guess who?
February 12, 2006 7:36 PM   Subscribe

"I am the Jesus Christ of politics," says this controversial leader. He's also Napoleon, but taller, and recently told people: "Mussolini never killed anyone. Mussolini used to send people on vacation in internal exile." Think we're the only country whose leader makes planetary gaffes? Think again--and elections are coming. You've got to admire the balls on a guy who owns much of his country's media, yet says: "If I, taking care of everyone's interests, also take care of my own, you can't talk about a conflict of interest."
posted by amberglow (37 comments total)
more here: The Prime Minister and the Press
posted by amberglow at 7:41 PM on February 12, 2006

... and I am Napolean.
posted by mischief at 7:41 PM on February 12, 2006

Yea, whenever I think of how bad it is with GW, I think of Italy and with Berlusconi. And I'm glad it is not reached that point yet. I give us about 40-50 years though.
posted by SirOmega at 7:41 PM on February 12, 2006

Italian = balls + style
posted by The Jesse Helms at 7:44 PM on February 12, 2006

you know, for everything that's wrong with the guy, this quote cracks me up. If I were Italian and more impressionable, I might vote for him on this quote alone:

On Danish PM Anders Fogh-Rasmussen:

"I think I should introduce him to my wife, because he is better-looking than (Massimo) Cacciari." [Mr Cacciari is a former mayor of Venice rumoured to be romantically attached to Mrs Berlusconi.] "

posted by shmegegge at 7:45 PM on February 12, 2006

I'm with shmegegge. That was hilarious. It also makes me wonder if all his other comments are similarly tongue-in-cheek.
posted by Meredith at 7:54 PM on February 12, 2006

Ugh. He's a vile vile person. And intensely corrupt. Huge fan of Bush.
posted by Artw at 7:55 PM on February 12, 2006

I'll trade balls for decent policies and transparent government. Or at least one. One ball. Is that so much to ask?
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:18 PM on February 12, 2006

If your Napoleon mischief then I'm Genghis Khan!
posted by PurplePorpoise at 8:32 PM on February 12, 2006

Yea, whenever I think of how bad it is with GW, I think of Italy and with Berlusconi.

Me too. Phew.
posted by homunculus at 9:28 PM on February 12, 2006

In the BBC article, they point out that 'Povero Christo', or 'Poor Christ' is a slang term in Italian. They don't directly say what it means, but they do explicitly say it's not really blasphemous in that culture.

Probably, this particular comment was completely innocuous, and has become an issue from translation error.
posted by Malor at 10:18 PM on February 12, 2006

This guy is like the living stereotype of a bad poltician. He's a media mogul. So we can kiss that whole independent media thing goodbye. He's Italy's richest man along with being the Prime Minister. He considers Mussolini, a failure and a man who led his army against his neighbors with Nazi help, one of the greatest statesmen ever. If anything this reflects how much Mussolini is loved and respected in modern Italy still. Hey, these guys like a strongman!

Of course he plays the "over-the-top" card. It sure beats taking a good look at this guy. Humor disarms suspicions like nothing else. PLaying against serious foes with some lighthearted jokes about Mussolini and AIDS goes a long way. I'm sure his "I'd have a beer with him" factor is just as high as GWB's. He's like Chavez in Venezuala or the US's GWB. Turn politics into a sideshow and distract. It works.
posted by skallas at 11:07 PM on February 12, 2006

>this particular comment was completely innocuous

He has a past of making these kinds of comments:
In English: A man with AIDS meets his doctor and asks him: "Doctor, what can I do for my illness?". The doctor answers: "Have a mud bath". "But doc, will that really do me any good?" "Not really, but you'll get used to being buried".

In English: "Mister Schulz, I know a movie-producer in Italy that is making a movie about Nazi concentration camps. I will suggest you to play the role of a Kapo (concentration-camp supervisor). You are perfect!"
He also claimed to have used his "playboy charms" on sometimes Conan O'Brien look-alike Finish PM Tarja Halonen.

Some of this stuff would be funny from the local drunk, but not from a diplomat who has so much power. The guy simply wears his asshole on his sleeve. Now that's Machismo!
posted by skallas at 11:18 PM on February 12, 2006

What about his two CDs of love songs?

From this link:
"The collection of 14 new songs, some in Neapolitan dialect and all focused in the thrills and trials of love, is expected to be released in February next year. Apicella [his song-writing partner], a former car park attendant from Naples, said the album would include ‘Cicculat ‘e Caffe'’ (Chocolate and Coffee), a number which Berlusconi’s close friends have already heard performed at private parties. The song reportedly revolves around an unidentified man’s passion for a curvy, dark-skinned Brazilian woman."
posted by baklavabaklava at 11:32 PM on February 12, 2006

Yea, whenever I think of how bad it is with GW, I think of Italy and with Berlusconi. And I'm glad it is not reached that point yet. I give us about 40-50 years though.


... except, with a country the size and power of Italy, he is only a threat to his own people.

BTW, it's funny how the spell checker suggests Etruscan for Berlusconi.
posted by uncle harold at 11:33 PM on February 12, 2006

Hmm... I bet he's starting to crack.
posted by Citizen Premier at 11:42 PM on February 12, 2006

Italian Politics suck and Berlusconi sucks even more.
He is a populist with Fascist leanings
He has sucessfully managed to get the laws changed so that there is a time limitation on cases coming to court thus enabling him to avoid criminal charges.
In 2003 the Economist wrote he was unfit to lead the European Union. Also The threat Berlusconi poses to Italian Democracy For more on Italian Corruption here
posted by adamvasco at 12:04 AM on February 13, 2006

The abstinence promise is nothing...his latest is to promise '40 meters [of housing] for everyone'.

The unmentioned catch is that it's 10 meters on 4 floors.../Fichi di India

And this is totally a self-link, but I simultaneously solicit the help of other MeFITes to help in improving...The Berlusconi Drinking Game. (Number 8 is rather pertainent to your comment uncle harold)
posted by romakimmy at 1:05 AM on February 13, 2006

In the BBC article, they point out that 'Povero Christo', or 'Poor Christ' is a slang term in Italian. They don't directly say what it means, but they do explicitly say it's not really blasphemous in that culture.

It means "poor devil", "poor bastard".

But no, Our Great Silvio (PBUH) did use that phrase, he did say "I am *the* Jesus Christ of politics", by which he doesn't mean he think he's divine, but that he thinks he is a victim of persecution. By the magistrates, by the opposition (why, why does the opposition oppose him? isn't that rude?), by the media.

Anyway, I'm loving it. Every time he appears on tv and says something like this, it has at least one very positive effect: it makes his allies cringe and go "nonsense, there is nothing to comment on, it was only a silly tasteless joke" while gritting their teeth into the journalists microphone.

I'd like to say the other positive effect is a shift of at least half a million votes to the opposition, but that might be too optimistic. Not to mention the left coalition is not exactly awe-inspiring either, especially their chosen leader, Romano Prodi.

shmegegge: you have pinned down the Berlusconi effect, people falling for that kind of swagger. He knows that, and he exploits that. (After all he started out in marketing and advertising). And even for those who'd rather have their hands chopped off than vote for him, it's amazing how, if you watch him speak for ten minutes, even through the disgust and anger and desperation, you kind of admire the sheer boldness in how he paints himself as a victim and a hero at the same time, the kind of bullshit he talks, but with such assurance. In Italian there's a saying for people like that: they'd be able to sell icicles in the North Pole.

For the past month he's been all over tv until the electoral period officially starts, because then there's precise rules on the amount of time each coalition or party is allowed on tv and it has to be equal, rules which of course he dismisses as oppressive, so he's been shamelessly taking advantage of the period before the equal time rules apply.
posted by funambulist at 2:05 AM on February 13, 2006

On the Napoleon thing, the cartoonist for the Corriere della Sera drew a Berlusconi running towards a cliff, with a sign pointing to the direction of the cliff and the word "Waterloo". I hope he's right.
posted by funambulist at 2:11 AM on February 13, 2006

But no, Our Great Silvio (PBUH) did use that phrase, he did say "I am *the* Jesus Christ of politics"

Do you know that? Does anyone have the original Italian?
posted by magpie68 at 2:45 AM on February 13, 2006

'Su Napoleone ovviamente scherzavo: io sono il Gesù Cristo della politica, una vittima paziente, sopporto tutto, mi sacrifico con tutti. Così dovete fare anche voi imprenditori'

More or less translates to:
'About Napoleon i was obviously joking; I am the Jesus Christ of politics, a patient victim, I tolerate everything, I sacrifice myself with everyone. You businessmen should do the same.'
posted by romakimmy at 3:28 AM on February 13, 2006

Yes, magpie, it's been all over the news in Italy, here's for example one of the headlines from the website of Italian state tv news channel, the quote is in the first paragraph:

"Su Napoleone ovviamente scherzavo... Io sono il Gesu' Cristo della politica. Sono una vittima paziente, sopporto tutto, mi sacrifico per tutti. Così dovete fare anche voi imprenditori...".

"I was joking about Napoleon, of course... I am the Jesus Christ of politics. I am a patient victim, I tolerate everything, I sacrifice myself for everybody. That's what you should do too as businesspeople..." (he was talking at a business convention)
posted by funambulist at 3:28 AM on February 13, 2006

heh, oops, romakimmy beat me to it :)
posted by funambulist at 3:29 AM on February 13, 2006

I would pay good money for Prodi to respond to the above with "Get off the cross, we need the wood"
posted by romakimmy at 3:31 AM on February 13, 2006

romakimmy, your drinking game post is brilliant :)

my favourite berluscliché is this: "claims that Italy is more respected & a bigger player in the International community thanks to him" (even more tragically hilarious especially after the Calipari affair)
posted by funambulist at 3:40 AM on February 13, 2006

Thanks romakimmy and funambulist, I couldn't find it. I don't see how anyone can make the "Povero Christi" defence quoted by the BBC as he clearly was not using that idiom.

No, he's a megalomaniac egotist (tautology?) but hey, he's one of ours so we won't nuke him like Ahmedinejad.
posted by magpie68 at 3:52 AM on February 13, 2006

Yes funambulist, that's quite a gem of his but I'm rather impressed by the ballsiness of his latest round of billboards:

The Left says that everything is going wrong.
[Let's] Ignore them.
posted by romakimmy at 3:57 AM on February 13, 2006

Hm, just noticed this from skallas: He considers Mussolini, a failure and a man who led his army against his neighbors with Nazi help, one of the greatest statesmen ever. If anything this reflects how much Mussolini is loved and respected in modern Italy still. - neither of those two claims is true, Mussolini is certainly NOT loved and respected in modern Italy, apart from a few idiots on the far right fringes; Berlusconi's party is centre right, a continuation of the Christian Democrats, he's an asshole and a megalomaniac, not a nostalgic of fascism; when he said that thing about Mussolini, he was talking of Saddam Hussein and why Italy needed to support the US military intervention in Iraq, so he was saying by comparison to Saddam, Mussolini was far less evil as he didn't kill dissenters but only sent them in exile on lovely islands in the south, etc.. It was still an incredibly shitty thing to say, and of course untrue, and of course conveniently forgetful of the deportation of Jews, but the context is not that of an ode to fascism.
posted by funambulist at 4:14 AM on February 13, 2006

funambulist - he's not quite so innocent : the "post-fascist" National Alliance, the second-largest party in Mr Berlusconi's rightwing coalition seems to have some followers with curious ideas. (see bottom of Article).
posted by adamvasco at 5:04 AM on February 13, 2006

funambulist:neither of those two claims is true

Oh really?

Not liked? How about a group of 50,000 people fourteen years ago celebrating his march on Rome. 50k is by anyone's standards a huge number. Thats more than just a few misguided teen skinheads. A 50k war protest in the states would be seen as pretty significant. A 50k celebration of Nazism anywhere would be seen as significant. I don't see why Fascists should get a free pass.

Or are you denying that Italy did not invade Greece in '41 with help from the Nazis?

Oh, and he gets a free pass only because he compares Mussolini to Saddam. Instead of owning up to Mussolini's actions as a murderous dictator and fascist. Mussolini was a terrible man. Whether he was Saddam Hussien is like comparing Charles Mansion to Jeffery Dahler - it doesn't matter. Berlusconi's comments reveal his biases.

As for calling Mussolini the greatest statesman ever, I double checked that and that honor goes to Giafranco Fini, Berlusconi's deputy prime minister as of a couple years ago. That's like mixing a Bush quote with Cheney quote. Wrong, but still pretty telling. Also note that Mussolini's granddaughter Alessandra Mussolini was part of his alliance and they were political allies. The accusations that Berlusconi takes too kindly to Mussolini's past are not all fiction.
posted by skallas at 5:30 AM on February 13, 2006

Well, as long as we're playing the 6 degrees to Mussolini game, let's not forget Porta a Porta presenter Bruno Vespa, Berlusca's secondary ass-licker after Emilio Fede, who wrote Storia d'Italia: da Mussolini a Berlusconi and claims to be the illegitimate son of il Duce. (links in Italian)
posted by romakimmy at 6:03 AM on February 13, 2006

Berlusconi is like a circus huckster; After I shook hands with him (many years ago) I checked to see if I still had my signet ring. He's a bit like Bush in that many things he says and approves leaves me feeling slightly soiled and unclean.
posted by adamvasco at 8:03 AM on February 13, 2006

skallas: yes, oh really -- and just in case you think what I'm doing here is defending Berlusconi or the far right you're very very mistaken. I live in Italy, I am a leftist (actually, a zapaterista, seen as the Spanish left is much more inspiring than the Italian one), and I'm not giving anyone there "a free pass", I'm just correcting a very sweeping generalisation you made. I'll try again, hope it's clearer this time.

Saying "If anything this reflects how much Mussolini is loved and respected in modern Italy still" means that a majority or significant portion of Italians in today's Italy very much respect and love Mussolini.

That is not true, like I said, "apart from a few idiots on the far right fringes". And yes, 50k people in an organised demonstration led by a far right party ten years ago, when it was still overtly identifying itself with its historical association to fascism, which it has later broken with, is still a fringe. In Italy, with 58 million population, 50 thousand people is nothing compared to how many people the trade unions mobilise, or the antiwar protests (that was about a million only in Rome), the antiglobalisation protests a few years ago in Genoa and then Florence, or the first of may celebrations.

The neofascists, including violent groups outside Parliament, were stronger all throughout the 70's and 80's. Today they're more or less centered around the new MSI party, which split from Fini's party when Fini moved to the centre, and with extra-parliamentary groups such as Forza Nuova, and of course underground movements and football hooligan gangs. Fini has that past, obviously, he was a neofascist. But he's made that move of repudiating that past, as that Haaretz article you linked to clearly states. It sounds like you didn't even read it!

That disavowal of fascism and the visit to Israel and all the rest did have an effect on the most hardcore elements of his base, who felt betrayed and orphaned and stopped supporting him, which has to be acknowleged as a good thing, no matter how much I loathe Fini and the tradition he comes from. As Professor Sartori (who's definitely not right wing and hates Berlusconi) says in that Haaretz article, Fini did something smart there, he did move his party forward into modernity, and yes he has come a long way.

Then, of course it is a right wing party, so on issues like drug policies and immigration they are for a hardline, but he also recently was the first to propose a law giving immigrants voting rights in local elections before citizenship (which again lost his party a few more of those hardcore neofascists support, which again is a good thing), and besides, the right wing in Italy still supports social welfare policies on which they largely agree with the left and centre-right and centre-left forces.

Regarding Alessandra Mussolini - yes, she is the grandaughter of Mussolini, as well as the niece of Sophia Loren (Mussolini's son married Sophia Loren's sister). I'm sure you see her surname and instantly recoil in horror, but to anyone else in Italy, she is famous for these other things: an early career as a soft-porn actress; a very bold and feisty attitude (which often shone on tv debates); her fondness for identifying as a feminist which also translated in her support for things like reform of anti-rape laws, protesting (along with other women MP's from many different parties) an infamous court ruling on rape years ago, supporting law proposals aimed at getting more women into parliament and artificial insemination for all, not just married hetero couples (proposals which sadly were defeated in a referendum after a heavy propaganda campaign from the vatican and associated political forces), and in all these issues she has always allied herself with women MP's on the left.

Also, she has spoken out in favour of gay rights and supports gay unions, even drafted a legislative proposal on that, again with an MP from the left.

So, no matter how distant I am from the kind of political area she comes from, by family and association, I am not seeing much of a fascist witch to be burnt here, nor do I think her presence in Parliament is anathema. Quite the opposite. What she's stood for on many occasions are things that can definitely be not defined as fascistic.

The irony of course is that the actual fascists of today with a real political influence in Italy are within those christian democrat forces that still take their cues from the Vatican on all those issues on which even Mussolini's granddaugher has more progressive views, go figure.
posted by funambulist at 9:41 AM on February 13, 2006

News at 11: Berlusconi is a twunt.

A charming, ballsy and witty twunt, but a robber-baron, fascist, corrupt twunt nonetheless.
posted by lalochezia at 1:35 PM on February 13, 2006

Yeah, except the "charming" part is like the charm of an encyclopedia seller who manages to sell you 40 volumes of an encyclopedia you'll never use.
posted by funambulist at 3:14 AM on February 14, 2006

Thanks funambulist. Interesting observations and explanations - both the long and the short one.
I also second lalochezia's comment. When I knew / worked for Berlusconi 30 years ago he was yet to embark on his political career - he had just finished the Milano due
project , for which I believe his brother went to jail.
posted by adamvasco at 4:48 AM on February 14, 2006

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