Three Monkeys Online

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

If legal avenues can't stop Lane's book, there's always the tried and tested smear. When faced with the critical Economist articles, while taking the publication to court, Berlusconi also brushed off their criticism's as part of a wider left wing plot against him. Lane finds this tactic partly ridiculous (&ldquoThe Economist is so right wing. It's been an arch supporter of Bush and the war in Iraq. To say that it's a bunch of crazed lefties is a lie and total nonsense”), and also an example of the dangers of concentrated media ownership: ”One of the things that I find so worrying about Berlusconi's control of the media and information is that of course, most Italians get their news from television. Most Italians, like people everywhere, are caught up in the daily grind of getting to work, taking the kids to school, going shopping, facing the traffic, etc. It means that news isn't taken from the newspapers as much as it is from the television. This means that to an extent he can control what people think. Television, which is the main channel of information for the vast majority of Italians, is not putting out the picture which would allow Italians to make informed decisions of what's going on.

We can laugh off the conspiracy theory propounded by Berlusconi in the face of his critics, but in the fiercely partisan world of Italian politics it may count for something. Lane is though an honest broker, being equally scathing about the Italian left. When I ask him that $64 million question – why do Italians vote for Berlusconi – he jumps straight in: &ldquoLet's lay the blame firstly where it should be laid, at the door of the Centre Left. I think the Centre left, in power between ’96 and 2001 was a disgrace. There was petty infighting, the leaders behaved like primadonnas. Bertinotti and D’Alema cannot be excused for the way they sank the Prodi government. I've heard that D'Alema and various figures were delighted when the Prodi Government fell. What did they want? Did they want Berlusconi back in power? By their behaviour one would have to say that they did”. And of course, Berlusconi's position and power have not come without complacency and collaboration from the Centre Left: ”Their gross failure to deal with broadcasting and the media, their failure to deal with this enormous conflict of interest, their failure to deal with the Justice system have all played a part. You might say that the overriding interest was to get the Lira into the Euro system, and that's the only excuse that I can see. There's no excuse on the part of Bertinotti and D'Alema for the sinking of the Prodi government”.

Not even Romano Prodi, the outgoing President of the European Commission, escapes Lane's scathing criticism: &ldquoThe idea that you have had a sitting President of the European Commission, in the person of Romano Prodi, engaging in domestic politics is I think scandalous. It just shows that Italian public figures just don't know how to behave. It's not a big story, as people are used to disgraceful behaviour by their political leaders”.

His book has been widely reviewed in England, receiving high praise, as well as criticism from some predictable quarters: ”There's been ferocious criticism from the Murdoch press, which isn't really that surprising. One plus one makes Rupert Murdoch and Newscorp. Rupert Murdoch and Silvio Berlusconi make private television”. It's interesting to see a Murdoch response to a book on Berlusconi. There are plenty of people who would see Murdoch as a far more dangerous character than Berlusconi, but Lane points out an important distinction, a distinction that is perhaps at the heart of the book: &ldquoFortunately, Murdoch can't make laws whereas Berlusconi can. He's made laws that have suited him directly”. As if sensing my coming objection to this analysis, he continues, “You might say that Blair can, but I don't think the British public would let him get away with it. I don't think Parliament or the Labour Party would let him”. Given the performance of Blair, Parliament and the Labour Party over the last two years one could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps this smacks of naivety.

The core of the book focusses on the attacks from Italy's political classes on the Magistrature. Lane fairly calls the attempts by the centre left to reform the legal system a &ldquodisaster”. What does he make then of the current controversial attempts to reform the Magistrature? Isn't there a valid case to say, as Berlusconi does, that the system in Italy isn't working, and desperately needs to be reformed? &ldquoI think they've got the wrong end of the stick. I think they need to reform the criminal justice procedures rather than the Judiciary. What they're going for instead is a vindictive campaign against the Judiciary, which will do nothing to speed up the criminal justice process in Italy, in fact it will probably delay it. Things will get worse”.

Lane speaks with an evident passion on the topic of the legal reform, and the heroes of the book are without doubt the magistrates that have placed themselves in the front line of the fight against corruption and organised crime. &ldquoI got to know quite a few magistrates in Palermo, Rome, Milan and Turin and the work that both the anti-corruption magistrates and the anti-mafia magistrates had done, – he explains – and it seems to me that there's been a betrayal of the enormous service that they have rendered or tried to render to the country”. In the face of ongoing political pressure against the Judiciary in Italy, Lane has little sympathy for Berlusconi and Rocco Buttiglione and his rejection by the European Parliament: &ldquoPeople elsewhere in Europe have every right to be suspicious and doubtful of politicians of Berlusconi's government. I think it's reasonable that they should ask 'what sort of people are they?'. I think after the actions of Berlusconi in relation to the Judicial system in Italy, that the idea of sending Buttiglione to look after Justice in Europe is frankly outrageous”.

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