Widespread fury at Berlusconi's gay remarks

 

AS IF he did not have quite enough on his plate at the moment, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi yesterday appeared to pour high-octane fuel on the fire of polemics aroused by stories of his “bunga, bunga” nights with minors when making apparently homophobic remarks.

Speaking at the opening of the Milan Motorcycle and Bicycle Show, Mr Berlusconi took the opportunity to argue that the current “Rubygate” scandal, concerning his links to 17-year-old Moroccan “hostess” Ruby, was a mere storm in a teacup.

As is his wont when confronted with serious accusations, Mr Berlusconi adopted a jocose stance, telling his audience that he needed to find a job at the trade fair for a certain “Ruby” and then adding: “You’ll all see that, in the end, it will come out that I did nothing (vis a vis Ruby) other than an act of charity that I would have been ashamed not to do . . . I do things like that all the time, that’s the way I am and always have been . . . I lead a life of uninterrupted work and if, now and again, I like to have a good look at a beautiful girl . . . well, it’s better to be passionate about beautiful women than to be gay . . .”

No sooner said than the howls of righteous indignation began to sound. Former investigating magistrate Antonio Di Pietro, now leader of the Italy of Values (IDV) party, called for the prime minister’s resignation, saying: “Today we’ve had yet further proof of the unsuitability of Mr Berlusconi to hold the position of prime minister. He’s still living in the Stone Age. Worse, he lives in the age of racial, sexual, ethnic and religious discrimination . . .”

Pierluigi Bersani, leader of the opposition Democratic Party (PD), said Mr Berlusconi was leading the country “into chaos”, adding: “Berlusconi was born at a moment when politics were at a low ebb and he intends to die at such a moment. He’s like Samson, he wants to bring the whole house down on the Philistines. He is leading the country into social, political, moral and economic chaos . . .”

Paolo Patane, head of the Italian gay rights movement, Arcigay, called Mr Berlusconi’s comments both gratuitous and vulgar, adding: “His words are the expression of male chauvinist culture, backward and offensive to both gays and women . . . His words confirm the embarrassing and grotesque climate into which the prime minister wishes to plunge the country”.

Lesbian deputy Paolo Concia, of the PD, argued that the latest controversial statement by the prime minister was proof of his inability to govern, adding: “The prime minister’s contempt for women has been amply demonstrated by the many vulgar and misogynist comments he has subjected us to over the years, comments that reveal a medieval and proprietorial attitude to women. To suggest that homosexuality is something negative is yet further proof that he is unfit to govern . . ”

Mara Carfagna, equal opportunities minister in Mr Berlusconi’s government, attempted to limit the damage caused by the remarks but added: “ . . . it would be better, however, if people did not make jokes like this”.