Ben Ali went, Mubarak went, it seems (almost unbelievably) that Gaddafi will go. But one person who will stick it out until the bitter, pitiful end is Italy's criminal-in-chief, the contemptible Silvio Berlusconi. As an Italian I am ashamed of him. And as a European too. What possible moral authority is left to us with a bloated crook like Berlusconi at the helm of one of our nations? Just to recap:
- Berlusconi has never made clear where his money comes from despite parliamentary questions on the topic and suspicions of Mafia collusion. If he has nothing to hide then why not simply come out with the truth?
-He enjoys a near monopoly on the Italian media, a situation that renders open debate and scrutiny (a sine qua non of a democratic society) all but impossible.
-He has repeatedly changed Italian law to protect his own personal interests. How can any citizens respect the rule of law if they see that the law exists to serve the interests of the most powerful of its citizens?
-He abused diplomatic privilege to release an underage prostitute he is alleged to have slept with from police custody, claiming she was a niece of the now deposed Egyptian despot Hosni Mubarak.
-He has fostered close ties with regimes the rest of the world wisely keeps at arm's length. As recently as this Saturday he was refusing to comment on the uprisings in Libya, saying that he did not want to "disturb" his friend, Gaddafi.
The man is a disgrace and must go so that Italy, a country that has given so much to the world, can recover a modicum of pride. And also in the interests of European and even global security. If we, as Europeans, want to avoid the spread of islamism in these newly liberated countries it is vital, now more than ever, that we present a valid and admirable alternative. A Europe that has Silvio Berlusconi in it is precisely what these people have just turned their backs on.
I have some work featured in an Irish arts project called UpStart. The goal of the project is to encourage a debate about the role of the arts in public life in the run-up to the Irish general election. To do this the organizers have produced a series of posters featuring poetry and visual art which have been stuck up all over Dublin in the spaces normally reserved for political propaganda. Good luck to them. Ireland has a long tradition of artists engaging in public life - think of Yeats - and a long tradition of using satire to do so - think of Swift, with his Modest Proposal. But it also has a long tradition of boorishness that has forced many of its finest artists to emigrate, and is clearly alive and well if this "article" from the Evening Herald is anything to go by.
I was in Reykjavik this weekend, a city whose new mayor, Jon Gnarr, is a former comedian who was elected along with an assortment of punk musicians, actors and housewives, on a campaign ticket of anarcho-surrealism. Some people dismissed Gnarr as a joker but his party won the elections because of a feeling of disgust with the established order. This is what the foul-mouthed journalist from the Herald fails to understand - it is precisely because Ireland (like Iceland) is on the brink of financial collapse that the arts have a role to play in the political process. Business as usual is no longer an option.