Basta Bunga Bunga
Have Italians had enough of Berlusconi?IIn 2008, during his fourth campaign to become Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi released a video in which a beautiful blond woman, standing in a grocery store beside a pile of bananas, sings, “There’s a big dream that lives in all of us.” A throng of women belt out the chorus together under a cloudless sky: “Meno male che Silvio c’è”— “Thank God there’s Silvio.” Other women in various settings pick up the tune: a young mother in a pediatrician’s office, surrounded by nurses; a brunette in a beauty parlor, dressed for work in a camisole that barely covers her breasts. To American eyes, the ad looks like a parody, or perhaps some new kind of musical pornography that’s about to erupt into carnality. The finale depicts a passionate young swimming instructor singing to a pool full of women in bathing suits: “Say it with the strength possessed only by those who have a pure mind: Presidente, we are with you!”
These days, you would have to possess an unusually pure mind to look at that pool full of young women without picturing the pool at Berlusconi’s estate, Arcore, just outside Milan. Along with the basement disco and the upstairs bedrooms, the pool is featured almost daily in Italian newspapers as one of the sites where the Presidente reportedly hosted scores of orgies—or, as they have become known around the world, Bunga Bungas. (There is heated debate about the origin of the term. Some say Berlusconi picked it up from Muammar Qaddafi—his friend, until recently. Others cite an off-color joke set in Africa.) The Bunga Bungas are a source of humiliation for many Italians, and of humor for others, including the Presidente, as Berlusconi is called. Not long ago, he told a convention of the Movement for National Responsibility, upon hearing its theme song, “My compliments on your anthem. I will use it as one of my songs for a Bunga Bunga!”
Berlusconi has always seemed pleased with himself. In 2006, he offered some advice to Italians living below the poverty line: “Do it my way and earn more money!” (His net worth is estimated at nine billion dollars.) He has described himself as “the best in the world—all the other world leaders wish they could be as good as I am.” Lately, however, his bravado has sounded increasingly misplaced. The Italian economy is stalled, and unemployment is at 8.4 per cent. In 2009, he was lambasted for his inadequate response to earthquakes in Abruzzo, which killed more than three hundred people and left seventy thousand homeless. Last July, Gianfranco Fini, the president of the parliamentary Chamber of Deputies, who had been a crucial ally for sixteen years, broke away to form his own party. And then came Ruby.
This past fall, it was reported that the Prime Minister was under investigation for paying for sex with a teen-age belly dancer named Karima el Mahroug—better known by her stage name, Ruby Rubacuori, or Ruby Heartstealer—and that he had intervened on her behalf when she was arrested for stealing money from a roommate. Berlusconi claims that he never had sex with her and that, anyway, she told him she was twenty-four. He admits that he gave her thousands of euros at the end of her first evening at Arcore, and tens of thousands more later, but insists that these were innocent acts of generosity. He instructed the police to release her from custody, he says, because he thought that she was a niece of the former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and he wanted to avoid straining diplomatic relations. (Mahroug, who was born in Morocco and grew up in Sicily, is not related to Mubarak.) After the story broke, other women came forward to tell the stories of their Arcore nights. A twenty-seven-year-old prostitute named Nadia Macrì described Berlusconi lying in his bed, being serviced by women in rapid succession. “He would say, ‘Next one, please,’ and sometimes we were all together in the swimming pool, where sex took place.” Berlusconi denies Macrì’s account, and her credibility has been called into question. Macrì is the star of a new adult film called “Bunga Bunga 3D.”
Rubygate, as everyone calls the scandal, has grown progressively more lurid. Two of Berlusconi’s friends, Emilio Fede—the host of the television show “TG4,” which airs on one of the three networks Berlusconi owns—and the entertainment agent Dario (Lele) Mora, are charged with running a prostitution ring to meet the Prime Minister’s elaborate erotic expectations, with help from Nicole Minetti, a twenty-six-year-old former dental hygienist, showgirl, and, possibly, lover of Berlusconi’s. (All three have pleaded not guilty.) For months, the prosecutor’s office in Milan had been wiretapping phones used by Berlusconi and his associates, and the twenty thousand pages of documents pertaining to Rubygate have been leaking out in Italian newspapers. The picture that has emerged is of an aging emperor, surrounded by a harem of nubile women paid to ornament his dinner table, boost his ego, and dance around in their underpants. Berlusconi is Italy’s waning Hugh Hefner, alternately reviled and admired for his loyalty to his own appetites—except that he’s supposed to be running the country.