Chase Madar in Le Monde Diplomatique (photo from Wikipedia):
Silvio Berlusconi’s gift for the battuta – wisecrack – has been a great help to his political career. But there are limits. He tried to bounce back from the revelation that he intervened to secure the release from prison of a 17-year old Moroccan bellydancer, “Ruby Heartstealer”, who had been at his private parties, by saying “it’s better to go crazy over beautiful girls than be gay”. This did not go over well and in no way blocked public disgust with his “bunga-bunga” lifestyle. The crack was aimed at the Italian left’s new star, Nichi Vendola.
Nichi Vendola is the governor of Apulia, heel of the peninsular boot, one of Italy’s poorest and most socially conservative regions. That it should elect (and re-elect) a governor with a background in the Rifondazione Comunista (RC, Communist Refoundation party) which he helped found in 1991 (1), but is also openly gay, is counterintuitive, even if Vendola is a professed Catholic. He is now one of Italy’s most popular politicians and may lead a coalition of left and centre-left parties in the national elections of 2013. He is a charismatic scrapper, and has the Italian right worried.
Vendola can use the battuta, too. In November he enraged the rightwing governor of prosperous, northern Lombardy by declaring it the most “mobbed-up” region in Italy. (That a southerner would criticise the north for its failure to control the ’Ndrangheta and Camorra is a novelty.) Reversing decades of anti-communist Stalin-baiting, Vendola condemns Berlusconi for embracing Vladimir Putin and the “business is business” approach to buying energy from authoritarian states like Russia and Libya. When asked if he might become the first gay prime minister, Vendola confides that there has already been one, whose identity he has sworn never to tell. He easily quotes the 19th century poet Giacomo Leopardi, and the poet and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini – another gay Catholic leftist and subject of Vendola’s undergraduate thesis in literature – and also the New Testament and his former bishop, Don Tonino Bello, who in is the process of being beatified.
A Demos poll last November found Vendola was the best-liked politician in Italy, more popular than either leader of the largest centre-left parties, the Partito Democratico and Italia dei Valori.