. Forza Italia candidates were instructed 
not to put their own faces on posters, but always that of their leader.
This was a radical change for a country which, after the fall of 
Fascism, had a fragmented political system in which the country's 
several parties mattered more than personalities."



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