Let me recall the verdicts of the great Portuguese man of letters José Saramago, who – frustrated by the stultifying dilatoriness of Italian legal justice – would not meekly wait for the court of Italian conscience to be called into session. Saramago, alas, won’t be able to react in person on the sorely delayed verdict finally passed by Italian people, so let me serve as his messenger – or a self-appointed spokesman. I’ll select all my quotations from O Caderno, a sort of a diary written by Saramago in 2008-9 and published in 2010 in Lisbon by Editorial Caminho.
Saramago, the master supreme of word-craft, was known to select his words with truly Benedictine care and uncanny precision. He knew that in Italian “the term for criminal (delinquenza) has a negative weight far stronger than that in any other language spoken in Europe”. All the same, he did not hesitate to apply that term to Berlusconi (see the entry dated 9 June 2009): Berlusconi “has been seen to commit a variety of crimes, always of demonstrable seriousness. That said, he not only disobeys the law but, worse still, manufactures new laws to protect his public and private interests, which are those of a politician, businessman and an escort of minors”. Neither does Saramago hesitate to conclude that Berlusconi “has sunk into the most abject and utter depravity”. In a note entered a month earlier, on 9th May 2009 Saramago called Berlusconi “the Catiline of present-day Italy”, with the proviso that unlike his ancient prototype Berlusconi “has no need to seize power, for it is already his, and he has more than enough money to buy all the accomplices he could possibly need, including judges, members of parliament, deputies, and senators”. But he sought in vain for an “Italian voice” repeating almost verbatim after Cicero – changing but the name of the addressee: “How long, Berlusconi, will you abuse our patience thus?” And it was that absence that remained the most frightening mystery to Saramago – yet for him (just like for me) it was not a mystery of Berlusconi, but of Italy. Because Berlusconi, as Saramago noted on 15th May 2009, “seems to have accomplished the feat of dividing the Italian population into two camps: those who wish to be like him and those who already are like him”. But Saramago went on hoping still that it “seemed” only, and the nightmare will (sooner rather than later) disperse.
The history of Italy, in Saramago eyes, as much as in the eyes of so many Europeans, looks “like an enormously long rosary of geniuses, including painters, sculptors and architects; musicians, philosophers, writers, and poets… an endless list of sublime individuals who produced a large share of the best that humanity has ever thought, imagined or achieved”. Of noble spirits, there was never a shortage in Italian history. So – Cicero, where are you, why have you deserted your post when Italy as we know it and love is once more in danger?!
In an entry dated 18th February 2009, Saramago complains, as so many Italy lovers among Europeans would repeat after him: “The most offended party in all this is me. Yes, specifically me. My love for Italy is offended, along with my love for Italian culture and Italian history. Even my tenacious hope that the nightmare will somehow end and Italy will return to the exalted spirit inspired by Verdi who was in his time its best manifestation, is offended”. Having twice – twice! – elected “this disease, this virus that threatens moral death to the land of Verdi” this “deep sickness that needs to be wrested from the Italian consciousness before its venom ends up running through the veins and destroying the heart of one of the richest of European cultures”, Italian people have entered “the road to ruin”, “dragging through the dirt the values of liberty and dignity”.
“Are the Italians really going to permit this happen?” – asked Saramago, in utmost bafflement and despair. And I shared his concern in full. On another, though in quite a few respects similar historical occasion, Karl Marx opined that no nation, just as no woman, can be forgiven a moment of weakness in which any rogue can rape her.
The BBC reported earlier yesterday:
“Crowds celebrated outside the presidential palace, shouting “buffoon” as he entered.
The BBC’s Alan Johnston in Rome says Mr Berlusconi’s last journey as prime minister was an undignified one.
“Police struggled to control a large, hostile crowd which booed and jeered as his convoy swept by, and after his resignation he left by a side exit to avoid the protesters.”