Over the last couple of decades, Europe and the USA have been playing with the world’s Power like two kids bouncing up and down on a seesaw. Or at least they would’ve been were America not so fat.
America’s superiority in all matters military, economic and gastronomic is undisputed, and despite the delusions of people like Valery Giscard d’Estaing, Europe is a long way shy of the hegemonic heffalump in just about every field worth looking into. The stereotypically illiterate gun-toting burger-munching bundles of insecurity have even started to get good at football, despite their insistance on calling it something else.
However, there is one area in which Europe will forever reign: we’ve got much richer and more exciting history books.
This most colourful collection of tales, like every other worthwhile recollection of the past, is centred around a succession of Great Men (and the odd token woman). Europe’s is a history shaped by a series of amusing autocratic demi-despots who ruled and ravaged these lands in a dramatic exposition of short-man syndrome. Armed with an ostentatiously opulent upbringing, a wicked turn of phrase and a taste for fancy hats, a select band of crazy leaders have left as many lives enriched by their ways in our time as they left strewn on the battlefields in theirs.
Yet things have changed, and in many more ways than the changing standards of cephalic sartorial elegance.
With the spread of democracy and the rise of the European Union, your friendly (or otherwise) neighbourhood dictator is a very much endangered species. This is especially true if one excludes from Europe Russia’s President Putin and his friend, the self-proclaimed “cleanest president in the world”, Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, who are both battling their hardest to resist the busy-body clutches of the Union.
If you want actions of a Napoleonic bent in the heart of Europe, there is only one man left for the job, a man who only the other week compared himself to the diminutive Gallic General, Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, whose achievements, I’m sure by now we’re all well aware of.
Signor Silvio later distanced himself from his remarks about M Bonaparte, insisting that it was all said in jest. To fill this vacant spot for potentate-comparison, Silvio went on to claim that he was the “Jesus Christ of Italian politics. I am a patient victim. I put up with everything. I sacrifice myself for everyone.”
Remember kids: being an astonishingly powerful chap just ain’t that easy. Saddam, Stalin, Hitler, Pol PotÃ¢â‚¬â€you name themÃ¢â‚¬â€were all so practically paralysed by fear that they barely had time to slaughter their populations. Turkmenistan’s cuddly little self-appointed God, Saparmurat Niyazov, is also plagued by the perils of his power; as he says: “the people respect me so much I can not sleep.” Silvio’s just having to deal with the pressures of being such an important fellow.
It’s all taking its toll on poor Mr Berlusconi. And whereas Jesus just had to deal with some Roman soldiers keen on setting a precedent for Abu Ghraib, Silvio has to fight elections every now and then, the next round of which are coming up soon, and are almost guaranteed to be interesting, in as much as these things ever are.
Silvio is in the indelicate situation of being, allegedly, in a losing position, owing to him doing pretty much nothing of any good for the country in his time in charge. However, like a true champion, he’s far from beaten. He’s already changed the electoral system to help him out as much as possible (a bit like New Labour, except Silvio being cooler didn’t bother changing himself to fit the system, he simply changed the system to fit himself). This hasn’t been all fun and gamesÃ¢â‚¬â€in order to win, Silvio will need the support of a number of key coalition partners, one of whom thought the best response to the furore over the controversial cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammed was to get them printed on a T-shirt. This hasn’t bothered Silvio too much however, for he’s too busy having fun with his TV stations.
Latest estimates suggest that for every second Romano Prodi appears on the nation’s screens, Silvio gets a good few hours. As there is absolutely, categorically, no conflict on interest between Silvio’s effective control of about 90 per cent of Italy’s media, this is presumably just bad luck on Prodi’s part. Either that or he’s not working hard enough.
Indeed, as Silvio tells us, Italian TV is positively ganging up against the prime minister; and his old tactic of packing those with the temerity to criticise him on TV off to Siberia has apparently severely depreciated.
Yet even with his Personality Cult shining like never before and generally being a political divinity, polls continually suggest that Silvio trails Prodi by a good few percentage points. However, all is not lost for Italy’s messianic man of money. Mr Berlusconi has responded to the negative responses by commissioning his own poll, which, he says, shows him in the lead. And who’s brave enough to bet that come April 9th, Silvio won’t somehow hold his own vote too?
If that proves beyond him, we may find ourselves waving goodbye (for now) to the last of the big time braggadocios. And make no mistake, we, and history, will miss him when he’s gone.