Italian Prime Minister's Long-Suffering Wife Issues SmackdownS

As in any good marriage, Signora B., of course, voices her displeasure in a public email to the newspapers.

While no one is shocked by reports of caddish buffoonery from Silvio Berlusconi, the Fellini-esque media-magnate-turned-self-described-world's-most-popular-leader, his latest reported antics have - once again - elicited a dramatic response from the long-suffering Verionica Lario. The signora was, apparently, angered by reports that her husband's list of potential parliamentarians consisted of a Big Brother housemate, a ballerina, a former Miss Italy contestant, and a couple of other young beauties conspicuously lacking in political experience. Lario - who has said in the past that public shaming is the only way to get the PM's attention - dashed off a furious missive to the news agencies, stating,

"What's happening today behind a front of bodily curves and female beauty is grave...Someone wrote that all this is to sustain the enjoyment of the Emperor. I agree with this - what has emerged is shameful trash, all in the name of power. I want to make it clear that I and my children are victims and not accomplices in this situation. We must endure it and it causes us pain.

She was also not pleased to learn of his attendance at the 18th birthday party of a "friend's daughter" best known for posing nearly-nude. Quoth the tart-tongued Lario, "This surprised me, because he never attended the 18th birthday parties of his children, even if he was invited."

This is not the first such incident: Two years ago, Lario alerted the media after Berlusconi named TV presented Mara Carfagna a government minister with the words, "Take a look at her! I'd marry her if I weren't married already." The first letter called her husband's behavior an insult to "my dignity as a woman", explaining that she was standing up for herself because "the example of a woman capable of defending her dignity ... takes on significant importance." She received a public apology.

While some feel Lario should pipe down, especially given her own history with Berlusconi (after he saw her performing in The Magnificent Cuckold (!) she was his mistress for years before he left his first wife) and a rumored affair with the mayor of Venice, others defend her passionately. Says MP Souad Sbai, according to the Guardian, "Veronica is a woman in love. I would have done the same thing, or even gone further, locking up the prime minister in a room and throwing away the key."

For those who don't understand why she's still with him, why his popularity is higher than ever, how this jibes with her stated interest in the dignity of the PM's station, how this is for real in our sanitized and PR'd world, or why the story has captured the imagination of the Italian people, well, you may need a lesson in Italian cliches, a set of values Berlusconi has enthusiastically embraced, to the chagrin of those interested in challenging stereotypes. Says one writer, simply, to the Times, "People identify with it."

While one can only sympathize with any long-suffering wife married to an evident lecher, we do begin to wonder, if she is interested in setting a good example for female dignity, why she is still with him, and that's not the kind of speculative argument I usually welcome, because it's none of our business. But the difference is, she's inviting it. It would be one thing if she decided to turn a blind eye, or stand stoic, or play; but she chooses to confront it - sort of - a weird, but not wholly apposite counterpoint to the quietly supportive wives of shamed politicians we're used to seeing over here. A more vocal martyrdom, but a martyrdom still! She and her children may indeed be "victims" - and Berlusconi is, no question, the villain of the piece - but they're really starting to look evenly matched in utter impunity.


Premier's Roving Eye Enrages Wife, But Not His Public
[NY Times]
Being Mrs Berlusconi [Guardian]
Trouble At Home For Italy's Berlusconi [AP]
Berlusconi Says He Is World's Most Popular Lleader [Reuters]