Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the country’s longest-serving elected head of government, refused to accept responsibility for the deepening recession in a televised debate last night with a long-time critic.
Berlusconi blamed Prime Minister Mario Monti and politicians he said had communist sympathies in the two-and-a-half hour interview. The host, Michele Santoro, periodically interrupted to show reports highlighting Italians’ economic desperation and a video of the ex-premier making a gaffe when meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Berlusconi, who resigned in November 2011, was asked at the start of the discussion to apologize for Italy’s crisis.
“I will not admit any responsibility,” Berlusconi said.
The appearance on TV station La 7 was part of a media blitz the 76-year-old billionaire is seeking to use to regain public support ahead of elections at the end of February. Santoro and a team of journalists, with questions and a series of monologues, accused Berlusconi of mishandling the economy, collaborating with the Mafia and paying for sex. The media mogul, dressed in a blue double-breasted suit, rejected the charges.
Berlusconi blamed his legal troubles, which include a tax fraud conviction and a pending trial on charges of engaging a minor in prostitution, on politically motivated judges and prosecutors. He said left-leaning politicians with communist mindsets are responsible for Italy’s economic woes and that he never paid for sex.
“The envy of the left is in the communist ideology, and that is the most inhuman and criminal ideology in the history of man,” Berlusconi said.
The two sides drew applause and laughter from the studio audience, reaching a crescendo more than two hours into the show when Santoro interrupted Berlusconi and the two men began shouting at each other. Berlusconi stood up with a smile to shake hands, and when Santoro refused the gesture, the ex-premier drew belly-to-belly with the journalist and gave him a shove in the arm.
Berlusconi said he considered himself “a good and righteous man.”
“Anyway the impression we have of ourselves isn’t important,” Santoro said.
There has been bad blood between Berlusconi and Santoro since at least 2002, when the journalist was ousted from state broadcaster RAI by the then-premier. Santoro’s show was canceled after Berlusconi accused him and two other presenters of making criminal use of state television. He did not broadcast again for four years and was elected with a center-left party to the European Parliament. In the 1990s, Santoro worked for Berlusconi at the billionaire’s Milan-based Mediaset SpA.