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"I don't see problems for Medvedev to establish good relations with Obama, who is also handsome, young and suntanned."

Silvio Berlusconi, Italian Prime Minister, concerning the election of new American president

Illustration by Laura Hempel
Europe's favourite and most powerful clown

Before he entered politics, the 72 year old Silvio Berlusconi was known as an entrepreneur, real estate and insurance tycoon and bank and media proprietor. His father worked his way up from bank clerk to director general, supposedly with some help from the mafia. Silvio inherited his father's connections and was charged with corruption, fraud and conflicts of interest, unsuccessfully of course. Since 1994 he has been prime minister three times and has held many other governmental functions. He is well known for his interesting diplomacy techniques, such as making rude gestures in public, suggesting the discussion of ‘women and footbal' at an official EU meeting, indecently complimenting female politicians, jumping out from behind a statue and yelling "Coo - coo!" at foreign statesmen... And, of course, telling hilarious jokes that often tend to cause international incidents. Like the one in which he said that the west will continue to conquer peoples and confront Islam, or the one in which he concluded that Chinese communists boiled children to fertilize their fields. Not to mention his joke about AIDS mud therapy. But he is, after all, ‘the Jesus Christ of politics'.

The words quoted above have only confirmed his earlier racist and xenophobic reputation. Even if he was joking, every joke is half true. And just as a reminder: ‘respect of human rights', ‘equality' and ‘racial tolerance' are basic principles of the EU since its founding, and are also a condition for its existence. But Berlusconi has a different vision. He has already said he believes in an Italy that was "Catholic and for Italians".

At the beginning of his last mandate, this spring, he announced that he was ready to fight the ‘army of evil', meaning, believe it or not, illegal immigrants in Italy. Berlusconi's staff insisted that immigrants had an influence on the high crime rate in Italy. So, whilst all Italians were informed that one third of those arrested in Italy are foreign citizens, no one bothered to tell them that the crime rate in Italy hasn't risen since 1990. Propaganda isn't so hard to create, since Berlusconi owns three television networks. In his "state returning to be a state" politics, his administration has brought new laws that come down very hard on both legal and illegal immigrants, who are numerous in Italy. Albanians and Romanians care for the elderly. Indians working in Emilia-Romagna take care of the cows producing the milk for Parmesan cheese. Free movement of individuals, goods and services is guaranteed in the EU, as I recall. The EU members' declared aim is to create a multicultural society, a union in diversity.

But Berlusconi, with his characteristic sense of humour, probably thinks they're joking. The Roma people bother him the most. While other European countries work together on their integration and education, here's one of Berlusconi's suggestions. In 2003 he proposed that the navy should shoot the overloaded immigrant boats before they reached the Italian coast. When he was re-elected this year, he succeeded in passing a law concerning immigrants. According to this law, being an undocumented immigrant in Italy is punishable by up to 18 months in custody, which can be followed by 4 years in  prison or deportation, depending on a sentence. Renting an apartment to an undocumented immigrant is punishable by up to 4 years imprisonment, a fine of 50,000 euros, and  confiscation of the apartment. Illegal immigrants convicted of crimes will now face jail sentences a third longer than those for Italians. And to top it all, there's the fact that all Roma people living in shanty-towns will have to be fingerprinted and listed. Yes, these are all ‘safety and crime-resolving measures'. But since Berlusconi wanted to be sure that they were put into practice, he put Italian military on the streets of bigger cities. I see two serious problems here: the undermining of the ‘principle of equality' guarantied by the Italian constitution, and the militarization of Italy. I am so stunned that I expect him to show up and admit that it was all a joke. Unfortunately, we can find a proof of his enormous self-contradictions in just one sentence: "We must be aware of the superiority of our civilization, a system that has guaranteed well-being, respect for human rights and - in contrast with Islamic countries - respect for religious and political rights, a system that has as its value understanding of diversity and tolerance..."

Maybe all his ‘jokes' are funny when they're told in Italian... But before we find that out, we must face the violation of human rights in the very nucleus of Europe and the EU.

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