Former Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja launches scathing attack on Berlusconi
Ultimately insignificant "wooden church" incident looks to have been a geographical error
Just as Finland was preparing to shrug its collective shoulders and pass the Silvio Berlusconi buck to Iceland (the presumptive home of that wooden church - see linked articles), the entire subject of the Italian leader was thrown into the spotlight once more on Sunday by a scathing blog entry from the former Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja (SDP).
Tuomioja let fly at Berlusconi with exceptional ferocity in a piece entitled “Italy’s Shame”. In actual fact, he widened the net still further, describing the Italian leader as a cause of shame for the entire continent.
Erkki Tuomioja’s assessment of Berlusconi was based on his actions on the public stage and also on Tuomioja’s own personal experience.
He encountered the Italian when Berlusconi took over for a year as Foreign Minister (in addition to being Italy’s PM), following the resignation of Renato Ruggiero in 2002.
At an informal “Gymnich” gathering of EU foreign ministers in Elsinore in August 2002, during the Danish EU Presidency, Berlusconi’s chauvinist remarks allegedly managed to anger the then Swedish Foreign Minister, the late Anna Lindh, to such an extent that Lindh refused to speak to him thereafter.
"The Prime Minister’s out-of-order gags about such matters as the culinary prowess or cultural merits of other countries can be dismissed as simple bad taste, but his chauvinist behaviour and manner of speaking would scarcely permit him to continue in the job in any other civilised nation”, charged Tuomioja.
The former Minister for Foreign Affairs then turned to matters he described as “more serious than this making a clown of himself”, namely the fact that Berlusconi has amassed a sizeable fortune through unscrupulous actions that have certainly exceeded the bounds of propriety and which have prompted serious accusations of corruption and the transgression of many laws.
These have brought a string of charges and police investigations that were ultimately resolved last year when Berlusconi used his Parliamentary majority to pass a law guaranteeing immunity from prosecution for the four highest public servants in Italy (the President of the Republic, the Speakers of the two Houses of Parliament, and the Prime Minister) while they are in office.
Prior to that, Tuomioja charges, Berlusconi had constantly harassed and disparaged the Italian judiciary and sought to hamper its actions.
“Berlusconi has a democratic mandate to govern from the Italian people - just as Hamas had in Palestine and [Vladimir] Putin in Russia - even though it might not have been won by completely fair means”, notes Tuomioja.
The remarks are an apparent reference to conflict-of-interest and the use and abuse Berlusconi makes of the “frighteningly broad media sway” he enjoys both through the companies he owns - which control roughly half of Italy’s TV-channels - and by the way he harnesses Italy’s state-owned radio and television services to his own ends.
Erkki Tuomioja was Finland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs from 2000 to 2007 in the governments led by Paavo Lipponen (SDP), Anneli Jäätteenmäki (Centre Party), and Matti Vanhanen (Centre Party).
An MP from 1970-79 and thereafter from 1991 until the present, Tuomioja is currently Chairman of Parliament’s Grand Committee, which deals among other things with the formulation of national policy associated with Finland’s membership of the European Union, with the exception of foreign and security policy, which in turn falls to the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Tuomioja has criticised the Italian Prime Minister for his behaviour on previous occasions.
As we had already reported on Friday, the wooden church that was the subject of the latest off-colour remarks by Berlusconi earlier in the week appears not to have been in Finland at all, but more probably in Iceland.
At least this is the view of Italian political journalist Gianlucca Luzzi, who works for Italy’s second-largest daily La Repubblica.
Luzzi says that he does not even remember that Berlusconi would have visited Finland, or that if he has, it was a good long time ago (a fact confirmed by Finland’s own authorities - although he attended a party political gathering in Finland in 1999, Mr. Berlusconi has not been here on an official visit as PM).
Luzzi does say that the Prime Minister visited Iceland some years ago, and that the programme included an excursion to a church.
Luzzi, who has followed Berlusconi around the world for years, stresses that the belief that the 72-year-old premier might have simply muddled up the two Nordic countries is based purely on his own supposition.
“I couldn’t swear to it, but my strong suspicion is that the church memory served up by Berlusconi does not exist in Finland.”
All of this rather pulls the rug from under any Finnish indignation at the slur.
This will come as a disappointment to the many who wrote rather caustically on Internet discussion forums about the Italian leader’s shortage of diplomatic and other skills, and even noted archly that the marble tiles for the facade of Helsinki's Finlandia Hall (they kept falling off, and had to be expensively replaced ) come from...Italy.
Finns do tend to get quite excited about comments, both positive and negative, from abroad - although there were also plenty of posters who felt that Berlusconi’s latest remarks should be quietly ignored as “full of sound and fury” and not worthy of being dignified by a response.
Finland's Centre Party apparently falls into the excitable group, since they rapidly produced an advertisement for the upcoming European Parliament elections in which the party positions itself as the best counterweight to Mr. Berlusconi, who "doesn't always seem to be on Finland's side".
Helsingin Sanomat and the paper’s International Edition received numerous apologetic messages from Italians wishing to point out that their Prime Minister was not speaking in their name.
We are naturally very grateful for their words of support. However, we regret that they may now need to be addressed to the people of Iceland instead, although there are still some questions remaining - since Iceland is largely treeless, where on earth did they get the wood from?
In any event, it looks as though Finland’s five minutes in the Berlusconi spotlight have passed.
He now faces tougher criticism from the Catholic Church and the Italian Left after declaring that Italy - once a country of emigrants - was not and should not be a multi-ethnic society.
At the same time a small storm is brewing over reports that the 18-year-old lingerie model whose birthday party seems to have prompted Mrs. Veronica Berlusconi to file for divorce last week, after 19 years of marriage, believes that “Papi” Silvio will arrange her a seat in Parliament.
With this sort of competition, Finland and its food, women, or churches will necessarily take a back seat.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Berlusconi´s church comments met with astonishment in Finland (8.5.2009)
Berlusconi sneers at Finland - once again (7.5.2009)
Centre Party European Parliament election advertisement: "Berlusconi doesn´t always seem to be on Finland´s side" (click for larger .pdf image)
Times Online - "My Week: Veronica Lario Berlusconi" (a satirical column)