11 Jun 2009

Berlusconi and Qaddafi: Difficult Characters

“So many questions,” the Guardian’s Zoe Williams writes. “How did Silvio Berlusconi and Colonel Qaddafi become friends in the first place?” Part of the answer—and part of the reason Muammar Qaddafi is visiting Italy this week—is oil-and-natural-gas deals, but they also claim to genuinely like each other. Perhaps each, in his own way, makes the other feel respectable. Berlusconi has been a bit of a joke lately, what with his wife’s allegations that he has been carrying on with an eighteen-year-old and the pictures of a naked former Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek dallying at his villa. (Topolanek confirmed that he was the naked man but said that the picture was “modified”; Czech reporters had recognized him, despite a pixelated face, thanks to his white-rubber anti-Castro wristband, a gift from George W. Bush.) Then Qaddafi arrived with his “trademark” women bodyguards, pitched a Bedouin tent in a public park, and requested a meeting with seven hundred prominent Italian women. (Was Saint Ursula involved?)


Qaddafi, who stepped off the plane with a snapshot-size photograph (above) of Omar Mukhtar, who was hanged by the Italians in 1931, when Mussolini controlled Libya, pinned to his uniform, seems to have seen himself as acting out the dramatic postscript in an anti-colonial melodrama—the sort introduced by a screenshot saying, “Seventy-seven years later.” (Omar Mukhtar was, in fact, played by Anthony Quinn in “Lion of the Desert,” an epic that Qaddafi helped fund and that was, for a time, banned in Italy.) One would much rather deal with Berlusconi than with Mussolini—you have to give him that.

The New Yorker