The top ten political foibles by former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi

Image: Reuters

Image: Reuters

Born in 1936 Silvio Berlusconi started out as a vacuum salesman by day, and earning a reputation by night singing at nightclubs on cruise ships. In 1961 he graduated from law school, and started a residential housing construction company based in his native Milan.

In 1978 he began to amass his fortune, establishing a local television company, Mediaset, that would later grow into Italy’s largest media empire. It now controls three of the largest private television stations. Currently Berlusconi’s holding company Fininvest, owns Mediaset, Mandadori (Italy’s largest publishing house), newspaper ll Giornale, and AC Milan football club, and many other smaller companies. Berlusconi’s current fortune is estimated at $9 billion.

In 1993 Berlusconi founded the political party Forza Italia, named after the chant “Go Italia”, heard at AC Milan soccer games. Forza Italia would later ally with political parties National Alliance and Northern League. Under this alliance in 1994, Berlusconi was elected Prime Minister with the hope that his business acumen could revitalize Italy’s failing economy.

Over the past two decades Berlusconi has become one of Italy’s most formidable politicians. He has led a political career rife with scandal and audacious remarks, outraging the Italian public and on occasion, other nations. With Berlusconi’s party up for re- election on Monday he would take on the position of Economic Minister, with Angelino Alfano as the Prime Minister.

In light of these events its time to review his top ten political blunders of years past.

1. During the 2009 G20 summit held in Rome, Berlusconi managed to embarrass his country by yelling “Mr Obama” over the congregation of worldly leaders in an attempt to gain the President’s attention. The Queen, who was seated in proximity to Berlusconi found the boisterous greeting far from amusing. She promptly reprimanded him, and was probably the only person in the room who had the fortitude or the authority to do so. A clip of the incident became a YouTube sensation.

2. Though Berlusconi has managed to maintain his political career far into his 70s, it seems his machismo mentality from the previous half century has been percolating to the present.
– In 2009 he suggested to a young attractive voter that the best way to escape poverty was to marry a millionaire, “like my son”.
– While on a visit to the New York Stock exchange, he asked investors to consider relocating to Italy because in Italy “we have beautiful secretaries”
– He also claimed to have had to dust off his “playboy charms” in order to convince Finland’s female Prime Minister to set up the EU food safety authority in Parma, Italy instead of Finland.

3. Last Wednesday Berlusconi was accused of trying to buy votes. His center right PDL party had sent out letters saying the party had planned to hand out rebates for the controversial  IMU property tax, which was instituted by the caretaker government led by Mario Monti. Economists estimate that such a rebate could cost the empty handed country up to eight billion dollars, almost as much as Berlusconi’s net worth. Many other political leaders condemned the action with Mario Monti commenting, “when I said that Berlusconi would try to buy the votes of the Italian people with the money of the State, I didn’t think he would do it so much to the letter”.

Image: The Telegraph

Image: The Telegraph

4. In 2010 reports surfaced of a questionable relationship between Berlusconi, and a 17 year old belly dancer named Karima El Mahroug, popularly referred to as Ruby. The then teenager told magazines and other publications that she was paid nearly $10 000 dollars to frequent Berlusconi’s “Bunga Bunga” parties, purportedly sexually charged events which the Prime Minister held in Milan. However, El Mahroug adamantly denied ever having sexual relations with the Prime Minister. After the story broke, Berlusconi tried to quell calls for his resignation, and justify his affection towards females by injecting the infinitely offensive remark, “ It’s better to be fond of beautiful girls than to be gay”.

5. In this post 9/11 world, Western Society has made a concerted effort to become more accepting of foreign cultures in an effort to promote peace and understanding amongst the world’s nations. However, Berlusconi managed to undermine such an effort only days after the attacks took place by saying “We should be conscious of the superiority of civilization, which consists of a value system that has given people widespread prosperity in those countries that embrace it, and guarantees respect for human rights and religion. This respect certainly does not exist in the Islamic countries”.
Shortly after Allies around the world rejected Berlusconi’s ill-conceived comments. Though the comment had already left an impact amongst the worlds nations, and hindered efforts to assemble a global coalition to confront terrorism.

6. In 2009 Berlusconi met with Barack and Michelle Obama during the G-20 summit. Upon his return to Italy he could not resist commenting on the Obama’s complexion, describing them as “great tans.”
In the same year Berlusconi said his response to the global economic crisis was different from that of the Obama’s, because of his paler skin, continuing to say “I’m paler because it’s been so long since I went sunbathing. He’s more handsome, younger, and taller.”
In spite of harsh criticism regarding Berlusconi repeatedly dwelling on the Obama’s ethnicity, he continues to show his true colours.

berlusconi-Obamas 2

Image: The Telegraph

7. In 2009 the worst earthquake to hit Italy in three decades devastated the city of L’Aquila, leaving nearly 40 000 people homeless and 200 dead. The relief provided by the government afforded them tent-like housing. In an effort to pacify the situation Berlusconi said, “of course, their current lodgings are a bit temporary. But they should see it like a weekend of camping”, adding that they “lacked nothing”, they have everything they need from medical care to hot food. Berlusconi would later refuse international aid from the UN to help with costly construction, which would later become fraught with corruption by various mafia clans.

8. During a police investigation into extortion charges, a phone call between Berlusconi and the editor of a small newspaper named Valter Lavitola surfaced. During the conversation Berlusconi became incensed with his country saying that “I’m getting out to mind my own f***ing business, from somewhere else, and so I’m leaving this sh***y country, of which I am sickened.” Naturally the Italian public was outraged at such comments, though the Prime Minister, as with most foibles simply dismissed the matter, calling it “one of those things you say on the telephone late at night.” It was later revealed that the recording was made by the police to build evidence against editor Valter Lavitola on bribery charges made to Berlusconi.

9. From 1989 to 2009 it was estimated that $200 million was spent defending Berlusconi in 2500 court appearances, in 106 trials, relating to a variety of charges such as tax evasion, fraud, and embezzlement, amongst others. In October 2012 Berlusconi was convicted for tax fraud and sentenced to four years in prison, though his sentence was later cut to a year because of an amnesty law granted to him due to his political position. Berlusconi has yet to serve any time, pending appeals. The Berlusconi government has also instituted a number of measures reducing the statute of limitations for fraud, ultimately lessening the severity of his charges.

10.  In 2009 Berlusconi referred to himself as “the best Prime Minister who could be found today. I believe there is no one in history to whom I should feel inferior. Quite the opposite.” He expanded upon this later by touting himself as “Jesus Christ of politics. I sacrifice myself for everyone”.
Let’s hope he realizes he is not a contender for the new Pope.