Berlusconi attack sharpens Italy's political divide

20th December 2009, Comments 0 comments

A week after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was attacked, the left and right continued a war of words in parliament, in the street and on the internet.

Rome – Sunday's violent attack on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, already a larger-than-life figure in Italian politics, further polarised a sharply divided nation.

While nursing his wounds in hospital, the flamboyant 73-year-old played a populist card, urging his supporters to "stay calm and happy," adding: "Love always triumphs over hate and envy."

But passions have run high this week, whether in parliament, in the street or on the internet.

On Wednesday the left and right continued a war of words, trading accusations of creating a "climate of hatred" that led Berlusconi's assailant to throw a model of Milan's cathedral at him, causing serious facial injuries.

The prime minister's centre-right People of Freedom party put up posters in Rome saying "Enough Hatred", while the opposition Democratic Party's signs expressed "solidarity with Silvio Berlusconi after the vile aggression".

Meanwhile, graffiti appeared in both Rome and northern Turin praising Berlusconi's attacker, who police said had a history of psychiatric problems.

Berlusconi "is deeply loved or hated, it's been that way for 15 years," said analyst Franco Pavoncello.

But as long as the nation is "polarised over an individual, nothing goes forward," he lamented.

The harshest reactions showed up on the internet, notably on social networking sites such as Facebook.

Some heaped praise on aggressor Massimo Tartaglia, calling for him to be made a saint immediately, while others vilified him, one person even wanting him killed.

Since entering politics in 1994, Berlusconi "has sought the role of charismatic leader," said historian Luciano Canfora. "He so much wants to be loved that he also inspires hate."

 Canfora added Italy "has become decadent, and politics has become a visceral debate".

The personality cult surrounding the prime minister, one of Italy's richest men, has been a boon for some entrepreneurs since the attack.

Models of Milan's Duomo such as that Tartaglia used are selling like hot cakes in the northern city, while in Naples the makers of traditional Christmas figurines are creating likenesses of Berlusconi with a bloody nose.

The prime minister is unlikely to be amused by this venture, given his well-known preoccupation with his looks and his attractiveness to women.

Canfora said there is no doubt that sympathy over the assault will add points to Berlusconi's popularity ratings for a time.

The billionaire dubbed "Il Cavaliere" (The Knight) in Italy has been dogged by scandal over his private life this year, and his second wife is seeking a divorce.

He also faces the resumption of corruption and tax fraud trials against him, as well as dissent within his ruling coalition that came to power in April 2008 elections.

"The wounds inflicted on Berlusconi will strengthen his image as a victim, on which he has always played, even though he is one Italy's most privileged men," said Erik Gandini whose documentary Videocracy is about the impact of the prime minister's media empire.

And while stressing that "the situations are not parallel," Canfora recalled that the dictator Benito Mussolini was hurt in the nose in an attack in 1926 that helped consolidate Il Duce's personality cult.

AFP / Expatica

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