The new imperial vision of Silvio Berlusconi
The Spectator began by asking Berlusconi whether he has mended fences with Chancellor Schroder, after he likened the German Social Democrat MEP, Martin Schulz, to a Nazi camp commandant?
It was I who was offended, my government and my country. I replied with a joke. I wanted to be humorous. The whole of the parliament laughed. My reply was taken and exploited against me. But you know what? It was a reply that was virtually impossible for me to resist because I once broadcast 120 episodes of Hogan 's Heroes in which there was this Sergeant Schulz. You remember? I didn't even think about it. Schulz was shouting at me — no? And it just came to me off the cuff. I always try to be ironical in my speeches. Anyway, I had a phone conversation with Schroder in which I said my intention had not been to offend and that I was sorry that my joke had upset some people.
What provoked him?
In that sitting of the parliament, the speeches had been prepared beforehand under the direction of the MEPs of the Italian Left. So Out came this image of Italy as follows: first, that in Italy there is a man who controls 85 per cent of the Italian press — the opposite is the case: I am the most liberal publisher in history; two, that this person also controls all Italian television — when I have one friend in Italian television who has a 7 per cent share; three, that I trample the Italian judges beneath my feet — and so if Italy were to apply today to join the EU, the application would be turned down. This was the theme of all the different speeches by the Left that day.
The Italian reality
The Italian reality, to he who is familiar with it, is that Italy is an absolute democracy with one or two anomalies. One is that we have an opposition that is not altogether democratic because it is made up of the same people who were communists and protagonists of the Italian Communist party which was of Stalinist origin. Another anomaly which is not known abroad is that we have an extremely politicised judiciary. And the third anomaly is that there is strong disinformation on the part of the press. Just read Repubblica, just read Unita, they are newspapers completely at the service of the Left. If you read Unita, you think you are living under a tyranny.
What is the proof that we have a completely politicised judiciary?
The declarations of the judges themselves. In one of their organisations — Magistratura Democratica — they have publicly declared that their members must use the legal system to topple the bourgeois state.
On the leftist conspiracy
The situation in Italy cannot be understood by a foreigner unless he takes into account the recent history of Italian politics. For half a century Italy was governed by a coalition of five parties which were by origin democratic and pro-West: the Christian Democrats, the Socialists, the Republicans, the Social Democrats and the Liberal party. Unfortunately. this Italian system has produced 57 governments in little more than 50 years, I am the 57th government, and for the first time in 50 years I have a large majority in both houses of parliament. What happened was that in 1992, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Communist party, the Left, that had been defeated by history, instead of being put on trial at least for their moral complicity with the crimes of the communist regimes from Stalin to Pol Pot to Milosevic — which they had always supported — they always had a fatal attraction for dictatorship... .
They were not prosecuted because the Left had infiltrated their men in all the nodal points of the state; that is, the schools, the papers, the TV stations, the magistracy, in the central nervous system of the state. Instead of being prosecuted, they used their infiltration not to stand trial, but to put all the other parties, which history had proved right, on trial.
Why he entered politics
I entered politics with great sorrow, but I thought in 1994 that the extreme Left would have been a serious disaster for Italy. The parties of the Left controlled 34 per cent of the votes, but they had more than 80 per cent of the seats in parliament because the other parties — the five parties that had governed Italy for 50 years —were wiped out. I was the most popular man in Italy because I made commercial TV out of zero. and I was an important businessman because I was a man of sports with many victories. I had five teams — and not just in soccer, but in hockey, volleyball. rugby — and they were victorious in all the Italian and world championships. I had built small towns and I was the proprietor of the second biggest chain of supermarkets — all Italians knew it. I was in charge of a popular movement, and people were saying, You are our only hope of not having a left-wing government.'
Why do Italian commentators attack him?
I think there is an element of jealousy in all of these people because I cannot find anoth er explanation. All these journalists — Biagi, Montanelli — were older than me and felt they were the important ones in our relationship, and then the relationship was turned upside-down and I became what they themselves wanted to be.
He says he admires Lady Thatcher, but is he really leading a Thatcherite revolution in Italy?
I am a great admirer of Lady Thatcher, but I read in her biography that in her first four years she achieved very little. I have great difficulty with the Italian bicameral system, and must discuss everything with my coalition partners. The Italian prime minister does not have the power of Tony Blair. I only have the power of moral suasion. I cannot sack a minister or an undersecretary, and it is almost a miracle that I have been able to achieve what I have. I inherited a state not only with the highest public debt in Europe, at 105 per cent of our GDP — and 6 per cent of that GDP goes on servicing our debt, and this had a huge impact on our margin of manoeuvre — but I also inherited a country which is old in its structures and its institutions.
Italy has a very good business and entrepreneurial class, thank God, and it is the five million entrepreneurs who are the real richness of Italy; but the state is old, obsolete, with a public administration that is plethoric, inefficient and very expensive. We have abolished inheritance tax, and tax on gifts. We have increased from lm lire to 1.5m lire the tax deduction for each child. I have reduced corporation tax to 35 per cent, and in five years I intend to keep my promise and bring the tax on personal incomes down from 47 per cent to 33 per cent.
Bobbies on the beat
The level of reported crime is 12 per cent lower, because we are transforming the philosophy of law and order from a purely repressive philosophy to a preventive one. We have introduced a character like your bobby on the beat in all major Italian cities: in the street, in the squares, near the schools, the stadiums. Now they go in pairs and in the future maybe they will go on their own. Then I have presented a vast programme of public works, worth 125 billion euros, involving 125 major works of which six are epochal in scale, such as the bridge across the Straits of Messina and the barrier in Venice. I have already succeeded in digitalising our public administration and making our labour markets the most flexible in Europe. Yes, yes, they are more flexible than Britain now.
Is he confident of brokering a deal on the European convention?
I think the only way forward is to approve that which has emerged from the Giscard convention exactly as it is. perhaps with one or two changes, but that is all. Italy is naturally favourable to the introduction of a reference to Europe's Christian culture, or Judaeo-Christian culture, but there are only four countries which support this clause: Italy, Spain, Holland and Poland. We want it, hut, frankly, I don't think it will be possi ble. It would be a good thing if we had a common foreign policy, if Europe had a single voice, hut I know that at the moment this is not possible.
Why did he support the war in Iraq?
We had many doubts about the necessity of this war, and we tried to avoid it, but when we saw that the US and England, our traditional allies, had decided to make war, we were in solidarity with them. For example, if a brother goes into a certain business and for three months I say, 'I beg you not to do it', and when he does it — well, he is my brother, and [support him, even if not to the point of paying for all his losses! And I have done the same thing with the US. We are alive today because of the US, and it was the US who liberated us from Nazism and communism and supported our economic growth. We have lived for 50 years under their protective umbrella because they spent 4 per cent of their GDP on protecting us against the Soviet Union, and we spent only 1.5 per cent of our GDP. So we have a sense of gratitude which is absolute, absolute. It was difficult to support the war because I had the whole of the Left against me, but I held the line. I told President Bush immediately that I was constitutionally forbidden from sending troops without a second UN resolution, but we have sent 3,000 troops now to help with democracy and peacekeeping.
What happened to the weapons of mass destruction?
I am accustomed to put myself in the place of the other guy, and I reasoned that if I were Saddam. I would say to myself, 'We will cause all the WMD to disappear, because then we will block the UN resolution and there will not be an attack from America.' So Saddam eliminated the WMD because someone told him, someone very authoritative, that there would not be an attack without a UN resolution. So I think he destroyed them or sent them abroad.
Were Western publics deceived on this question?
This I cannot say. Edo not know how it all happened. I have a great esteem for Tony Blair, and there is a great sincerity in our personal relations. I believe Blair and Bush because 1 look into their eyes and I believe them. I did not speak directly with Bush or Blair about the imminence of the threat from Iraq.
Berlusconi on the Middle East...
I want to widen my remarks and say that, whether or not this war was opportune, we certainly have a big problem in the relations between the West and the Muslim community. It is a fact that in the Middle East there is DO democracy, and it is important that there should be; and I judge this intervention in Iraq to be positive because it has placed an end to a dictatorship, and it can be paradigmatic for the whole region. I understand the difficulty of teaching democracy to a people which has known only dictatorship,
. .. and how to deal with the world
We are now confronted by a new world situation. We have passed from the confrontation of two blocs because the Russian federation has decided, under the guidance of Mr Putin, to be part of Europe and the West. That is a very big fact. I had the occasion to be president of the G8 in Genoa in 2001, and I was the host of the dinner, trying to bring everyone into the conversation, and I was making jokes as usual. I asked Schroder about his experiences with women because he has been married four times, and I made him laugh. And I decided after a while just to push my chair back from the table and let them talk, and saw Blair joking with Chirac, and Putin joking with Bush, and I was joking with everyone, and suddenly I thought, 'Look, here I am, a man who has felt on his skin the second world war, since I was born in 1936. I saw my father dressed as a soldier, and I thought, `What a wonderful world.'
It could be so beautiful
What a different world we are passing on to our children at the beginning of our century. our millennium! What a marvel! It seemed almost unbelievable to me, because when I was a boy, I knew communism. I was at school with the Salesiani near Milan, and priests who had escaped from behind the Iron Curtain came and visited us, and told us about the terror, and I knew at the age of 12 that communism was the most inhuman and criminal oppression in the history of man. Communism is not dead today, by the way: there are still more than a billion people in the world who live under communism, and where the opposition is either in prison or in exile. But here we come to the point, as I saw this extraordinary, beautiful scene round the table in Genoa. I was happy and thought we were passing on to our children the prospect of a pacified world — and then came 11 September, and the present situation of terrorism and fundamentalism.
Imposing liberty and democracy
So, ever since, we have been discussing this question, and at the last G8 we discussed the New World Order, which involves a West that is extraordinarily strong compared to the rest of the world; and we have promised several times to give the poor of the world food, water, education. sanitation. But I said at the Evian summit. and I said when I was at the ranch with Bush for two days, 'Isn't there a good which comes before these material goods? And isn't that good called Liberty?' Liberty creates these material goods, and without it they cannot exist. If there is a dictatorship, if there is a tyranny, if there is no liberty, then all this money goes into the hands of despots who put it in their Swiss bank accounts. They arm themselves and make war.
A community of democracies
So I said, given the enormous and paradoxical success of fundamentalism, why don't we talk more openly about the community of democracies? Yes, why don't we reform the UN? Let us say to Mr X or Y in this or that dictatorship, 'You must recognise human rights in your country, and we give you six or 12 months to do so, or else we intervene.' And we can do this now because there is no countervailing power. In the old days, America or Russia didn't ask a third country whether its citizens had human rights, or whether the opposition had a voice. They only asked themselves whether he is with us or with them. If he is with us, that is enough, and never mind if he is a dictator.
If necessary by force
But now, in this new environment, we must see what dictatorship is producing, and we must understand why bin Laden exists, and why fundamentalism generates terrorism. I tell you the truth: if I lived in a country where there was no day appointed for elections, I would become a revolutionary, if not a terrorist. And that is because I love liberty too much: without liberty a man is not a man. He has no dignity. And so today we are now able. with Russia and America together, to look at all the states of the world, and assess the dignity of all the people in the world, and we can give them democracy and liberty. Yes! By force if necessary! Because that is the only way to show it is not a joke. We said to Saddam, 'Do it, or we come', and we came and we did it. I cannot say which country he was from. but someone telephoned me the other day and said, 'I will do whatever the Americans want, because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid.' [Mr 13edusconrs spokesman indicated that the leader in question was Col. Gaddafi.]
Bush's book of rogue states
At Evian I participated in the morning at a meeting with President Bush and the FBI and the CIA. And they had a book, with all the countries in the world where there is no peace and there is a risk. We began with Liberia, and then Bush said, 'What about Afghanistan?' And then Chirac said, 'What about Korea?' And when we came to Kosovo. where we Italians have 3,600 soldiers, Bush said to me, 'I thank you.' And I said. `No, it is I who thank you, because Kosovo is near me. I am here and Kosovo is here!' So we have a moral duty lobe responsible for the New World Order, and we have to understand that America has 400,000 soldiers overseas. And how is this done? With American taxpayers' money. All of this we have to appreciate, and also to take action.
Should Europe not share the burden?
Certainly. certainly. Europe ought to spend more to give it a military power, or it will never be equal to the US, and the distance between us will be irrecoverable. We have many budgetary difficulties in Italy, and I inherited a bad situation, but I am convinced that over time Italy should gradually spend more on defence. But I am also convinced that there should be intelligent spending, so that each European country does not equip itself with the same specialisations.
So why does the Economist think he is unfit to govern Italy?
The Economist has made a big and fundamental mistake in confusing the cops and the robbers. It has taken the protectors of democracy and liberty — us — for the robbers, and it has taken the robbers for cops. It has jumbled it all up. I have never in my life taken a penny out of politics. I have put my money into politics, yes, by financing Forza Italia. I don't dare to telephone my group, because a single telephone operator might say, Berlusconi's calling.' As for the conflicts of interest, it is all the other way round, because I had to sell all my system of big stores because the communists didn't want to buy from roe and they had a BB — boycott Berlusconi — strategy. The left-wing authorities wouldn't give me any new permits to build stores, and I didn't ask from the Right because it would have been thought I had an interest, so my sons decided to sell the lot.
Is it right to pass a law exempting oneself from prosecution?
You have to understand that I have had more than 500 visits from the Guardie di Finanze [inland revenue police] to my group, that I have had more than 90 investigations. You have to ask, what is the remedy if an entire procura [investigating magistratum], in Milan and Palermo, does nothing else except invent theories about me? What is the remedy if they keep asking me to go to court, or keep having me have meetings with my lawyers? Do I govern or do I respond continually to all these accusations? It is impossible. Only 8 per cent of Italians have faith in this magistratura. This is what must be understand that the Economist has not yet understood. Only 8 per cent. So this seemed the only possible remedy.. Not cases closed but suspended during the period of service to the state. I was against it. I didn't want it... . But then they tell me (I have won all my cases — eh — only one remained, only one) that the Milan judges are doing exactly what they did in 1994. In 1994 my government fell because they accused me of corruption and then I was acquitted after six years. But they made my government fall for that, and they changed the course of Italian history not with the truth, but with false accusations. And now the same judges, from the same courts, make the same false accusations!
Didn't his company bribe at least one judge, called Squillante?
As far as the money goes. nothing has been proved, because in relation to us, in relation to my company, what has been established is merely the payment of parcelle to the lawyers who in Rome had a system of bank accounts going back and forth from Switzerland in which all Roman judges participated. I am not saying this was correct, I am merely saying that we had nothing to do with it. And in any case. this Squillante did not have a case that involved me. Why should my group pay Squillante if there was not one single court case of mine in which he had a hand? All my cases were in Milan, not Rome. Why should my company make a payment to Squillante?
But wasn't he trying to stop the sale of SME to Buitoni, as a favour to Craxi?
Squillante was not a judge on any of our cases. so I don't understand how it happened, The Italians don't believe it. They believe me.
They don't believe the Economist?
No! They knew all this. I won the election with this case already taking place, with all the TV against me. The Italians believed me and they didn't believe the judges.
But why don't people understand this abroad?
I think that 80 per cent of journalists are left-wing, and they have very close relations with the foreign press, and they all have a club in Rome. I don't give press conferences to the foreign press because they just use it as an opportunity to attack me. They don't take any account of what I say or do. They write what they have already in their heads. They don't understand about our judiciary. Look at what happened to Andreotti, who was sentenced to 20 years.
Wasn't Andreotti, seven times Italian prime minister, a mafioso?
But no. But no. Ma no. Andreotti is troppo intelligente. He is too clever. Look, Andreotti is not my friend. He is of the Left. They created this fiction to demonstrate that the Democrazia Cristiana which was for 50 years the most important party in our history was not an ethical party but a party close to criminality. But it is not true. Non e vero. It is una folk?! These judges are mad twice over! First, because they are politically that way, and second, because they are mad anyway. To do that job you need to be mentally disturbed, you need psychic disturbances. If they do that job it is because they are antropologicamente different! That is why I am in the process of reforming everything.