12 November 2011 will remain a significant date for many Italians who were impatient for the end of the Berlusconi era. On that day, il Cavaliere finally resigned himself to the idea of leaving the office of Italian prime minister that he had held for almost 10 years (with one brief interruption), despite repeated political/financial and sex scandals. However, though it represents an encouraging sign for democracy, Silvio Berlusconi’s departure by no means provides Italy’s institutions with a clean bill of health. As Arles Arloff shows here, corruption and collusion between ruling politicians and the mafia are not recent phenomena that came on the scene with the rise of Berlusconi. They go back several centuries and are deeply rooted in the national political system.
Drawing on the copious writings of Italian journalists and authors specializing in this question – and on the testimony of the “last of the judges” (that is to say, one of the last anti-mafia, anti-corruption judges to have escaped physical elimination by outright assassination), namely the public prosecutor Roberto Scarpinato – Arles Arloff reminds us how the mafia was built, from its earliest days, on the corruption of political power. She also shows the extent to which these corrupt practices came to be accepted and regarded almost as normal in that country. Despite the actions taken from 1983 to 1992, which aroused hopes of a massive clear-out of Italian institutions and the return to a “clean” government, Italy remains in the control of “notables”, politicians and other dignitaries closely linked to the mafia (the so-called alta mafia) amid a prevailing code of silence, all of which increasingly makes the country resemble certain former, unlamented South American dictatorships. And if pockets of resistance to that system remain, the danger is that they will not resist for long without support from a broad section of the population. But will those people be willing to risk their lives for the sake of a clean Italy?