Sunday, February 13, 2011

Italy's Berlusconi Pain

The Italian women (also men, but mostly women), took over their country's public diplomacy over the weekend. They marched in their hundreds of thousands across Italy (but also across Europe, and even in Japan!), in support of women's rights and demanded that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi steps down after numerous sex scandals. These demonstrations were sparked off by the latest scandal that involved the Moroccan "Ruby" and Berlusconi's continuous denial of related allegations.

One of the major issues the protesters' were speaking out against is the surprising gender gap in Italy, which, despite being a long-time EU member, occupies the 74th place among 134 countries surveyed by the World Economic Forum. In short, Italy has not yet reached the "European 21st century", and the women are out there demanding more respect and social mobility for themselves. Berlusconi himself was targeted because many blame him and his media empire (he is said to have almost total control over the Italy's commercial media and advertising) for creating a "culture and images" of women that perpetuate sexist attitudes and gender inequality.

In many ways, these protests were also about Italy's international image, which the protester's claimed is continuously tarnished by the Prime Minister. One of the major slogans of the day was "Italy is not a brothel": directed at officials at home, as well as the international public. Indeed, Berlusconi's "libertine" behavior often makes international headlines, inevitably affecting the foreign perceptions of the country itself (especially when it comes to the discussion and the suggested "explanations" for his retention of power for so long, despite all the crises)...

More interesting, however, is the fact that hundreds of thousands got out to the streets in various cities in Italy, as well as across Europe, demonstrating perhaps - yet again - the power of social media. Therefore, to me this seemed as yet another example of "New" Public Diplomacy, where people attempted to send a message to the international community, circumventing their government and official positions.

Two side notes:

- I found it very, very funny that the Guardian compared Italy's standing with that of Kazakhstan in its article. The subhead read:
"Thousands join marches for respect and values in country with gender gap worse than Kazakhstan's."

Later in the article, you could find the following passage:
"According to the World Economic Forum's latest global gender gap report, Italy ranked 74th out of 134 countries surveyed — 33 places below Kazakhstan."

I can't help but ask the question, why Kazakhstan?! Why not any of the other 33 countries in between? Is it just that Borat still rules in the Guardian reporter's mind?

- Berlusconi's most recent "Ruby"-related scandal happened just a month ago, whereby he is said to have abused his power to release the Moroccan from police detention (over theft allegations). The media reported that he told the police that "Ruby" was a relative of Egypt's Mubarak. Can you imagine the insult (to an Arab leader)?!

Funnily enough, I had come across rumors that Berlusconi's statement in support of Mubarak at the height of the Egyptian protests, on Feb 4, 2011, saying that he is "the wisest of men" (while most other world leaders were calling for "more democracy"), were made precisely in an attempt to "make up" with Egypt's former President. (It's ironic that he now finds himself in the exact same situation as Mubarak...) Meanwhile, "Ruby" seems to have acquired a celebrity career of her own...

Aren't you just tempted to say, "this would only happen in Italy"?! :-)

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