Silvio Berlusconi’s legacy of controversy

Colourful and outspoken Italian leader earned notoriety for a slew of embarrassing remarks, pranks and gaffes.

Silvio Berlusconi
In 2009, Berlusconi told earthquake victims living in makeshift tents to consider it “a weekend of camping” [Reuters]

The political career of Silvio Berlusconi has been rife with controversy. From poking fun at US President Barack Obama’s mixed-race skin tone to his infamous “bunga bunga” parties, the three-term Italian prime minister has provided plenty of fodder for critics, comics and tabloids.

‘Cuckold’ gesture

In 2002, Berlusconi insulted Spain and embarrassed Italy when he made a “cuckold” gesture behind the head of Josep Pique, the Spanish foreign minister, in an official photograph of EU leaders – implying that the leader’s wife had been cheating on him. After facing criticism for the distasteful act, Berlusconi explained that he was “just joking” and was merely trying to amuse a nearby group of boy scouts.

‘Nazi guard’

Berlusconi caused a political row in 2003 when he suggested that a German member of the European Parliament who had criticised his domestic policies, should be cast as a “Nazi guard” in a forthcoming film about the Holocaust. Berlusconi later issued a partial apology and claimed to have been referring to a slow-witted character in the comedy-series “Hogan’s Heroes”.

Berlusconi 2004, post hair-transplant surgery [AP]

Hair transplant

The Italian prime minister made headlines in 2004 when he appeared in public wearing a white pirate-style bandana to cover his scalp after having undergone hair-transplant surgery. Berlusconi, who also had cosmetic surgery on his eyes, told reporters that undergoing such procedures was “a way of showing respect to those who expect you to represent them on an international and national stage”.

Thrusting pelvis

In a viral video reportedly shot in 2006, a sly Berlusconi is shown sneaking up behind a police woman who is bent over a car’s bonnet issuing a ticket. He proceeds to vulgarly grab her by the hips, gyrate and thrust his pelvis. As the startled police woman looks up, the Italian prime minister smiles and nonchalantly walked away.

Exposed breast

Giancarlo Galan, the governor of the Veneto region, decried Berlusconi in 2008 after the prime minister instructed one of his aides to paint a white veil over an exposed breast in Giambattisto Tiepolo’s 254-year-old masterpiece “Time Unveiling Truth”. Ironically, Berlusconi claimed that the painting on display in his press room was offensive. Galan replied, “The prime minister’s office has managed to offend one of the great artists of liberty.”

‘Suntanned’ Obama

Berlusconi shocked Italians and Americans in 2008 when he referred to then-US president-elect Barack Obama as “handsome, young and suntanned”. The following year, the prime minister said that his response to the global economic crisis was different to Obama’s because “I’m paler”. Berlusconi has repeatedly poked fun at Obama’s mixed-race skin tone – claiming that those who were offended lacked a sense of humour.

‘Weekend of camping’

After a 2009 earthquake killed 260 Italians and left 17,000 others homeless, Berlusconi caused an uproar when he quipped to German N-TV that victims living in makeshift tent cities should regard the experience as “a weekend of camping”. Those left homeless by the quake set up the tent cities in freezing weather, as they waited for help to arrive.

Alleged lover, Karima el-Mahroug  [Reuters]

‘Bunga bunga’ parties

Tabloids had a field day in 2010 when news of Berlusconi’s so-called “bunga bunga” parties broke. The prime minister had been allegedly hosting wild African-themed parties attended by tens of young women, including many prostitutes. Berlusconi, however, denied all charges and accused prosecutors of devising a left-wing plot to see him ousted from power. “Communism never changes in Italy,” he said. “There are still people who use the penal code as a weapon in their ideological battles.”

‘Beautiful girls’

The Italian prime minister insulted homosexuals in 2010 when he told a meeting at a motorcycle-industry show in Milan that “it’s better to like beautiful girls than to be gay”. Berlusconi made the comment in reference to an affair that the then 74-year-old prime minister was accused of having with 17-year-old Karima “Ruby” el-Mahroug, a Moroccan runaway. Berlusconi faces trial for allegedly having sex with an under-age prostitute over the affair, as well as a separate trial for abuse of power relating to allegations that he called a police station to ask for Mahroug’s release. Both Mahroug and Berlusconi deny having had a sexual relationship. She also claims to have lied about her age, telling him that she was 24.

Merkel insult

In 2011, Berlusconi was reported to have made a sexually offensive remark about Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, in a wiretapped telephone conversation with a man accused of supplying him with prostitutes. The prime minister is believed to have made the comments at a time when German officials were pressuring Italy to impose stricter austerity measures.

Source: Al Jazeera