13 SEPTEMBER 2003, Page 34

Storm in a Martini glass

From Giuseppe Mascoli

Sir: Boris Johnson's and Nicholas Farrell's article in The Spectator (Forza Berlusconi!', 6 September) has created turmoil in Italy. In particular, Berlusconi's claims that the judges are 'mad' and that to be one 'you need to be mentally disturbed' have provoked incredulous reactions from institutional figures and unprecedented attacks from his own allies. Following those outbursts, Corriere della Sera asked a psychologist to analyse Berlusconi. Verdict: megalomania.

Reading the article in The Spectator, I got the impression that Berlusconi was carried away by the flamboyancy of the two apologists from England (the length of time he granted them was unprecedented, as was the fact that he personally chauffeured them around). This is not entirely surprising. Berlusconi is either vilified by the press he does not own or brown-nosed by the press he does (neither much fun, really). So the visit of Johnson and Farrell must have been rather refreshing. In the grounds of one of the most spectacular villas in the world, with all the extravagance that goes with briskly acquired wealth and accompanied by two honourable and wellmeaning enthusiasts, it must have been easy for the exuberant Prime Minister to let loose. So he came to slur the magistrates (and also branded them 'anthropologically different'). 'The shaking of a Martini in Costa Azzurra creates an earthquake in Rome' should have been the line taken by the Italian newspapers, but the press is too serious. The matter was gravely debated, and all its implications about separation of powers, conflicts of interest, etc.

Many will have assumed that the overly domesticated eulogy to the notorious Prime Minister would have left out all the juicy bits. Quite the contrary. The peacable attitude of the two summoned journalists would have operated as a sort of Socratic maieutic. A swarm of journalists have in the past confronted Berlusconi on the issue of his tumultuous relations with the law. Does he loathe the judiciary? He has always emphatically denied that. Until this interview, Berlusconi has always claimed that he respected judges and magistrates — he only opposed the 'few rotten apples'. Now that the unfettered Prime Minister has spoken his mind about them, praise is due to an elite publication in the United Kingdom that is unknown to most Italians. So chapeaux to The Spectator.

Giuseppe Mascoli

London W1