Thousands of Italians urge Silvio Berlusconi to quit
‘Mubarak has more dignity than you - Resign!’ says one poster as Italians demand PM goes
Hundreds of thousands of Italian women took to the streets and piazzas of cities across Italy on Sunday to call for Silvio Berlusconi's resignation, in a series of coordinated rallies titled 'If not now, when?' There were also smaller gatherings abroad, from Tokyo to London and New York.
The protests were non-partisan, but not apolitical. Centre-right deputy Giulia Bongiorno's fiery, incisive speech drew enthusiastic applause in Rome, while leftist opposition leaders and union organisers also lambasted the embattled leader.
Eager to show the world they are not all like their macho tail-chasing premier, a large number of Italian men also attended the rallies. Some carried their young daughters on their shoulders, others, like Gianni Buonfiglioli, accompanied their wives to show "solidarity with Italy's women, who deserve more respect".
In Bologna, one poster held aloft (below), read: "You are disgusting, as are your mafiosi friends and your flaccid bum."
Virginio Merola, who is running for mayor of Bologna, said: "I came because I think more men need to find the courage to stand up . . . because now it is also a matter of identity and dignity of men. I just hope there can be another model of masculinity that is different from what is represented by our president."
But the day truly belonged to women like 38-year-old Pia Santillo, who pushed through the 20,000 protesters packed into the streets of Bologna with her six-month old baby daughter Emma in a stroller.
Italy's record on women in the workplace is dismal. Women like Santillo are often discouraged from rejoining the labour force after becoming mothers. Stodgy gender stereotypes remain stubbornly ensconced, especially in Berlusconi's media empire, where scantily-clad showgirls are everywhere.
"He doesn't represent us," Santillo said. "But the sad thing is that every time we get to the edge and it seems like he's going to fall, it never happens."
The larger-than-expected protests sparked some pundits to ask whether there was a growing "Mubarakization" of the political situation in Italy. Just how strong anti-government sentiment is remains to be seen, but left-leaning politicians wasted no time seizing on the comparison.
"Berlusconi is more or less like Mubarak, Ben Ali [the ousted Tunisian president] and Gaddafi, but with the difference that he is ridiculous," the leader of the Italy of Principles party, Antonio Di Pietro, said in Milan.
A number of protesters carried signs reading in English, "First Mubarak, Next Berlusconi!" and "Mubarak has more dignity than you - Resign!"
Undoubtedly the political turmoil of north Africa in recent weeks is starting to make its impact felt here as well. Over the weekend, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni declared a state of emergency because of the "exodus of biblical proportions" of north African immigrants landing on the Italian island of Lampedusa.
In the last four days, 5,000 have reportedly arrived, and the boats just keep coming. The tiny desert island closer to Africa than the Italian mainland is an ideal destination for North refugees fleeing from the continent's northern point of Tunisia.
Italians seem most worried about the political crisis brewing in their own backyard, however. On Tuesday a magistrate will now decide if there is enough evidence to proceed with a fast-track trial against Berlusconi, as prosecutors have requested.
Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with an underage girl and abusing his official position by having her released after she was detained on theft charges. Frequenting prostitutes is not a crime in Italy, but having sex with one under 18 is. If convicted, he could up to 15 years.
Berlusconi denies he paid for sex with Karima El Mahroug, an Moroccan-born exotic danger known as Ruby the Heart-stealer, and has described prosecutors' efforts to put him on trial as a "stasi witch hunt" - nothing more than a pretext for his political and judicial enemies to oust him.
For now, Berlusconi still has support of his ruling coalition, led by his Northern League allies. But it was clear on Sunday that hundreds of thousands of Italian men and women are saying basta - enough. For them, whatever the magistrates decides tomorrow, the billionaire media mogul has gone too far. ·
Comments are now closed on this article