Berlusconi’s church comments met with astonishment in Finland
Petäjävesi Church looks like reasonable candidate, but Silvio is not in the visitors' book
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Wednesday statement ridiculing a Finnish wooden church prompted astonished reactions and even a measure of resentment within Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs as well as in the Finnish congregations conserving and appreciating their wooden places of worship.
The Italian PM was even suspected of having confused Finland with some other country that he had visited.
Iceland has for instance been put forward as the real victim. At least the last four letters are the same...
During a recent appearance in Rome as a guest of the mayor of the Italian capital, Berlusconi - who is renowned for his gaffes and outspoken remarks as much as he is for cultivating the image of a Lothario - praised the beauty and the cultural heritage of the city.
To emphasise his message Berlusconi then went on to compare Rome with Finland.
“Can you imagine, when I was in Finland they took me to see an 18th century wooden church. I remember how important this was to them. We woke up early in the morning and travelled to the church for three hours”, the Prime Minister said in front of the TV cameras.
“Over here such a church would have been bulldozed to the ground”, Berlusconi continued, drawing an X sign in the air with his hands.
On Thursday morning the Ministry for Foreign Affairs protocol department immediately started looking for information regarding which Finnish church the Italian leader had been referring to, and when an 18th century wooden church would have been shown to him.
No such information was found.
Berlusconi has not even visited Finland as a guest of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Berlusconi himself has recalled his unofficial 1999 trip to Finland, when Finland hosted a meeting of representatives of Europe’s conservative parties. But even this tightly-scheduled conference’s programme did not include a 3-hour drive to see a church.
The best-known wooden church in Finland from the time that Berlusconi mentioned is the old Petäjävesi Church in Central Finland, which was completed in 1765.
The church is regarded a masterpiece of northern wood architecture, and since 1994 it has been on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
On Thursday the Petäjävesi Church was considered the prime candidate as the target of Berlusconi’s possible excursion.
Vicar Seppo Ojala, however, gave an assurance that Silvio Berlusconi has never visited the site.
In Vicar Ojala’s opinion, the Italian Prime Minister’s comments should not be shrugged off as a mere joke.
Instead, the Finnish state authorities should react to the slanderous criticism towards the cultural value of Finnish wooden churches.
Approximately at the same driving distance from Helsinki are also located the Central Finland wooden churches of Keuruu and Pihlajavesi, which were completed in 1758 and 1780 respectively. Berlusconi, however, has not been seen as a guest at these churches either.
According to Keuruu Vicar Ossi Poikonen, the Italian Prime Minister’s mockery of the Finnish wooden churches can just be ignored as opinions of no value whatsoever.
Note: It is quite heart-warming that we have received a large number of emails from embarrassed Italian readers apologising for their Prime Minister in no uncertain terms. We are very grateful for the support. If it is any consolation, Finland can almost certainly boast politicians occasionally capable of similar feats: as they say, "there's one in every crowd".
Previously in HS International Edition:
Berlusconi sneers at Finland - once again (7.5.2009)
UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Petäjävesi Old Church