Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi sparked outrage Sunday when he praised Benito Mussolini for “having done good” at a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in Milan, despite the fascist dictator’s anti-Jewish laws.
He continued to defend Mussolini’s alliance with Hitler, saying, "Obviously the government of that time, out of fear that German power might lead to complete victory, preferred to ally itself with Hitler's Germany rather than opposing it. As part of this alliance, there were impositions, including combating and exterminating Jews."
The former prime minister also commented on chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel’s comments that Germany had an “everlasting responsibility” to remember the Holocaust, saying that Italy “does not have the same responsibilities as Germany.”
This is not the first that that the three-time prime minister has sparked controversy. From his infamous “bunga bunga” parties to referring to Italy as a “shitty” country that “sickened him,” Berlusconi has provided plenty of fodder for critics over the years, and lots of laughter for well, everyone — at least for those not affected by his behavior.
In 2002, he insulted Spain and embarrassed Italy in one go. Berlusconi made a “cuckold” gesture behind the head of the Spanish Foreign minister, Joseph Pique, at an informal meeting of the EU foreign affair ministers. When faced with criticism for the distasteful act, Berlusconi defended himself saying that he was “just joking” and trying to amuse a group of boy scouts who were nearby.
Berlusconi also was the cause for political strife in 2003, when he referred to a German MEP, Martin Schulz, as a “concentration camp guard.”
“I know that in Italy there is a man producing a film on Nazi concentration camps — I shall put you forward for the role of Kapo — you would be perfect,” he had said to Schulz. He later claimed that he had just made a joke and didn’t mean anything by it.
In 2004, a video reportedly shot in 2006 showed Berlusconi slyly sneaking up behind a policewoman who seemed to be issuing a ticket, before grabbing her by the hips and thrusting his pelvis. When the startled policewoman looked up, the prime minister nonchalantly smiled and walked away.
Berlusconi is also currently in the midst of multiple trials, including one in which he is accused of having paid for sex with an underage Moroccan teen during one of his “bunga bunga” parties.
In a wiretap used for investigation, Berlusconi was caught boasting about his sex life, saying “Last night I had a queue outside the door of the bedroom… There were 11 … I only did eight because I could not do it anymore,”
Both parties, however, deny any sexual contact.
Yet, despite his perpetual state of controversy and the fact that he resigned just 14 months ago, Berlusconi’s coalition is still surging in the polls, leaving the Democratic Party and its partners scrambling to stay ahead.
In the last three weeks, the gap between the two leading coalitions has narrowed from 15% lead to just 9.5%.
According to polling firm Opinioni’s co-director Maria Rossi, the former prime minister’s new-found success in the polls is due to Berlusconi’s emphasis on media and television. Between December 24 and January 14, Berlusconi has spent over 63 hours campaigning on 54 different television and radio stations.
He is a billionaire media tycoon.
Is it possible, though, for Berlusconi to “connect with common people” despite his myriad of scandals and gaffes? Is it possible that this man may win the upcoming Italian elections for a fourth time?