Gregorio Borgia, Files, Associated Press
He's the Great Houdini of world politics. Buffeted by scandal, convicted of corruption, abandoned by allies, Silvio Berlusconi has been written off countless times over the two decades in which he has dominated Italian politics — and each time he made a miraculous escape from the political dead.
Not tales of hot "bunga bunga" parties, nor charges of wrecking Italy's economy, nor sex and bribery trials, nor the chants of "buffoon" that hounded him from office two years ago have been enough to remove Berlusconi from politics — or even put a wrinkle in his tight perma-tan.
When he was forced to resign as premier in late 2011, the world's media — including The Associated Press — wrote Berlusconi's political obituary. A year later, Berlusconi led his party to a strong election finish that returned him to the heart of Italian politics.
But this week, it really may be time to say "Bye-Bye Berlusconi." On Wednesday, the billionaire mogul was forced into a devastating retreat in his campaign to bring down the government, after his own lieutenants rose up in mutiny. And on Friday, lawmakers are expected to strip Berlusconi of his Senate seat — banishing him from politics.
So surely, surely there's no way back for Silvio now?
Readers can judge for themselves in this chronicle of Berlusconi's amazing escapes.
Berlusconi launched his political career in the 1990s as Italy's great salesman, hawking his vision of can-do success to a mesmerized public. But he hasn't been able to translate those communication skills on the international stage — committing gaffes that might have been fatal for other world leaders. Facing criticism in 2003 at the European parliament by a German lawmaker, Berlusconi compared his adversary to a concentration camp guard: "Mr. Schulz, I know there is in Italy a man producing a film on the Nazi concentration camps. I would like to suggest you for the role of Kapo. You'd be perfect." In 2005, Berlusconi bragged that he had to charm Finland's president into giving up her nation's bid to host a European food authority: "I had to use all of my playboy tactics," he quipped. And after Barack Obama was elected in 2008, Berluconi saluted the new American president as "handsome, young and also suntanned." Many Italians seemed to brush it all off with the attitude: It's just Silvio, having a bit of fun.
One was a teenage Moroccan dubbed by the press as "Ruby the Heart-stealer." Another was a high-class hooker who produced tapes of Berlusconi allegedly sweet-talking her in his Rome residence. Then there was the 18-year-old Neapolitan who purportedly called him "Papi" — "Daddy" — and was the chief reason that his wife, disgusted with what she called his "cavorting with minors," left him in 2009. Berlusconi has never denied a weakness for beautiful women, saying with a twinkle in his eye that he's "no saint," but the endless stream of sleaze surrounding tales of "bunga bunga" parties shadowed the end of his career — and landed him in legal trouble. This year, a court convicted Berlusconi of sex with a minor and abuse of power over his tryst with Ruby, whose real name is Karima El Mahroug. Here again, many Italians — men and women alike — responded either with a shrug or a twinge of admiration.
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