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  • Italians Ignore Silvio Berlusconi's Sex Scandal
    Why are Italians apathetic to their prime minister's alleged illegal behavior?
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is embroiled in a major sex scandal, but Italians seem completely unaware of his alleged escapades. Maybe it's because they've become accustomed to his sometimes deplorable behavior. Maybe it's because it's August and the Italians are more interested in their upcoming summer vacation than the sex life of their prime minister. My worst fear, however, is that they either don't care or they approve of his morally questionable, allegedly illegal conduct.

    This whole sorry story began when the wife of 72-year-old Berlusconi decided to divorce him and suggested he was having an affair with a teenage model, whose birthday party he attended. Their troubles played out in the media and things got ugly quickly, as you might imagine. Next, tapes featuring an alleged Berlusconi discussing graphic sex with a prostitute surfaced. Berlusconi never denied these latest allegations, but said, "I'm no saint." There are also allegations of wild sex parties at Berlusconi's residence and promises of political appointments in exchange for sex, according to National Public Radio.

    Last week his daughter Barbara spoke to Vanity Fair (the Italian version) and reportedly said that politicians can not afford to separate their personal and professional lives, which many took as a jab to her father's infidelity and misbehavior. Supporters of Berlusconi have come forward to say that he has never lied, and the public has always known that he was a ladies' man. He continues to defend himself.

    NPR recently ran a story about how Berlusconi's control of the media - he owns most of the national TV, which has brought on questions about conflicts of interest since his political career began - is helping him to keep Italians in the dark about all the allegations and evidence against him. "Allegations of sexual impropriety by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi continue to top headlines in countries throughout Europe, where commentators say their leaders would have had to step down long ago had they been embroiled in similar scandals," according to NPR. "Not Berlusconi. Thanks to his control of national TV, many Italians are far less informed about the stories swirling around the Italian prime minister than their European neighbors."

    Most Italians, and Europeans in general, believe that Americans like me are prudes with Puritanical upbringings. I've already recounted how my American friends reacted to the little and big girls on the beach who were topless. Some of what Italians watch on prime-time television would be considered pornography to those of us from the States. And Italian men have a reputation for being Casanovas and for having affairs on their wives, something many of you have written to me about.

    Certainly, however, we Americans know something about political sex scandals, especially in recent times. From Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky to Sen. John Ensign and Cynthia Hampton, we've had our fair share of scandalous affairs. As a New Jerseyan, who lives right outside of Manhattan, I can attest to two whoppers - New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, who admitted to an affair with a male colleague and New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer who admitted to paying for sex.

    At the very least Americans feign shock and disappointment, if they don't really feel those things. Some of us actually do live up to that Puritanical, prudish stereotype. But Italians aren't even discussing the allegations against Berlusconi. My mother in the States seems more appalled than anyone in Italy, where I'm spending my summer.

    I believe political figures have a right to privacy, and I believe in the "live and let live" philosophy. It's none of my business what goes on in someone else's bedroom. Still, while I can understand remaining neutral if your prime minister is accused of simply having an affair, which while morally reprehensible, is hardly a crime, we shouldn't accept political officials who break the laws that they are supposed to be carrying out.

    Prostitution is against the law in Italy (and the United States for anyone looking to defend Spitzer). And offering positions of power in exchange for sex is against the law, dangerous, and despicable. If there's any truth to these allegations, the Italian people should be demanding at the very least an explanation and at the most justice.

    We should all naturally expect more of those who are leading us. If they can't be better people - if at the very least they can't be law-abiding citizens - then why are we entrusting them with our future?

    Di Meglio is the Guide to Newlyweds for About.com.


    Article Published 8/09/09

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