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EDITORIAL: Down, but not out

‘Bunga bunga!’ Berlusconi still hasn’t had to say he’s sorry

The "bunga bunga" parties are over, but former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was sentenced last week to seven years in prison for having sexual relations several times with an underage prostitute, is not about to go quietly into the bad night. He still has friends. A rally of thousands called "Everyone for Silvio" gathered the other day to buck up his spirits. Tuesday, different demonstrators, proclaiming some sort of moral equivalence, cried "Siamo tutti puttane" ("we are all prostitutes") and added a new layer and edge to his fight against "the puritanical injustice" of the court.

Many who support Mr. Berlusconi argue that the prostitution charge and subsequent cover-up were fabricated by leftist political opponents. Thirty defense witnesses testified in the trial that the Berlusconi parties at Villa San Martino were "good, clean fun." The witnesses included political figures close to Mr. Berlusconi, along with models, starlets and showgirls. Nobody saw any girls gone wild, they said, or anything untoward between Mr. Berlusconi and 17-year-old Karima el-Mahroug, the Moroccan hooker known as "Ruby the Heart Breaker." For their trouble, some of the defense witnesses will likely stand trial for perjury. Mr. Berlusconi? He will likely stay free as a bird, and not a jailbird, either.

Mr. Berlusconi, who denies any wrongdoing, has been dancing in this trial for more than two years, preceded by nearly 30 years of bad behavior that includes a conviction for tax evasion. There are five additional cases pending against him, and new charges of Mafia involvement have surfaced. But he is still not in jail, and, at 76, he's still in the game. A happy man, Mr. Berlusconi is engaged to 27-year-old Francesca Pascale.

How does he do it? Well, it is Italy, after all. La dolce vita and all that, and Italy nurtures political theater. The crime is serious, but Mr. Berlusconi's plaintive observation, "I thought she was 24," could ultimately win the day. The perception by many that Mr. Berlusconi was a victim of "judicial injustice" and "hypocritical moralism" has helped him, too.

The "bunga bunga" party continues to fascinate Italy. The origin of "bunga bunga" has never been settled. Describing the "six things you are supposed to know about Berlusconi's trial," the London Daily Telegraph offers two explanations for the phrase: "Mr. Berlusconi says it is from a politically incorrect joke that he likes to tell about a pair of left-wing politicians who are captured by a tribe of cannibals in Africa. The second explanation is that it is a phrase he borrowed from his friend, the late Moammar Gadhafi, and refers to a harem of young women."

None of the story is savory, though a lot of it is titillating. But bear in mind, it's not just Italy. We've even impeached a president of our own for fibbing about sexual dalliance. Mr. Berlusconi grooves on opera, which is the equivalent of a Tennessee politician grooving on country music, he's in love, and he has won three national elections. He's down, but he might not be out. Yet.

The Washington Times

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