Berlusconi’s Worst Nightmare
Philip Willan - January 26, 2011
The decades-long battle between Silvio Berlusconi and Italy’s most famous prosecutor is entering its final round. The prime minister’s career and Italy’s democracy hang in the balance.
Last week, the Italian magazine Panorama published a huge photo of Ilda Boccassini, Milan’s 61 year-old public prosecutor, on its front cover under the title “Il Vizietto,” the Little Vice. The vice in question was not that of the magazine’s owner, Silvio Berlusconi, who is the current and long-time object of Boccassini’s investigatory ardor. The misbehavior that the magazine intended to highlight was the magistrate’s own — namely, her relentless persecution of the Italian prime minister. Indeed, in seeking an indictment of Berlusconi for the better part of the past two decades, Boccassini has herself become a defendant in Italy’s court of public opinion.
Boccassini, who over the course of her career has earned the nickname “Ilda the Red” for both her flame-colored hair and her left-wing sympathies, has polarized a society sharply divided when it comes to the embattled prime minister. An opinion poll published Jan. 23 by the Corriere della Sera newspaper showed that 49 percent of Italians thought Berlusconi should resign because of his latest sex scandal, while 45 percent believed he should not. Boccassini has earned the support of those who dislike Berlusconi: Roberto Saviano, the bestselling author who has a famously contentious relationship with the prime minister, dedicated an honorary law degree he received last week to Boccassini, praising her for fulfilling her “duty of justice.” But for admirers of the premier, the prosecutor has become a symbol of the judiciary’s obsessive, and self-interested, drive to restore its place at the top of the national political hierarchy.
Philip Willan knows more about Italian (para)politics than most Italians, and has written two classics on the subject: Puppetmasters: The Political Use of Terrorism in Italy and The Last Supper: The Mafia, the Masons and the Killing of Roberto Calvi.