Berlusconi Keeps Government Afloat — for Now

My piece on the Berlusconi’s parliamentary confidence vote has just been published by Time.

As far as birthday presents go, it wasn’t a bad one. On Wednesday, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi survived a parliamentary vote of confidence, giving new life to his governing coalition after a summer of acrimonious infighting.

But as his closest allies raised their glasses to the Prime Minister’s 74 years later that night, the prosecco might have tasted a little flat. Berlusconi had hoped the vote would demonstrate that he no longer needed the group of rebel parliamentarians who broke with his party in July, but have since pledge conditional support. Instead, the result revealed just how dependent his government is on their cooperation. “It’s not just about stability,” says Allesandro Campi, director of Fare Futoro, a think tank closely linked to the rebels. “Formally, Berlusconi has the majority. The problem is: Will he politically be able to govern?”

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Money-Laundering Probe Sparks Another Vatican Scandal

My piece on the banking scandal at the Vatican has been published by Time.

When news first broke on Tuesday that Italian prosecutors were investigating the Vatican Bank for violations of anti-money-laundering regulations, the story seemed to be that the bank had returned to its old ways. Reports in the press referenced the Vatican’s connection to a 1980s financial scandal in which Italy’s second largest bank, Banco Ambrosiano, went spectacularly bankrupt, collapsing under $1.3 billion of debt amid allegations of involvement by the Mafia and Masonic lodges. “The Vatican Bank has a very negative image,” says Philip Willan, author of The Last Supper, a book about the death of the Banco Ambrosiano’s chairman, who was found hanging under a London bridge, his pockets stuffed with rocks and thousands of dollars in cash. “Every time there’s a whiff of scandal, all the papers dig out their files.”

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The Roma’s Struggle to Find a Home

Time has just ran my piece on the evictions of the Roma in Italy.

Another day, and another ram-shackle encampment where Roma once lived is gone. The scrap-wood shelters have been pushed to the ground. The tents, collapsed. The inhabitants, scattered. In Rome, the eviction of the Roma — a European minority sometimes referred to as Gypsies — is taking place with the full force of the law: military police, bulldozers, German shepherds. But, in contrast to the international firestorm over such evictions in France, Italy’s have attracted little attention.

Even as French President Nicolas Sarkozy tussled with the European Union over the repatriation of dozens of Roma to Romania (despite the name, Roma don’t historically come from the country, although many live there), the mayor of Rome announced the demolition of his city’s 200 illegal squatter camps, at a rate of three or four a week. This means another wave of expulsions for the Roma, who have faced similar efforts all over the country. Meanwhile, Italy’s Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni, took to the airwaves and declared the country’s Roma problem — and many here see it as a problem — “practically resolved.” He added, “The controversy around Sarkozy’s decision made me smile a little. For us, it’s a movie we’ve already seen.”

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