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Berlusconi’s Grip on Italy Similar to Putin and Chavez

From the beginning of Alexander Stille’s guest column in the Financial Times:

What are we to make of the news coming out of Italy? Showgirls are put up for parliament; Silvio Berlusconi, prime minister, pursues a controversial relationship with a teenage girl from Naples while undergoing a very public divorce; there are revelations of wild parties involving call girls; and photographs emerge of topless women and pantless politicians at Mr Berlusconi’s Sardinian villa.

Certainly, it is the summer’s most entertaining political story and tends to be seen simply as confirmation that Italian politics is a kind of incomprehensible opera buffa. Yet while the details are lurid and often funny, it is also possible to discern the outlines of something rather horrifying with implications that extend beyond Italy.

On one level, what we are seeing is a natural progression of the personalised form of government that Mr Berlusconi established in Italy 14 years ago, when he suddenly transformed himself from being Italy’s most powerful media baron into its prime minister. Mr Berlusconi’s power now exceeds that of any leader in western Europe. One would need to look to Vladimir Putin’s Russia or Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela for parallels.