Rome, the “eternal city”, is not new to vile scandals involving its ruling class. Nearly 2,000 years ago, moral corruption and unrestrained lust for power, among other things, led to the downfall of its great empire.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been tried by an ever mounting number of sexual and corruption scandals, which for a long time have incredibly failed to seriously affect his grip on power, until the two recent electoral blows of the May local elections and the June referendum. More than a mere political issue, his domination of the public scene for nearly two decades is a matter of anthropological interest, for at least two reasons.

A media tycoon and a shrewd communicator, Mr Berlusconi enjoys control over 90 percent of the national media. His television empire has especially helped shape Italy’s imagination over the past 30 years and established a whole new set of social values for the young generation, who were nursed by his commercial programs and had him as a leading public model. Stardom, success, beauty at all costs, shortcuts to power, a degrading decorative role for women and void and rude machismo for men.

Mr Berlusconi’s private and political life seem nothing but the continuation of the world of scantly clad starlets, slick lackeys and hollow partying people who crowd his TV channels as well as his palaces. On the other hand, far from being the homo novus he claimed to be when he first entered the political arena in 1994, Mr Berlusconi represents the paradoxical confirmation of the very regime his candidacy was first intended to end. If the so called 1st Republic is a synonym of bribery and corruption, and former Prime Minister Bettino Craxi – who fled to Tunis to avoid prosecution – is regarded as its symbol, what can it be said about the 2nd Republic, which has been dominated by Craxi’s close friend and major political funder, namely Mr Berlusconi, who secured prominent political roles in his government for Craxi’s close political allies?

The old habits of patronage, corruption, defiance of the law and hedonism have not only been reconfirmed on a national and local level, but have been pushed even further, to the extent of being publicly accepted and justified. Once again the old dictum in Tomasi Di Lampedusa’s Leopard “everything must change so that everything can stay the same” particularly applies to the Italian social and political structures, although nowadays Rome seems, in its decadence, a shabby and bleak imitation compared to that of Nero’s.  

Text © Valentina Tordoni