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Silvio Berlusconi’s Misunderstood Image Problem

On the eve of the European elections, the man whose tongue knows few bounds made a not so subtle observation on the state of modern Milan.

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s present prime minister, recently made the observation that Milan seems like Africa. According to Berlusconi, Milan is so full of African faces that being in the city one might not think it was in Europe.  For this comment, Italy’s prime minister received a standing ovation.

However, some people out there, Barack Obama included perhaps, might consider such a comment to be somewhat offensive.  It is, possibly, the sort of comment which might well spout from the lips of a xenophobe, but not be expected to originate from the mouth of the leader of a country in progressive Europe, a country which also happens to be one of the G8 member states.

Silvioli Pasta
The Face of Italy

Just as we have American President Obama trying to engage the world’s Muslim population in an attempt to stave off acts of terrorism, there is Berlusconi who, with his statement on the condition of Milan, may convince a few more that terrorism is the only way to go.

However, although Berlusconi’s words might well offend certain ethnic minorities in multi-cultural Milan, other Italians, particularly Lega Nord – Northern League – fans will lap up such an observation, as is evidenced from the standing ovation which this comment garnered.  No guesses for whom the people who clapped voted for in the European elections.  Berlusconi’s shock tactics were really no more than an attempt to lap up last minute European election votes for his supporters.  You could call the comments a form of marketing, I suppose.

Right before the European elections, El Pais, a Spanish newspaper which seems to hold Silvio Berlusconi in about as much regard as Italy’s very own Repubblica daily, published a saucy set of photographs.  Some of which show semi-nude guests at Berlusconi’s luxury mansion on the island of Sardinia.  One of these images clearly shows a naked man. My Italian other half thought the man in question might have been Berlusconi himself, although rumours floating around the web suggest that the man immortalised may, instead, have been a former Czech prime minister.

The photographs are doing the rounds on the Italian internet, as well as being spread virally all over the world.

The El Pais Photographs

Silvio Berlusconi - party animal prime minister
Silvio Berlusconi - party animal prime minister

The photographs published by El Pais are apparently the images which Berlusconi has managed to ban in Italy.  It will come as no surprise to learn that Berlusconi is thinking about suing El Pais for having published these revealing photos.  If he goes ahead, whether he wins or not will not really matter now, seeing as the images are all over the internet.  Indeed, there was a report in Milan’s Epolis newspaper today that Italians literally invaded the El Pais website in order to see the photographs which had been kept out of the Italian press.

Berlusconi, powerful though he may be, has yet to find a way of controlling the foreign press, even if he can minimize its effects over here in Italy.  Nowadays though, the internet is helping Italians understand how others view Italy.  Legislation designed to either smother the internet or to ‘regulate’ it must be on the cards here in Italy.   Or maybe Berlusconi will buy Facebook!

The photographs, which show that the party at Berlusconi’s Sardinia villa was a rather more raunchy affair than the average ambassador’s reception, have infuriated Silvio.  But for many, including Berlusconi himself, their publication must not have come as a huge surprise.  After all, Berlusconi’s recent antics had already caught the attention of the world’s press, making other Berlusconi related events highly appealing to editors the world over.

And now, with the independent power of those commie social networking systems, such as Facebook, and the like, word has spread like wildfire.  The world is not laughing with Italy, but at it.

The reason why everyone is having a good laugh at Italy’s expense is, as many Italians like to claim, including Mr Italian Prime Minister himself, that foreigners simply do not understand Italy.

Foreigners just do not understand Italy

That non-Italians have a problems understanding Italy is probably quite true, in that Americans, Britons, Finns and Germans, and, so it would seem, Spaniards, find it difficult to understand why in a modern democracy, and a republic to boot, supposedly the country’s most senior statesman, and a billionaire, should consistently have it in for his country’s judiciary, press, and, now, its ethnic minorities.

It is also difficult to comprehend just why the same statesman is apparently using his status to promote the careers of hot Italian beauties.  Of course foreigners do not understand either just why Italy seems to be full to the brim of criminal organisations.  Organisations which possess tentacles that have spread into almost every walk of life in Italy.  Why has Italy allowed this to happen?  Perhaps Silvio Berlusconi can help us understand what exactly has been going on in Italy.

A number of Italians also find it difficult to understand just why the organised crime situation, illustrated so graphically in Roberto Saviano’s book Gommorah, has been allowed to get so far out of control.

Corruption in Italy

We foreigners also find it difficult to get our heads around the levels of corruption in Italy too.  Corruption which many Italians believe, according to a recent Global Corruption Barometer report by Transparency International, emanates primarily from Italy’s politicians.

Those from outside Italy also find it rather curious, to say the least, that a man who has effectively been found guilty of corruption still manages to hold on to the post of prime minister, especially when in another country, which Italians do not understand, namely Britain, politicians and, potentially, Gordon Brown’s government are likely to crumble over something as ‘trivial’, in Italian terms,’ as creative expenses claims.

There are, funnily enough, Italians who themselves don’t understand why there should be such a difference between the United Kingdom and Italy either.  So you see, it’s not just foreigners who don’t understand Italy.  Even Italians themselves find it difficult to understand why Italy is the way it is, and, more to the point, why it continues to be so.

One famous Italian who does not understand his own country is Beppe Grillo, who has real problems trying to get his head round why Italy’s parliament comprises so many politicians with convictions.

Berlusconi Under Investigation, Again

think in italian logo dark bg 1

Stop reading, start speaking

Stop translating in your head and start speaking Italian for real with the only audio course that prompt you to speak.

In the midst of the Noemi intrigue and lewd photos, Italy’s most senior politician, and richest man, is under investigation for apparently misusing state aircraft.  Although a little law was sneaked though parliament granting Italy’s prime minister the right to use state funded flights for just about whatever thought fit.  This little law may well get Silvio off the hook, again.

What many outside Italy do not understand is why a person who so often falls foul of the law still manages to hold on to power.

Then there is the fact that Berlusconi seems to be a great fan of one Bettino Craxi, a man who had to escape from Italy because he had been convicted of embezzling a vast sum of Italian taxpayers’ money.  Yes, it is difficult to understand why someone who supports Craxi, and was a close personal friend of the man, should actually manage to reach the position of prime minister.  This is something which some Italians find difficult to comprehend too.

Another thing that foreigners do not understand is how the prime minister of a country can appoint his very own defence lawyer to a position in his very own government.  Many are unable to comprehend why Italy does not understand the meaning of the concept of  ‘conflict of interests’, and why Italy finds the idea of meritocracy so distasteful.

As a matter of interest, this quote from a recent New York Times article on Silvio Berlusconi illustrates how much of a problem Americans have understanding Italy:

…Mr. Berlusconi, a phenomenon as alien to Americans as conflict-of-interest laws are to Italians.

World Class Italian Statesman?  Who?

Further, it is very difficult to understand, for us foreigners that is, just why Italy has never really produced any world class statesmen.  People like Roosevelt, Churchill or even, more recently, Henry Kissinger, Margaret Thatcher, or Tony Blair.  Well, this is not entirely true, there was of course Mussolini, but he was a dictator.

Since Mussolini though, can anyone name a world class statesman who was Italian?  Go on, do so, and prove me wrong.

Perhaps the lack of any strong leader is just why Italy has become a place which is so difficult to understand.

Other Difficult to Understand Aspects of Italy

There are many other things which us non-Italians find difficult to understand too.

Such as why Italians seem to distrust each other so much.  Or why there seems to be an intrinsic fear of being ripped off in Italy.  Such is this fear that the country needs clannish families or clannish criminal associations to keep itself together.

And then it is difficult to understand why there is so little national pride in Italy.  Italians are much prouder of their regions, cities, towns and villages of origin than they are of being from Italy.  The exception to this rule comes from those Italians who have emigrated, and tend to give the impression that they are proud of their Italian origins.

Help Us To Understand Silvio Berlusconi

Go on Silvio Berlusconi – you are Italian, so you ‘understand’.  Help us to understand too, why Italy is so different.  Indeed, so enormously different from most other European countries that its antics help sell so many newspapers to foreigners.

At the end of the day though, it could be argued that it is not so much that foreigners don’t understand Italy, as Italy that does not understand itself.  If it did, for a start, it would not be such an easy target for the world’s press.

Whether or not the results of the elections will end up demonstrating that Italy has begun to understand that it needs to do a little to change its public image is questionable.  Early European election exit-poll results suggest that Italy is still a long way from understanding itself.  After all, it has taken Italy some 60 odd years to understand that stable governments which last for more than five minutes are likely to prove more beneficial to Italy.

And why can’t Italy come up with a decent opposition?

Mini-Update June 8, 2009, 3:25pm: The results of the European elections in Italy, despite the very low turnout, or possibly because of the low turnout, seem to demonstrate that Italy is nowhere nearer to understanding itself, as suspected, even if the gains made by the Italian Values party indicate that there may be a slim glimmer of hope.

Sooner or later all the interest in Silvio Berlusconi antics will die down, and Italy will go back to being the misunderstood country it was before.  The Living Museum will continue to live, but not to progress.

Some Further reading:

Il Corriere Della Sera:  Berlusconi Says Milan Looks Like Africa – in English.

New York Times:  In Italy, Questions Are From Enemies, and That’s That – a fascinating article from which, amongst other things, you may be surprised to discover that Berlusconi’s leadership is considered by some Italians to represent a form of progress in Italy.  And the New York Times also thinks Italy is one huge reality show.  Funny that, so do I: Soapy Reality Show Italy

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