If anyone needs to be reminded just how fragile supposedly democratic states can be, a story in yesterday’s Repubblica is exemplary. It describes the plans being drawn up by the Italian secret services soon after Berlusconi’s electoral victory in 2001 to protect the new prime minister and his government from the possibility of a coup. Nothing strange about that, of course; it’s what secret services are for.
But the coup from which the half-pint Duce needed protection had nothing to do with tanks or the seizure of means of communication. No marches on the Quirinale or shootings at dawn. This coup—according to documents found by Milanese magistrates in the offices of the wonderfully named Pio Pompa (Yes, Pious Pump or Pomp, as you prefer), an official at SISMI, Italy’s MI5—was going to be masterminded by magistrates scattered across Italy (Milan, Turin, Rome and Palermo), with the help of international organisations committed to the fight against fraud and corruption.
These magistrates were suspected of trying to besmirch the name of Italy’s new leader for subversive political motives. They would do this by investigating “aggressively” his financial dealings in Italy and abroad. Interestingly, the documents don’t suggest that these magistrates would need to invent anything; the evidence of Berlusconi’s corruption and fraud simply had to be found and made available for the reputation of the new PM, such as it was, to be reduced to tatters.
The documents also suggest that an eminence grise, ex magistrate and now politician on the centre-left, was the brain behind the coup, although the details are worryingly confused here, as they are on most points. The coup would be combated, if necessary, by what the documents refer to as “traumatic actions” on the part of the secret services, to be carried out before the middle of September 2001. "Traumatic actions" organised or condoned by SISMI in the past are believed to have included murders, bombings and terrorist attacks.
SISMI, in other words, was prepared to act—subversively—against magistrates conducting legitimate investigations into the business activities of a man who was already the subject of legitimate investigation in other European countries (France, Spain and the UK). A man whose entire career was—and remains—littered with unresolved questions concerning his ties with the Mafia, freemasonry and political corruption.
Maybe this shouldn't surprise us. A few days ago at the celebration of Republic Day in Rome, the disgraced Tax Police chief, Speciale, made a point of walking across to Berlusconi, saluting him and saying: "Agli ordini, Presidente".