giovedì 10 aprile 2014

Berlusconi community service offers range from care work to animal welfare

The former PM, convicted of tax fraud, may be 'entrusted to social services' – and plenty want to help him redeem himself
Silvio Berlusconi
 Silvio Berlusconi will shortly find out how he will serve his tax fraud sentence. 
Photograph: Ettore Ferrari/EPA

More than eight months after he was given his first definitive conviction in the Italian courts, Silvio Berlusconi is due to find out how he will serve his one-year sentence for tax fraud.
At 77, the former prime minister is past the stage where he could be sent to prison for such a crime. So the question is whether Milan's Tribunale di sorveglianza, which is due to hear Berlusconi's case on Thursday and will have five days to issue a verdict, will opt to place him under house arrest or decide that he should be "entrusted to social services".
The billionaire media tycoon, who is still the leader of Italy's biggest centre-right party and continues to play a huge role in the country's politics, is hoping against the former because of the drastic impact it would have on his freedom of movement.
The alternative is hardly the stuff of a former statesman's dreams, though. According to the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire, probation officers in Milan have recommended that the court – should it opt for community service – order Berlusconi to work one day a week, morning or afternoon only, caring for the elderly and disabled at a home near Milan.
Such a task would surely not be too onerous for the former premier, whose only other requirements would reportedly be to be at home by 11pm every night and not leave again until 6am.
The recommendation is non-binding and the care home is far from the only place to have expressed interest in accommodating the rehabilitation needs of Italy's most famous condannato. Four would-be employers – critics and defenders of Berlusconi – have spoken to the Guardian about how they could help him on his journey of redemption.

A life of reflection

Don Antonio Mazzi has a mission for Berlusconi: "the dismantling of his 'personality'". At Exodus, an NGO that specialises in rehabilitation and reeducation programmes, the 84-year-old priest has a special programme for high-profile guests that revolves around self-reflection and "disciplined activity – as if they were normal Christians, not extraordinary people".
"They get up at 6.30am," he explains. "They do sporting activities like everyone else. Then there's breakfast and then they go and clean the bedrooms. They do five hours of work until 1pm." In the afternoons, Berlusconi would see a psychologist, or work on an obligatory journal. "The main work is reflection, a minimum amount of discipline and above all the dismantling of the 'personality' in order to let the person emerge," says Mazzi. "And it works."
A shining example of this, he says, is none other than Lele Mora, a former talent scout who was found guilty last year of procuring prostitutes for Berlusconi's bunga bunga parties. (He denies the charges and is appealing against the first-grade conviction.)
Following a previous conviction for bankruptcy fraud, the 59-year-old has been doing community service with Exodus since September 2012. Photographs have emerged in the press of a dishevelled-looking Mora gardening and manning a bric-a-brac stall in Milan.
"He comes two days a week and does voluntary work," says Mazzi. "That's why I say the system works, because he is very changed from a personal point of view. He is very committed. And those two [Mora and Berlusconi] knew each other well.
"I have to say that tranquillity, reflection and the progressive dismantling of the personality works at all ages." Including Berlusconi? "I don't know," he says, and laughs.

Learning how to become a clown

When, last year, Berlusconi was described by news outlets and a German politician as a "clown", Giovanni Savino was offended. As a real clown, he doesn't appreciate what the former prime minister has done to the profession's reputation.
Savino is the chairman of Il Tappeto di Iqbal (Iqbal's Carpet), an NGO operating in the mafia-dominated Naples neighbourhood of Barra to teach local children the art of the circus, and aims to show them an alternative path in life, or at least a social structure that is not the camorra.
He has lodged an official request for Berlusconi to be entrusted to his care for community service. "As the whole world knows him as a joker, and maybe it's the only thing he still knows how to do, he can come and tell jokes to the children of Barra," he says. "As [he] has these characteristics, it seemed to me interesting to offer him this opportunity."
Just last week, the former head of Berlusconi's old party in the region surrounding Naples, Nicola Cosentino, was arrested on suspicion of colluding with the mafia to favour his family business, allegations his lawyer has described as absurd.
For Savino the road to redemption for Berlusconi is clear. "If he used Italy for 20 years for his own purposes, for once I want it to be me who uses him for the purposes of the children of Barra," he says.

Looking after animals

In recent months a new player has emerged on the Italian political scene, and he goes by the name of Dudù. In the search for a new and susceptible electorate for Forza Italia, Berlusconi has sought to rebrand himself as a champion of animal rights, pushing new policies to help abandoned pets at the same time as posting photographs of him and Dudù, his pet dog. Whatever he makes of the new promises, Lorenzo Croce, chairman of the Italian association for the defence of animals and the environment (AIDAA), doesn't see why Berlusconi shouldn't build on them to "send a message" to the Italian public.
AIDAA has outlined three options for Berlusconi: the first would see him feeding abandoned kittens, the second working with horses, and the third with the rescued animals on a farm its runs near Milan. "To me it doesn't matter what he's done or not done. That's for the judiciary to decide," says Croce. "He is, regardless, an Italian political leader, and he could in these months dedicate his leadership to the service of something concrete." As an extra carrot, AIDAA is offering Berlusconi food, bed and bath thrown in.

Social services with the priesthood

Last August, in the days following his tax fraud conviction, Berlusconi was made an offer by Don Valentino Porcile, a priest in the north-western city of Genoa. "Will you come to serve your sentence with me?" he asked in a quietly angry letter. "I'll do you a nice little programme of socially useful services. I'll take you on a year of continuous trips … for ten hours a day to see real poverty."
Eight months later, Porcile – who, despite his criticisms, is not unsympathetic to Berlusconi and says he is the victim of a unique judicial "rage" – is still just as keen to receive him. What began as a "provocation", he says, has fused into a real desire to show not just the Forza Italia leader but all politicians the real world as it is.
"It is not just him. I think the whole political class – right, left, all of them - don't truly understand how people are living in despair," he says. "So many politicians – including on the left – do not understand how it is for people. So they should come and see how things are for people on the ground. People are not doing well. They are worn out by the crisis."

venerdì 13 dicembre 2013

Heading off the populists

  Renzi: the next prime minister?

Enrico Letta is fighting for the survival of his government

BALDING and bespectacled, Italy’s prime minister, Enrico Letta, does not immediately bring to mind a lion. But on December 11th, seeking a renewed vote of confidence from parliament, he vowed to fight like one for the survival of his government and its programme of political and economic reform. Mr Letta was testing his support after Silvio Berlusconi led most of his followers out of the governing majority last month. The prime minister won the backing of both houses, with a majority in the senate of 46 votes.
The left-right coalition is thus safe for the moment. But outside parliament the political landscape is changing rapidly and often confusingly. In little over a week, Italy has emerged from its longest post-war recession; gained a new and disturbing protest movement; lost its electoral law; and seen the start of a revolution at the top of its biggest party.
On December 10th government statisticians revised upwards their estimate of the change in GDP in the third quarter, to zero. That would make it the first three-month period since the spring of 2011 in which the economy has not shrunk. But news of the recovery, if such it proves to be, failed to impress those taking part in a burgeoning and at times violent nationwide protest by an assortment of farmers, lorry drivers, skilled workers, market stallholders, far-right activists and even some far-left militants. As Mr Letta addressed parliament, the protest was in its third day. The forconi(pitchforks) form an army of the disgruntled: hostile to globalisation and united by exasperation at the failure of Italy’s politicians to deliver any significant economic growth since the turn of the century.
The forconi’s only concrete demand is for the replacement of Italy’s entire political class, a rallying cry they share with Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement. However unrealistic, they give substance to the warnings of militant populism that Mr Letta’s predecessor, Mario Monti, repeatedly uttered to Angela Merkel and other European leaders as he tried in vain to get them to shift the emphasis of policy in the euro crisis from austerity to stimulus.
If Italy’s mainstream politicians are to retain the initiative, much will depend on the 38-year-old mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, who was elected to lead Mr Letta’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) on December 8th. His victory was even more convincing than had been predicted: he took two-thirds of the vote on a turnout of 2.9m. The moderate Mr Renzi immediately set about bringing a gust of fresh air into his party. He named a 12-strong executive, in which nine of the members are still in their 30s and seven are women. And he announced that they would hold their first meeting of the day at 7.30am.
Mr Renzi is a man in a hurry. He had been expecting to lead his party into an election next spring and was hoping for a victory that would allow him to introduce sweeping reforms in a country where stagnation has become a habit. But on December 4th the judges of the constitutional court wrong-footed him (and others) by ruling that Italy’s electoral law, passed in 2005, was unconstitutional. The judges specifically objected to a provision whereby the party or alliance that comes first is awarded bonus seats to guarantee it a majority in the lower house of parliament.
This ruling means that, unless a new law is agreed by the time Italians next go to the polls, they will have to vote with the system created by the rest of the 2005 law: an extreme form of proportional representation that is unlikely to produce a clear outcome. But agreeing a new electoral law will not be easy. Politicians have been trying unsuccessfully for years.
A compromise should still be possible. Mr Renzi, Mr Berlusconi and Mr Grillo all agree that any new law should favour progress towards a two-party democracy. But can Mr Renzi risk launching his career in national politics by stitching up a deal with, on the one hand, a right-wing leader who has just walked out of a ruling partnership with the PD and, on the other, a self-declared populist and ex-comedian whose aim is to destroy the PD (along with every other party)? Even if he can, he risks putting an end to Mr Letta’s left-right coalition in the process. The PD’s main partner is the small New Centre Right (NCD), made up of those who refused to join Mr Berlusconi in opposition. It would benefit from the current proportional system. And, notwithstanding the outcome of the confidence vote, the government is going to need the NCD to survive.

mercoledì 27 novembre 2013


Silvio Berlusconi

IT WAS Italian politics at its most extravagantly theatrical. Inside the Senate on November 27th as it prepared to vote on Silvio Berlusconi’s expulsion, some of his party’s female lawmakers appeared dressed in widow’s black. Outside, the former prime minister told a noisy (but notably modest) rally of his supporters that it was a “day of mourning for democracy”.
Ignoring the histrionics, a majority in the upper house defeated a string of motions intended to block Mr Berlusconi’s removal following his conviction in August for tax fraud. As a result, Italy’s longest-serving prime minister since the second world war, a man who has dominated the public life of his country for more than 20 years, no longer has parliamentary immunity. One of Mr Berlusconi’s many lawyers, Franco Coppi, said the idea his client might go to jail was “unreal”. Unlikely, perhaps. But no longer impossible.
The day before the vote, Mr Berlusconi’s partynewly relaunched under its old name of Forza Italia! (“Come on Italy”) abandoned Enrico Letta’s coalition government and voted against the 2014 budget (though without blocking it). Italy now has a left-right opposition to go with its left-right government: the opposition already included the radical Left, Ecology and Freedom (SEL) party, the Northern League and the Five Star Movement (M5S), led by an ex-comedian, Beppe Grillo, who claims it is neither left nor right.
Before his expulsion, Mr Berlusconi did all he could to avoid it. He urged President Giorgio Napolitano to grant him a pardon; beseeched the senators of the left and M5S to rethink their support for his removal so they would not one day feel “ashamed in front of [their] children”; warned that the demonstration on the day of the vote would be “just the beginning” and demanded a re-trial, claiming to have vital new evidence and seven new witnesses (his lawyers said later there were even more).
Why such desperation? Mr Berlusconi himself acknowledged that the Senate could remove him from parliament, but not from politics. Mr Grillo has shown the way: he too was convicted of a criminal offence (manslaughter arising from a road accident) and is not a member of the legislature. Yet he still exerts a decisive influence on the M5S from outside.
The former prime minister’s efforts to remain in parliament suggest that, unlike his lawyer, he feels the threat of jail is anything but unreal. Though given a four-year sentence for the tax fraud, he did not go to prison for various reasons. He benefited from a pardon that wiped three years off sentences for offences committed before 2006. He is a first-time offender. And he is over the age of 70. But neither of the first two factors will apply if he is convicted again. Mr Berlusconi is appealing against a seven-year sentence for paying an underage prostitute and then taking advantage of his position as prime minister at the time to cover up their relationship. He is due to go on trial again next year charged with bribing a senator to change sides in parliament.
An even greater threat for Mr Berlusconi is that he is under investigation for suspected perversion of the course of justice and could soon be made a suspect in another inquiry. In Italy, the risk of being flung in jail while under investigation or awaiting trial is considerable: according to the latest comparable figures, the proportion of prisoners on remand was the highest in Europe after Turkey and some micro-states. The Berlusconi story, which has bewitched Italians for more than 20 years, is far from over.
(Photo credit: AFP)

venerdì 30 agosto 2013

Silvio Berlusconi - Time to leave

Aug 9th 2013

OUR correspondents discuss the impact of Silvio Berlusconi’s conviction and whether Italy's leaders will be able to move the country forward

domenica 25 agosto 2013

ITALY love it or leave it


Italy Love it or Leave it
Tuscan fields, bel canto arias, slow food and movie stars are some of the images synonymous with one of the world’s most adored cultures. Yet many of filmmakers Luca Regazzi and Gustav Hofer’s disenchanted friends have recently emigrated from Italy. Before following suit, the Italian couple decides to take a six-month road trip across the country to investigate the extent to which current realities outweigh the icons of la dolce vita. Throughout their exploration they witness multiple examples of staggering corruption, an increasingly lower standard of living, environmental hazards and intransigent fanaticism. Simultaneously, however, they encounter loyal crusaders who feel unequivocally compelled to make their homeland a better place. In an astute manner and with quirky Felliniesque animation, the film further tantalizes us with Italy’s glorious past and future potential. Will the pair decide to leave or stay? Their journey tells it all.


Organised crime in Italy

Brave mayors lose heart in the battle against the mob

                                                                  Elisabetta Tripodi: last woman standing
ASK Elisabetta Tripodi if she is starting to feel lonely, and she replies, “A little.” Ms Tripodi is mayor of Rosarno, one of Italy’s most mafia-ridden towns. She was one of three female local-authority chiefs in the southern region of Calabria who won nationwide attention for their courage in defying the ’Ndrangheta, an organised-crime group that began locally and spread internationally. (It controls much of the transatlantic cocaine trade.)
The most serious threat to Ms Tripodi was subtler. Six months after taking office, she received a letter from a jailed ’Ndrangheta “godfather” complaining she had evicted his mother from an illegally built house. Chillingly, it was written on council stationery. She has lived ever since under police guard. At a meeting with the three women last month, Laura Boldrini, speaker of the Chamber of Deputies in Rome, said: “You wanted and want to do normal things. But in certain areas what is normal is considered extraordinary—so extraordinary as to be perceived as unacceptable.” Ms Tripodi, who is halfway through her mandate, says: “I consider it an achievement to have got this far. Everyone was ready to bet I’d give up after six months.”
The experience of these mayors has been typical of individuals and groups who take a stand against organised crime in Italy: three steps forward, followed by two back. But it shows that popular resistance to organised crime is growing. Until recently, this resistance was largely confined to Sicily. One of the first initiatives there was Addio Pizzo, an association founded in Palermo by four young people who wanted to run a bar without funding Cosa Nostra (the movement takes its name from pizzo, the slang word for an extorted payment). Its website has a searchable directory of its member organisations: shops, bars and restaurants whose owners refuse to pay up and shut up. That is easier said than done on an island where an estimated 70% of commercial establishments hand over a proportion of their earnings to the Mafia.
One that does not is the Antica Focacceria di San Francesco, which sells traditional Sicilian street food in eight Italian cities and at Fiumicino airport, near Rome. It began its expansion to offset losses it suffered in Palermo after its owners, the Conticello brothers, fingered the mobsters who had tried to extort them. They allied with Feltrinelli, a publishing house with left-wing roots which hosts the bakery’s outlets in many of its bookshops. Feltrinelli now owns 95% of the company and in January took a majority holding in the original Focacceria in Palermo. “We tried to hold out, for sentimental as well as economic reasons,” said Vincenzo Conticello. “But the recession forced our hand, along with the threats from the Mafia.”

venerdì 9 agosto 2013

L’Italia giusta v political expediency

Silvio Berlusconi’s criminal conviction could yet bring down the government

Aug 10th 2013 

“IS THIS the Italy we love? Is this the Italy we want? Absolutely not,” exclaimed Silvio Berlusconi in an angry nine-minute video message on August 2nd. A day earlier Italy’s supreme court had sentenced the former prime minister to four years in jail, of which three will be lopped off thanks to an amnesty introduced in 2006. Pleading his innocence, Mr Berlusconi implored his followers “to continue to fight for freedom”.
Mr Berlusconi showed not the slightest contrition, only fury towards the judges who had, in his view, repaid his hard work for Italy over the past 20 years with a prison sentence. In fact, Mr Berlusconi is unlikely to spend a single day in prison, as Italian courts rarely jail first offenders with a year or less to serve. They also hardly ever impose community service on those over the age of 70, and Mr Berlusconi has already announced that he would rather go to jail than do any. He will most probably be put under house arrest, which in his case could mean being cloistered in a luxurious villa in Sardinia or a palatial home in Arcore, near Milan.
However light his sentence, the media-mogul-turned-politician has been humiliated. He did not expect this: although he has been tried more than a dozen times, and found guilty in lower courts, he was always acquitted on appeal or saved when the time to prosecute him ran out. Now he is a convicted criminal. His passport has been taken. He will be subject to police checks. And he will be supervised by a magistrate, who will decide when and how often he can leave his residences. Under an anti-corruption law passed by the government of Mario Monti in 2012, he will be banned from running for elected office for at least six years. “Berlusconi does not have any future in Italian politics,” says Gianni Riotta, a journalist.
The immediate future of the Cavaliere, as he is universally known, in active politics has not been decided yet. The judges of the supreme court upheld an instantaneous ban on Mr Berlusconi holding public office, but asked an appeals court in Milan to examine again how long it should last. The decision will then need to be ratified by the upper house of parliament, the Senate, of which Mr Berlusconi is a member. The vote will probably take place in mid-September, after the sacrosanct summer holidays.
As a blocking power, Mr Berlusconi will continue to play a pivotal role in politics. The left-right coalition government led by Enrico Letta depends on the votes of Mr Berlusconi’s party, the People of Freedom (PdL) movement. The former prime minister is still surprisingly popular. According to a survey after the supreme court’s verdict by IPR Marketing, 30% of those polled still trust Mr Berlusconi compared with 47% for Mr Letta and 55% for Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence, a rising political star. And 27.5% would vote for the PdL compared with 26% for Mr Letta’s Democratic Party (PD) and 19% for the Five Star movement led by Beppe Grillo, a comedian who has taken to politics.
The vote in the Senate on whether to kick out Mr Berlusconi represents an unenviable dilemma for the PD. “What keeps the PD together is the opposition to Berlusconi, the fight for l’Italia giusta [a just Italy]”, says Duncan McDonnell at the European University Institute in Florence. Voting with the PdL senators, who are likely to remain loyal to their leader, against the ratification of the ban so as to save Mr Letta’s government would mean voting against their conscience for nearly all PD senators.
Mr Berlusconi’s legal troubles will thus divide an already fractious political party. The PD needs a new leader, a new slogan (l’Italia giusta will not work any more), a new programme and a new coalition, says Mr Riotta. The party has a temporary leader, Guglielmo Epifani, because its previous boss resigned after bungling the presidential election this year. The popular Mr Renzi is the most likely winner of the leadership elections that will take place in the autumn.
With its boss likely soon to be under house arrest, the PdL needs a new leader, too. Perhaps to mark a new chapter, Mr Berlusconi announced that his party would revert to calling itself Forza Italia, its original name. Who will be his successor? Mr Berlusconi has omitted to groom anyone. The fortunes of Mr Berlusconi’s erstwhile crown prince, Angelino Alfano, seem to have faded. Attention is now increasingly turning to a crown princess, Mr Berlusconi’s daughter, Marina, who chairs Fininvest, the family’s holding company, as well as Mondadori, its publishing arm. Ms Berlusconi has repeatedly denied any ambition in politics and has no political experience, but she was the only one of Mr Berlusconi’s five children who went to Rome to wait with him for the supreme court’s verdict. She also attended a meeting of party leaders.
With the governing coalition divided and fragile, Italy is likely to return to the polls again at some point in the next eight months. Mr Letta has made a promising start, but his reforms proceed at a snail’s pace mainly because he has so little room for manoeuvre. He needs to use Mr Renzi’s popularity to his advantage and make him his ally in the next electoral battle.
Meanwhile the future of the PdL is up in the air. It is a personal party without grass-roots support. A few thousand supporters of Mr Berlusconi at a rally in front of his palazzo in Rome on August 4th were allegedly bused in from southern towns, lured with the promise of a free trip to Rome. Ms Berlusconi offers perhaps its only chance of survival, even though some PdL grandees dislike any talk of a dynastic succession.
Giorgio Napolitano, the president, who handpicked Mr Letta as prime minister, is unhappy with the status quo. He is being lobbied hard to pardon Mr Berlusconi. Yet Mr Napolitano has already said that the judges’ verdict must stand. If PD senators are as principled as the president, the autumn will be even hotter than the scorching summer.