Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has never been terribly discreet about his penchant for extra-marital amore. But here’s some sound advice from one of his colleagues, Italian senator Patrizia Bugnano, after the PM’s latest misstep: “Someone tell Berlusconi he is no George Clooney.”
The row began when Rosy Bindi, a member of the opposition Democratic party, appeared with Berlusconi on the late-night television show Porta a Porta to discuss an Italian court’s decision to revoke his executive immunity from prosecution—a move that could reopen a number of criminal cases against the PM, including alleged tax fraud. During the show, Berlusconi told the matronly Bindi, “You are more beautiful than intelligent,” apparently taking a swipe at both her looks and smarts. (On the show, Bindi fired back: “I’m not one of the women at your disposal.”)
Giovanna Melandri, a colleague of Bindi’s, says Berlusconi’s latest remark sums up a more general “Berlusconi philosophy toward women.” It’s “pathetic,” charges Emma Bonino, vice-president of the Italian senate. “No political fight justifies such a second-rate, misogynistic insult.”
There are signs that Italian women are finally fed up. In a letter to La Repubblica, a number of Italian academics issued a call to action: “We protest against this cretinization of women, of democracy, of politics itself. This man offends women and democracy. Let’s stop him!” Nearly 100,000 women have signed a petition in protest of Berlusconi’s sexist on-air comment.
Berlusconi is unrepentant. He admits that he’s “no saint” when it comes to his personal life. But the prime minister is adamant that he’s the victim—not Bindi. At a press conference this month, he insisted: “I am without a doubt the person who’s been the most persecuted in the entire history of the world and the history of man.” For her part, Bindi is not looking for sympathy: “I have received no apology, and neither do I want one.”