Fulfilling his internal political agenda, once again Berlusconi and his government play the ‘emergency’ card to divert the attention of Italian public opinion away from his legal charges for paying for sex with an underage prostitute and abusing his office by seeking her release from custody, and from the dramatic economic crisis to which the country seems unable to respond to. Completely unbothered by the lack of sensitivity of his words for the victims of real tsunamis, Berlusconi stated yesterday that the arrival of migrants and refugees from North Africa is a ‘human tsunami’. To validate statements like this one, the Italian government needs a place like the island of Lampedusa, a place small enough to appear overcrowded even with a few thousand people.
Of course, for Lampedusa’s residents the arrivals of migrants – and it would interesting to see how much the current flows are exceptional or instead fit seasonal patterns – cause real logistical issues and their concerns are legitimate, but in the grand narrative of the emergency and invasion constructed by the Italian government with the support of some European agencies like Frontex (interested to legitimise its expanding budget and mandate) and Gaddafi (interested to stress his role as defender of the EU borders) (cf. Hein de Haas’ blog) they are instrumental to reify the spectacle of the invasion. This narrative suits Berlusconi because it enables him to wear his favorite cloths, that of the savior, the charismatic leader who flies to the island and solves the ‘problem’.
However, Berlusconi is a charismatic leader of his own league, and his ‘solution’ to the invasion – once again real in relation to Lampedusa and its residents, but hardly a significant flow of people in relation to Italy as a whole – bear the marks of his persona: buying all the boats available in Tunisia to stop people, commissioning a tv series set in Lampedusa to boost tourism, and personally purchasing a villa.
Update: Villa Due Palme bought by Berlusconi in March 2011 is to date (August 2012) abandoned and awaiting renovation. Metaphor of his political trajectory?