Opinion

John Lloyd

Berlusconi awaits his judgment

John Lloyd
Jul 31, 2013 17:39 UTC

FLORENCE – Waiting for the judgment on Silvio Berlusconi is more nerve-racking than waiting for Godot, but should be over sooner. The Court of Cassation, Italy’s Supreme Court, should this week confirm or deny the lower courts’ sentence on the former prime minister of four years in prison and five years of exclusion from public life. (The court’s name derives from the French casser, to break: it can “break” the judgments of the lower courts, but none can break its own.)

The case that set Berlusconi on this path was one of tax fraud by his Mediaset company. He has also been found guilty of using an underage prostitute named Karima El Mahroug — “Ruby the Heartstealer” — and of abusing his office by securing her release from prison. 

The engines of his supporters, both in his party, the People of Freedom, and in the media, have been revved up to the highest pitch these past days, as the final judgment nears. They have claimed that it is absurd that a court should impose such a heavy sentence for what was a “mistake” in a tax declaration. They have underlined again and again what has been a major trope of Berlusconi’s 20years at the top of Italian politics — that the judiciary is a nest of communists waiting for the chance to destroy him. They have said, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, that someone who has been as popular, and so often elected, as he has been should not be brought low by mere courts.

The present Italian government is a coalition between the two main parties — the left-of-center Democratic Party, and the People of Freedom. If the latter withdraws, the government — led by the Democratic Party’s Enrico Letta — falls. That is the Berlusconi camp’s main card. In an interview with La Repubblica earlier this week, the leading member of the People of Freedom and a junior minister, Michaela Biancofiore, said that chaos would ensue if he were finally found guilty. “We have,” she said, “decided in the (People of Freedom) group. We are all what we are thanks to Berlusconi and we’re grateful to him…if Silvio isn’t absolved then we will leave the government and the Parliament.”

Alessandro Sallusti, editor of the Berlusconi family newspaper Il Giornaleused his front page on Tuesday to thunder that Berlusconi was the only figure who could offer an alternative government to the left, or to a “Germany-centred Europe” — and that the “sentence on the leader of the Party of Freedom concerns the whole country and directly involves the government and the Presidency. If he is condemned then the people of the center-right will not just stand and watch” — a threat of unspecified civic disobedience. In other words, find him guilty and we reduce the state to chaos. In other words, he should be above the law.

Where is Russia headed?

John Lloyd
Jul 24, 2013 12:20 UTC

Masha Lipman, one of the great chroniclers of Russian politics, told a story at a conference I attended outside of Moscow earlier this week. It was about two scholars who, in a recent discussion about the history of Russia and the Soviet Union, fell into a savage argument. One saw the end of the Soviet Union as a tragedy, the other as a release from tyranny. So radical and bitter was the disagreement that they came to blows, an unheard of event in the generally decorous world of Russian academia. 

Lipman also noted that, in a discussion in the Duma (parliament), several deputies called for the abolition of the country’s Independence Day on June 12, established in 1990. One suggested moving the date to whenever National Day took place in the 10th century, when “Rus” was first formed — in Kiev, now the capital of Ukraine — a none too subtle way of saying that Russia was once a Slavic empire, and could be again.

Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, might agree with the deputies. It would be surprising if he did not — he is, after all, the same man who said in 2005 that the end of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.

In Britain, a summer of quiet revolution

John Lloyd
Jul 16, 2013 16:13 UTC

The British Isles are sentries in a turning world. The monarchy, pageantry, the mediaeval House of Lords, titles, accents, the established Church of England with the Queen at its head — they all give the adroit illusion of continuity and the primacy of tradition over change.

But this summer there are diverse changes modernizing the Isles. These revolutions, small and large, will not be reversed, and will contribute significantly to a redefinition of what it is to be British (and Irish). The illusions of tradition will remain, as diligently served as ever. The core is hollowing out.

These changes are not unique to these wet and windy islands. But it’s more remarkable because for many centuries Britain and its offshoots punched above their weight, making history and creating (or inventing) traditions. The French are famed for having a beautiful and mostly efficient country and for grumbling furiously about it. The British change everything all the time, and worship the old customs whose essence they have long since destroyed, or are destroying.

The vacuum on the Nile

John Lloyd
Jul 8, 2013 17:22 UTC

Egypt now lives in a political and constitutional vacuum. The present military rulers have dissolved the sole national level representative assembly, the Shura Council, and rescinded the constitution. Both, to be sure, were self-interested creations of the Muslim Brotherhood administration. But nothing has been put in their place.

There is only the military and its choice as president, the constitutional lawyer Adly Mansour. Nothing else remains. But if further tragedy — perhaps, as Russian President Vladimir Putin forecast, a civil war — is to be averted, the vacuum must soon be filled.

Putin may be right. The killing of at least 51 supporters of the Brotherhood in incidents around a barracks of the presidential guard on Sunday raises the stakes, and the temperature. The military’s contempt for the Brotherhood, whose government they had sworn to serve, is now very evident, as is their assumption of a right to dispose of the country’s politics, and to enforce order by fear.

Egypt’s repeat search for democracy

John Lloyd
Jul 3, 2013 15:03 UTC

I’ve spent the past few days walking beside and watching the largely youthful demonstrators in Egypt, and I’ve been struck with admiration that’s quickly drowned in despair. I admire them for the way they’ve rejected the creeping authoritarianism of an incompetent Muslim Brotherhood government whose only accomplishment is inserting its members or sympathizers into every part of Egyptian life that it could.

But my despair is greater than my admiration. There is no good outcome to the Egyptian “second revolution,” as the opposition wishes it to be called. The army has taken control, and may — as it says it wishes — hold the ring only until a temporary constitution is agreed upon and another election called. The Muslim Brotherhood, whose government is led by President Mohamed Mursi, may, with reluctance, acquiesce in this — though  many of its member are furious over the coup, as they rightly call it. The opposition forces may abstain from ramming what they will see as a “victory” too hard down the Brothers’ throats. These “mays” are, as this is written, be unlikely when set against various degrees of escalating conflict. But they are possible.

Yet even if all of that were to move from the conditional to the actual, the outcome would still not be good. Hatred, or at least deep distrust, between the Brotherhood and the opposition groups has increased since the weekend, as deaths — often the outcome of attacks on the Brothers’ offices — mount. These feelings are now absolute.

In Cairo, protesters challenge Mursi’s rule

John Lloyd
Jul 1, 2013 15:08 UTC

CAIRO — I’ve been in Egypt the past few days to witness the Egyptian people’s indignation at their president, Mohamed Mursi. But where best to watch? On Sunday I joined a march from a metro station in Cairo’s Heliopolis district to the presidential palace. My fellow journalist Abdallah Hassan thought Tahrir Square would be jammed full early, and that the palace would be where the real action — different from what preceded the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak two and a half years ago — would be.

It proved to be, in part. The two or three thousand of us who had debouched from metros in the early afternoon heat swelled to many tens of thousands in the evening. Marchers came from every direction, packing into the wide boulevard before the palace complex. In all of Egypt’s cities, the same scenes were repeated. It was one of the biggest, best coordinated protests of our times, much larger than those that swept out Mubarak. Reuters quoted a military source who estimated as many as 14 million turned out countrywide.

It was a party, a joy ride, an effusion of spirits. It was led by young men who went down a list of rhyming couplets while seated on the shoulders of sweating comrades. “Shout, Mursi! This is your last day!”; “We don’t want the military! We don’t want the Brotherhood!”; “Shave your face and you’re like Mubarak!”; “You spare tire! We’ll send you back to jail!” and “Look and see! The revolution, you sheep!” (They rhyme in Arabic.)

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