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Italy: End of the Road for Berlusconi

This post is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

At the end of a dramatic week in its recent history, Italy has witnessed what many of its citizens thought they'd never live to see: after 17 years in power, Silvio Berlusconi, the country's embattled prime minister, handed in his resignation last Saturday.

Last Tuesday, Berlusconi's coalition lost its majority after a crucial budget vote, and the country needed to calm the financial markets in order to keep interest rates on sovereign debt under control. On Monday morning (14 November), the economist Mario Monti formally began consultations as head of the new technical government, backed by most of the country's political and financial players.

“Thank you Napolitano” and “Finally”, read the signs held up by the protesters who had surrounded all the main political buildings in Rome: Palazzo Grazioli, Palazzo Chigi, Montecitorio, Quirinale [it]. Outside Berlusconi's private residence, a choir was singing the Halleluja.

After the Senate approved stability measures [it] with a wide majority of 380 to 26 on Saturday afternoon, a crowd gathered in front of the Palazzo del Quirinale, where at 8.30pm Berlusconi was expected to formally hand in his resignation to the President Giorgio Napolitano. On his arrival, the crowd jeered and shouted “Buffoon”, as shown in this video. Italians took to the streets in Milan too, where they sung adaptations of Italian stadium anthems waving national flags, as shown in the video below:

Slogans include “resignations”, “mafioso”, as well as a number of references to the many trials against the former prime minister: “in jail”, “are you going to arrest him or not?”, and “we have a dream in our heart: seeing Berlusca at San Vittore” [an infamous prison in Milan], as if his resignation could suddenly repeal amnesty laws and resume trials that had been invalidated by the statute of limitations. Someone sings the popular WWII partisan song Bella Ciao and the national anthem. The crowd waits for Berlusconi's return after his meeting with the President, but he leaves from a side exit.

Online reactions

On Twitter, the most popular hashtags were #finecorsa (end of the road), #maipiù (never again) and #graziegiorgio (thank you Giorgio):

@ezekiel: Il centro di Roma è in modalità “vittoria ai mondiali”: gente avvolta nel tricolore ecc. #maipiù #finecorsa

@ezekiel: Central Rome is in “world cup victory” mode: people wrapped in the flag and so on. #maipiù #finecorsa

@Neclord: E domattina tricolore appena lavato e stirato alla finestra! #maipiù #finecorsa

@Neclord: And tomorrow, a freshly washed and ironed tricolor outside the window! #maipiù #finecorsa

@fabiux: Questa sera il bungabunga te l'abbiamo fatto noi. #finecorsa

@fabiux: Tonight, we gave you a bunga bunga.

Someone threw coins at Berlusconi, an act reminiscent of the fall from grace of another well-known Italian politician, Bettino Craxi, following the “mani pulite” (clean hands) corruption scandal in early 1990s. On Twitter, many alluded to this historic episode.

@civati [it] writes:

Stasera non gli tireranno monetine ma Buoni del Tesoro. #maipiù

Tonight they won't throw coins at him, but treasury bonds.

@tomasoledda [it] adds:

Nessuno lancia monetine per via della #crisi. #graziegiorgio #finecorsa

Nobody throws coins tonight. It must be the #crisis. #graziegiorgio #finecorsa

On Facebook, there were several attempts at organising the celebrations in a number of Italian cities [it]. Just before Berlusconi stepped into the Quirinale palace, Luca Cuman [it] wrote on a page titled “Party for Berlusconi's resignation”:

Fra pochi minuti si concretizza la seconda “Liberazione d'Italia” proponiamo il 12/11 come FESTA NAZIONALE!!!!!!

In a few minutes, the second “Italian Liberation Day” will become reality. We propose that the 12/11 become NATIONAL HOLIDAY!!!!!!
Celebrations in front of Congress buiding

Celebrations in front of Congress buiding

On the “liberation day” issue, @tigella [it] draws attention to the fact that the day might be better compared to when Mussolini was arrested in 1943, only to be freed shortly after to form a puppet state in the north of Italy, than to liberation by partisan forces on April 25, two years later:

[ci tengo a ribadire] oggi è il 25 luglio, non il 25 aprile: occhi aperti!

[I'll say this again] today is the 25th July, not the 25th April: open your eyes!

Likewise, @Groucho68 [it] ironically addresses the fact that the Berlusconi era might not be over quite yet:

Se ne va, ma convinto di risorgere il terzo giorno. #finecorsa

He leaves us, certain he will resurrect on the third day.

Despite Saturday's celebrations then, concern about the profound political and economic crisis that engulfs the country is manifest in both the street and the web. In Rome, as well as the Hallelujah and the national anthem, one could hear “kick the banks out of the State”. Last Friday however, the hashtag #rimontiamo (“let's rise back up”, anagram of Mario Monti) was a top trend on Twitter, symptom of a general consensus that the Monti medicine, however bitter, might be necessary.

The journalist @sandroruotolo [it] writes:

#rimontiamo. Oggi si dimette Berlusconi. E’ un bel giorno per l'Italia. Adesso tocca a Monti. Speriamo che ce la faccia. God Save Italy!!!

#rimontiamo. Tonight Berlusconi resigns. It's a good day for Italy. Now it's Monti's turn. Let's hope he makes it. God save Italy!

@ggrch [it] writes:

Italiani godiamoci questa notte perché da domani c'è da ricostruire l'Italia #rimontiamo #finecorsa

Italians, let's enjoy tonight because from tomorrow, we will have to re-build the country. #rimontiamo #finecorsa

Others, such as the student network Rete della Conoscenza (The Knowledge Network), are less optimistic. Referring to the expected cuts to the education budget that the government has been planning to implement, @reteconoscenza [it] tweets:

Si annuncia un'infornata di bocconiani al governo. Nelle università pubbliche non c'è niente da festeggiare… #nosaycat #maipiù

A bunch of privately educated “bocconians” in our government. In public universities, we have nothing to celebrate…

Similarly, the anonymous blogger of One Big Onion [it] reflects on the implications of a technocratic government imposed by the markets and the EU:

Dice che Berlusconi oggi se ne va. Non staremo certo qui a rimpiangerlo noi, quelli di Genova, i compagni di Carlo e dei ragazzi che stavano alla Diaz e a Bolzaneto (…)
Facciamo a questo punto una proposta, oltre al pareggio di bilancio nella costituzione ci mettiamo una regola per cui quando lo spread sale di oltre 500 punti da Bruxelles e Berlino ci mandano un commissario della Goldman Sachs come premier. Oppure che la Trilaterale con un decreto di urgenza ci vende anche Palazzo Madama assieme ai beni dello Stato da mettere all’asta.

They say that Berlusconi will walk out today. We certainly won't be the ones to miss him, Carlo's comrades at the protest in Genoa, and of those who were at the Diaz and Bolzaneto (…)
At this point, we would like to put forward a proposition. Besides adjustments to the national budget, we should add an article to our constitution saying that every time the credit spread increases to over 500 points, Brussels and Berlin can delegate a high commissioner from Goldman Sachs to be our Prime Minister. Or that with an urgent decree, the trilateral commission may sell even Palazzo Madama, with the rest of Italian state property to be put up for auction.

On Sunday 13 November, Italians woke up in the #doposilvio (literally, after-Silvio). Simona Melani's blog [it] grasps the tone of many of the online conversations on such an crucial day in the history of the country:

Stavolta proviamo a metterci a correre, noi che abbiamo 20, 30 anni. Facciamo sì che queste dimissioni siano l’inizio simbolico della nostra Italia e non la fine di un incubo. Perchè se ci rilassiamo, l’incubo continuerà. (…)
Tocca a noi, corriamo, con le borse pesanti sulle spalle perchè c’è un sacco di lavoro da fare. La prima cosa da rimettere in piedi è la Politica. Senza pupazzi di gommapiuma e imitatori da Bagaglino. Stavolta tocca a noi. Alziamo il culo dalla sedia. Twitter lo possiamo aggiornare dallo smartphone, mentre finalmente corriamo per costruire un Paese, con la presunzione gioiosa di essere migliori di quello che abbiamo visto negli ultimi anni.
It’ s the end of the world (as we know it). Abbiamo 5 minuti 5 di felicità. Mettiamoci al lavoro, finalmente.

All of us 20 and 30-somethings, this time should start running. Let's make this resignation the symbolic beginning of our Italy, and not simply the end of a nightmare. Because if we lay back, the nightmare will continue. (…)
It's our time; let's run with the heavy baggage we carry on our shoulders, because there is a lot of work to be done. The first thing to reform is our political system, freeing it from foam rubber puppets and comedians. This time is our turn. Let's get up from that damn chair. Twitter can be updated from our smart phones, as we run to build a country, joyfully presumptuous that we are better than what we've been in the past few years.
It's the end of the world (as we know it). We have five minutes of happiness. Let's roll up our sleeves.

This post is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

Thumbnail and featured image shows celebrations at the official announcement of Silvio Berlusconi's resignation in front of the Quirinale presidential palace. Image by al mak, copyright Demotix (12/11/11).

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