Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Sinister Nexus – Berlusconi and the culture of corruption. David Lane in interview.

David Lane's book Berlusconi's Shadow was to originally have been titled The Sinister Nexus, until a pragmatic intervention from the publishers put Silvio Berlusconi firmly in the spotlight. It was a reasonable change, as Berlusconi is most certainly the central character of the book, but the original title reveals the ambition of the book. &ldquoI wanted to deal with the Mafia, with corruption, and with the Justice system”, says Lane, the Italy business and finance correspondent of The Economist. &ldquoI had wanted to paint a contemporary picture of Italy, using a number of elements, like a mosaic”.

While Berlusconi is the principal character, and there is much biographical material, he doesn't actually appear in the book until the second chapter. The book starts rather with a title headed &ldquoMafia”, detailing the efforts of the Judicial system to confront Cosa Nostra, culminating in the maxi-trials, and the murders of the two leading lights in the anti-mafia struggle, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

In fact, to this reader, the book is as much an examination of the betrayal of the fight against the Mafia, and the fight against corruption, or Mani Pulite as it became known. Lane agrees to an extent: &ldquoIt's certainly one of the starting points for the book. Twelve years ago Italy had an opportunity to deal with what I consider to be two huge blots on the national scene – the Mafia and Corruption. The opening of Tangentopoli [Editor's note: A series of corruption scandals] presented an opportunity to turn over a new leaf. As we've seen from various corruption cases that are going on, that hasn't happened”.

The book is a complex argument, tracing Berlusconi's rise to financial power and influence, from his early property deals – and the financial investigations into them – through to his various interferences with the Judiciary after re-election in 2001.

The author is quick to challenge accepted notions of Berlusconi, both in the book and in conversation. When I suggest that Berlusconi's appeal to many Italians is based upon his great business sense, he counters, &ldquoI would disagree there. He has a very acute sense of grabbing the chance, and opportunity, of exploiting people and opportunities. But business sense, no. If you look at how he got into retailing [Editor's note: Berlusconi bought Italian Supermarket chain Standa in 1998] it was a terrible failure. When he has to compete in the market, he can't do it. He's someone who relies on wheeling and deeling and friendships”. How then is it that his popular image in Italy is so at odds with the evidence? &ldquoIt's a myth that he's propagated: if you control the means of information you can propagate the myth. – Lane explains – With Financial Services that was Ennio Doris's field, not Berlusconi's. Berlusconi put in the money, but it was Ennio Doris who created the success. Standa was a failure. In television there was no competition”. Of course, there was the State broadcaster RAI, but as Lane demonstrates in the book, under the political control of Bettino Craxi, RAI was continually hampered while Berlusconi consolidated his TV ownership and power. &ldquoA lot of blame can be placed at Craxi's door – says Lane with obvious distaste – He was a delinquent. He was utterly corrupt”.

Craxi, was the leader of the Socialist party and one time prime minister, who passed a number of pieces of legislation that benefitted Berlusconi and his business interests, for example promulgating a decree in 1984 to save Berlusconi's then illegal channels which magistrates in Rome, Turin and Pescara had ordered to cease broadcasting. Craxi fled Italy in the wake of Tangentopoli, to Tunisia, where he died in exile.

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