(Photo: New York Times)
The long running battle between Italy's looney-tunes prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and his long-suffering wife, Veronica Lario is, to me, very interesting.
Not so much for the inside dirt on a marriage in crisis, but rather for what this entire saga says about how Berlusconi -- the leader of the G7 nation -- views women. Although women make up roughly half the population, he makes it quite clear that he sees women as objects that exist solely for his amusement. And perhaps, for the amusement of other men.
From his position as leader of a country that has considerable clout, due to its membership in powerful international organizations, and from his power as Italy's wealthiest man with strong control over the media, Berlusconi has enormous influence.
And this is what he does with it, in terms of women: tries to appoint actresses, showgirls and ex-TV hosts to important positions in European parliaments, including in Italy. The latest in a series of similar incidents came last week, when it was revealed that Berlusconi's coalition government intends to nominate a slate of attractive young women for the European Parliament, including the star of a reality television show
Now, I would undermine my own feminist arguments if I were attempting to suggest that actresses, showgirls and ex-TV hosts have no right to become legislators. Which I'm not -- I'm just saying that I've seen no evidence that these particular women in the current example have prior experience -- or interests -- which equip them for public office.
Anyway, after 20 years of marriage to the man and his antics, Veronica Lario says she has had enough of his idiocy and is seeking divorce. (If only the Italian people could do the same!)
Here is today's New York Time's story on the Lario/Berlusconi brouhaha:
By RACHEL DONADIO
ROME — Less than a week after writing an open letter criticizing her husband for cavorting with much younger women, the wife of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said she wanted to file for divorce.
“I’d like to close the curtain on our married life,” Berlusconi’s wife, Veronica Lario, 52, told the center-left daily newspaper La Repubblica in an article published Sunday. “I was forced to take this step,” she told the Turin daily newspaper La Stampa. “I don’t want to add anything else.”
On Sunday, an assistant to Lario, Paola Giponi, confirmed the press reports, while Berlusconi released a brief statement to the ANSA news agency. “It’s a personal matter, and one that saddens me,” the prime minister said. “It’s a private issue that’s best not discussed.”
Yet this private issue has unfolded almost entirely through the news media, with Lario taking her grievances to the press and Berlusconi parrying them there, too. The story has thrived in the personality-driven tabloid and political culture that Berlusconi helped create.
If Lario does file for divorce, it is unclear whether Berlusconi, 72, will be affected politically. Despite colorful gaffes that would sink a politician elsewhere, he enjoys more power and popularity than ever, thanks to the disarray of his left-wing opposition and his brilliant reading of Italian sensibilities.
In fact, part of Berlusconi’s success lies in his ability to present himself at once as a devoted family man and as a consummate ladies’ man, a contradiction embodied in his marriage to Lario.
The two met in Milan in 1980, when she was an actress in a play called “The Magnificent Cuckold” and he was a married, up-and-coming real estate tycoon. Berlusconi left his first wife for Lario. They had three children before marrying in a civil ceremony in 1990.
The news of the impending breakup came after days of drama. On Tuesday, Lario wrote an open letter to the ANSA news agency complaining about her husband’s roving eye, her second such public declaration in recent years.
Lario criticized reports that Berlusconi’s center-right coalition planned to nominate a slate of attractive young women for the European Parliament, including the star of a reality television show. Choosing candidates seemingly on the basis of their headshots more than their political experience is “shamelessly trashy,” Lario said.
She was also angered by press reports that Berlusconi had attended the 18th birthday party in Naples of Noemi Letizia, who has said in several recent interviews that she called the prime minister “Daddy” and that he gave her a gold and diamond necklace.
“That surprised me,” Lario told ANSA. “Because he never attended the 18th birthday parties of his own children, even if he was invited.”
Berlusconi countered that his wife has been subject to the “manipulations” of the left-wing press. “I’m afraid that the ‘signora’ believed what she read in the newspapers,” ANSA quoted him as saying last Wednesday.
In the ensuing days, the national conversation has been dominated by speculation about the nature of the relationship between Letizia and the prime minister.
Berlusconi told the Italian press that Letizia was the daughter of a business acquaintance and that he stopped by the large party “to raise a glass.”
On Sunday, La Repubblica said that Lario had been contemplating divorce for years. In hiring a lawyer and opening proceedings, “I would like to avoid conflict,” La Repubblica quoted her as saying.
Berlusconi and Lario are rarely seen in public together, and there has been palace intrigue for years.
In 2007, La Repubblica published a letter from Lario in which she demanded an apology from Berlusconi after news reports quoted him as praising the beauty of a showgirl whom he later named equal opportunities minister.
Lario, at the time, wrote: “These are statements I consider damaging to my dignity.”
The same day, Berlusconi, who was running for a third term as prime minister, quickly issued a public apology, which political analysts speculated was aimed at winning over female voters.
“Your dignity should not be an issue: I will guard it like a precious material in my heart even when thoughtless jokes come out of my mouth,” Berlusconi wrote then. He added: “Forgive me, however, I beg of you, and take this public testimony of private pride that submits to your anger as an act of love. One among many. A huge kiss. Silvio.”