Bad day for Berlusconi as women turn on him


IT WAS yet another Italian weekend of massive anti-Berlusconi protests involving, according to the organisers, more than one million people in 230 cities in Italy and in 30 capitals worldwide.

To the slogan of “If Not Now, When?”, crowds of mostly women gathered to express their sense of outrage and indignation at the “shame” brought on Italy and Italian women by the involvement of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in the “Rubygate” sex scandal.

Berlusconi (74) stands accused of “exploitation of underage prostitution” and of “abuse of office”.

It was a day when the broad political spectrum of this spontaneous, non-party political movement was all too obvious.

In Rome, for example, the packed crowed in central Piazza del Popolo was addressed in turn by a trade unionist, a Catholic nun, an actress, a writer and a right-wing lawyer, all of them united behind the words of the huge banner that had earlier been unfurled behind the stage, exclaiming: “We Want A Country That Respects Women”.

Marco Tarquinio, editor of L’Avvenire, the daily paper run by the Italian bishops, had set the tone by writing in an editorial that “if I were a woman, I would be in the piazza today”.

Completing the broad socio-cultural sweep of those present was a delegation from the Committee for the Civil Rights of Prostitutes.

It was a day, too, when the anti-Berlusconi banner writers were out in full force – “Kick Him Out”, and “Big Chief Flaccid Ass, Resign”, were just some which featured in Piazza del Popolo.

Giulia Bongiorno, a lawyer from the right wing Freedom and Liberty party, complained about the grotesque way in which Berlusconi’s “sexy” parties end up becoming a casting couch for a future career in his People of Freedom Party.

She had been preceded by Susanna Camusso, leader of Italy’s leftist confederated trade union CGIL, who struck a similar note when calling on Italian women to “break our silence” and to stop pretending that “we don’t see”, alluding also to the fact that Mr Berlusconi is accused of “exploitation of underage prostitution”.

“We want a country that respects women,” Ms Camusso said. “I would like a country where everyone was equal in the eyes of the law, I would like a country where, when you talk about minors, you thinks of studies, of sport, of the future . . . I would like a country where when you say ‘sex’, this does not mean the attribution of a job in politics”.

At another huge demonstration in Milan, the biggest cheer of the day was reserved for leftist leader and leading gay activist Nichi Vendola of the Left and Liberty party, one of the very few men who addressed yesterday’s meetings.

“Today represents a mortal blow against Berlusconismo,” Mr Vendola said. “Today is a very special day when all over Italy, hundreds of thousands of women have refused to obey the political/cultural role model which argues that relations between men and women are based on a male chauvinist code in which women are only trophies, chased after by predatory chauvinist males sick with their own sense of omnipotence.”

At the same Milan protest, Nobel Prize winner and playwright Dario Fo said: “Berlusconi is in our hearts, to the extent that he breaks them . . . I have often seen people who judged the quality of their life by the number of women surrounding them and for whose favours they often paid with public money. That is exactly what Berlusconi does”.

Yesterday’s protests followed anti-Berlusconi demonstrations in more than 30 Italian cities last Saturday, organised by the “Purple People” web-driven movement.

However, also on Saturday, more than 1,500 people attended a pro-Berlusconi Milan meeting convened by the journalist and former Berlusconi minister Giuliano Ferrara, under the illuminating title “Knickers Day”.

Just to round off a thoroughly rum weekend for the prime minister were reports that relations with state president Giorgio Napolitano have become so strained that the president has threatened to dissolve parliament if the political climate remains one of bitter polemics.