Sylvio Berlusconi’s Sex and Race Follies

Italian Prime Minister Sylvio Berlusconi said in a Moscow news conference, after a meeting with Russian President Medvedev that the newly elected American president Barack Obama is “young, handsome, and even tanned.” Berlusconi has a history of making crude jokes. This one reverberated around the world.

Here is the Los Angeles Times report:

Berlusconi, who has a history of controversial remarks, said the relative youth of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and Obama should make it easier for Moscow and Washington to work together.

Then, smiling, he said through an interpreter, “I told the president that he [Obama] has everything needed in order to reach deals with him: He’s young, handsome and even tanned.”

Medvedev did not visibly react.

Berlusconi, 72, later defended the remark, calling it “a great compliment. . . . If they have the vice of not having a sense of humor, worse for them,” the ANSA news agency reported.

Berlusconi said the remark was meant to be “cute” and he lashed out at those who disagreed, calling them “imbeciles, of which there are too many.”

Italy’s only black lawmaker, Jean-Leonard Touadi, called the comment embarrassing.

Carla Bruni, wife of French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, was born an Italian citizen and became a French citizen when she married Sarkozy earlier this year. When she learned of Berlusconi’s comments, she said that she was glad she had become French.

Los Angeles Times, “Foreign chiefs have funny way of offering congrats; Berlusconi says Obama is ‘handsome and even tanned.’ Ahmadinejad slams U.S. policies,” 7 November 2008.

See also

Alexander Stille, Letter from Rome, “Girls! Girls! Girls! The P.M.’s Sex Follies,” The New Yorker, 3 November 2008, 70-76.