He called himself the best leader in Europe, even in the world: but he was, by quite a way, the worst (in Europe at least: the rest of the world offers more competition). In part, this was due to the sheer force of his personality: if, to adapt his favored slogan, he gave little Forza to Italia, there was much Forza in Silvio.
Prime Minister (still) Berlusconi was the Boss, in every sense. He commanded his party, his coalition of the right and his governments through the power of his money and his media – but also because he had the strength of will to project himself, unceasingly, on his country and the theatrical chutzpah to make of his private life a fascinating public spectacle. He refused to bow to the customary rules of protocol, decorum or correctness of any kind. He was a man in full in the sense the novelist Tom Wolfe used it in his novel of that name: having achieved great success, he gloried in it, and wished others to see his glory.
Let us not say that the woes of Italy are due only to him, for that would be to believe that his promised resignation would end the crisis – in Italy, in Europe and the world. The productive base of the country had been, unusually for a West European economy, too long bound up in textiles, furniture, footwear and other medium technology goods which the Eastern powerhouses often do as well and more cheaply.
Its northern engineering companies often remain world class, but with increasing difficulty. Even Fiat, greatly re-energized by the forza of Sergio Marchionne, the Canadian-Italian chief executive, has a huge challenge to turn its Chrysler subsidiary around in the U.S., and to raise efficiency in its remaining plants in Italy – where its large market share depends heavily on the brilliantly-designed, but low profit, Pandas and Cinquecentos.
Its wealth has always lain very much with its creative and lively people; but their numbers are declining fast, and immigration, about which many Italians are at best ambiguous, hasn’t made up for the loss. Organized crime hasn’t been substantially reduced; on the contrary, according to its bold chronicler, Roberto Saviano, author of Gomorrah now living under constant police guard, it is spreading from south to north.