The smart word around Rome is that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will be on the next plane out of the country, perhaps a few days later than Hosni Mubarak. One piece of evidence: the underage Moroccan pole dancer Karima El Mahrough (a.k.a. Ruby Heart-Stealer) caught on tape just days ago, telling a friend: “It’s going to cost him dearly.”
The teenager meant that very literally, it now appears. The prosecutors in Milan have been helping the local print media (much of the electronic variety being owned by Berlusconi) to generous helpings of dirt: 5 million euros (about $7 million), Ruby informed her friends over the phone, is the going price of her silence. And Berlusconi, a multi-billionaire after all, was evidently more than willing to pay up to keep his throne. In Italy, it’s okay (even important) for a politician to fool around, but there are limits: apparently one of those limits is underage girls. Even in Italy, this is against the law.
“Ruby, I’ll cover you in gold, but it’s important that you hide everything and don’t tell anyone anything,” Berlusconi promised her. So Ruby went on Italian TV and dutifully told the world that despite being paid huge amounts by Berlusconi, “He never put a finger on me.”
Alas for the 74-year-old Italian prime minister, on the phone to her friends Ruby seems sadly deficient in the kind of discretion Berlusconi outlined. The leaks are getting daily more virulent and detailed – lurid accounts from prostitutes who have attended his soirees (“Sex with Berlusconi? I never felt a thing!”), reports of cocaine use, disgust on the part of a famous prosecutor (“Grotesque accusations: no democratic leader can behave like this!”); revocation of Berlusconi’s hard-won immunity from prosecution; treachery on the part of onetime allies.
And here’s the worst of it: Late last week, Gianfranco Fini, the leader of the neo-Fascist party, former deputy prime minister, and (alas) the shrewdest man in the legislature, materialized next to the chief rabbi of Rome and experienced what can only be described as a finely synchronized recovered memory. He had just spotted a menorah, and was completely overwhelmed. Fini’s mamma had one just like it in the house, he claimed. “I believe my grandmother, my mother’s mother, may have been Jewish. Who knows?”
This is of course depressing news for anyone who happens to be Jewish: because if true, it means, according to Jewish law, that Fini is Jewish. But more important, it is a shot across the bow, a warning to the world: Fini has leadership ambitions, serious ones, and with that coy intimation of a possible minority status, he’s hoping to erase, in the eyes of more prestigious world leaders, a giant chunk of his past.
This won’t be easy. Fini is famous for the observations, “Mussolini was the greatest Italian statesman of the 20th century” and “Fascism has a history of honesty, correctness, and good government.” However, as a former Berlusconi ally and head of the chamber of deputies, he is also a clever maneuverer, harsh on immigration, single-minded on drugs (he pushed through a law ending punitive differences between possession of marijuana and possession of heroin). He believes with all his heart that “there are times when freedom is not among the key values.”
In other words, he’s been positioning himself for quite some time as the un-Berlusconi. Maybe not this time around, but eventually: my money’s on Fini. Cool, direct, drug-averse, big on law and bigger on order. If Fini gets what he wants, you very likely won’t be reading about his soirees in the newspaper. On the other hand, there may not be any newspapers to read.