Friday, November 7, 2008

Obama: Berlusconi faces race row as he calls America's first black president 'suntanned'

Obama: Berlusconi faces race row as he calls America's first black president 'suntanned'

By Mail Foreign Service

Bungling Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was tonight at the centre of controversy after praising U.S. President-elect Barack Obama on his great SUNTAN.

Media tycoon Berlusconi, 72, famous for his gaffes, made the remark while in Moscow visiting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and said Obama was 'young, handsome and tanned'.

The Italian PM in the past has come out with priceless howlers, including labelling one German MEP a 'prison of war camp guard' and saying that the 'West was superior to Islam'.

Barack Obama
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi made yet another gaffe by calling America's first black president 'suntanned'

Last night, as he was condemned from all sides for his remarks on Obama, a rattled Berlusconi snapped: 'What's the problem? It was a compliment. If these people don't have a sense of humour then it's their problem,' he said, according to Ansa news agency.

Only 'imbeciles' would interpret his comments as derogatory, Berlusconi was quoted as saying by Ansa.

The website of top-selling Italian daily La Repubblica said: 'Right on cue comes the first almighty gaffe - which risks to outshine even the German MEP one.'

Permatanned Berlusconi had been slammed by Italian opposition MP Dario Franceschini who said: 'He needs to apologise straight away. The best theory is that he can no longer control himself.


'What Berlusconi doesn't realise is that his words damage the image of our country across the whole world. To say that the new President of the United States is handsome, young and suntanned will be seen as offensive by the whole world. It's loaded with dangerous ambiguity.'

Berlusconi is currently on trial for corruption along with David Mills, the estranged husband of Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell and is renowned for putting his foot in it.

Earlier this year at a press-conference with the Russian president Vladimir Putin, a Russian journalist, Natalia Melikova, put a question to Putin, asking him if he intended divorcing his wife and marrying Alina Kabaeva, an Olympic gold medallist and an MP in Russia.

Berlusconi intervened when his guest showed annoyance by a gesture towards the journalist that imitated a gunman shooting.

Enlarge   No rest for the weary: Barack Obama heads home from the gym in Chicago today

No rest for the weary: Barack Obama heads home from the gym in Chicago today

The journalist was reportedly reduced to tears.

Putin denied rumours that he was to marry Kabaeva and a spokesman for Berlusconi played it down as a 'playful gesture.'

While in 2002 on his first meeting with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen in 2002, Berlusconi said:

'Rasmussen is not only a great colleague, he's also the best-looking prime minister in Europe.'

He added: 'He's so good looking, I'm even thinking of introducing him to my wife.'

But Berlusconi's wife has not always been happy with him either - in January 2007 he told TV star Mara Carfagna that if he 'wasn't married' he would 'gladly marry her.'

He was later forced to make a grovelling apology to his wife while Carfagna is now a minister in his Cabinet and the Government's official spokesperson. 

  • Other Silvio slip-ups:

At the Brussels summit at the end of Italy's EU presidency in December 2003:

'Let's talk about football and women.' (Turning to four-times-married German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder.) 'Gerhard, why don't you start?'

On Mussolini:

'Mussolini never killed anyone. Mussolini used to send people on vacation in internal exile.'

A joke about Aids told by Mr Berlusconi:

'An Aids patient asks his doctor whether the sand treatment prescribed him will do any good. 'No', the doctor replies, 'but you will get accustomed to living under the earth'.'

At a rally during the 2006 election campaign he said:

'Read The Black Book of Communism and you will discover that in the China of Mao, they did not eat children, but had them boiled to fertilise the fields.'

At the launch of the 2006 campaign:

'I am the Jesus Christ of politics. I am a patient victim, I put up with everyone, I sacrifice myself for everyone.'


Here's what readers have had to say so far. Why not add your thoughts below?


Why do these buffoons get away with it. They are supposed to be politicions. As such one would expect them to use discretion and be more subtle or diplomatic in their comments or better still, leave the comments out!

It is the character of man which is more important. Colour, race or creed should be a thing of the past. e.g. if someone was trying to save my life I would not give a damm as to his colour, race or creed. I would be grateful, extremely grateful.

- joe, guildford, england, 6/11/2008 18:35


Oh Sylvio...not again..

- Nad, London, UK, 6/11/2008 18:43


What's the problem?

Mixed race people can't get sun tan?

I think you'll find there are worse things to be called.

- Dino Fancellu, Epsom, Surrey, 6/11/2008 18:46


I'm Italian, I'm sorry, I'm ashamed...

- Fran, Venice, Italy, 6/11/2008 19:02


That's a disgusting remark from someone in his position who thinks he can get away with it with his long gone 'boyish' charm.

- Bobcat, spain, 6/11/2008 19:05


Why oh why do I have to be ashamed of my home country and why oh why do I have to be represented by such an idiot. Why does Italy never learn form its past mistakes?

- Luca, London, UK, 6/11/2008 19:06


Berlusconi was just joking... why so sensitive?

- felicity, Oxford, 6/11/2008 19:07


Berlusconi is famous (as Bush is) for his gaffes and stupid words. However, let's not jump on the bandwagon and assume that he was being racist here - there are language barriers, there are culture barriers and if we start over-analysing every word in terms of 'race' then it is truly obvious that we are NOT moving on from this issue of the past! Black people can have a suntan too!

- Jane, Chester, 6/11/2008 19:08


Why the constant referral to colour? How unevolved are these people?

- Sharon, Oxford, UK, 6/11/2008 19:08


we are really sorry for our prime minister. not all italians are like him. sorry

- Maria, Italy, 6/11/2008 19:11


As italian I'm ashamed by the words of our prime minister
I apologize mr Obama.

- graziano, milano, italy, 6/11/2008 19:14


sorry for our premier

- giovanna, rome, italy, 6/11/2008 19:14


Signor Berlusconi shouldn't talk about colour. He looks distinctly orange in that picture. Too much make up I think!

- MS, Glasgow, 6/11/2008 19:14


I feel ashamed for our Prime Minister. The worst is that I did not vote for him but have to listen to his words anyway....

- Sandra, treviso,Italy, 6/11/2008 19:16


I'm italian, i apologise to american people.

- giuseppe, italy, 6/11/2008 19:31


Oh for Pete's sake, let's not get on the race bandwagon here. Signor Berlusconi is well known for gaffes. Are we about to enter a reign of terror following the revolution?

- John Bull, Wolverhampton, 6/11/2008 19:31


I am sure Berlusconi was not being racist..Just out of touch,completely insensitive and an ignoramus..

- Filmex, London UK and Budapest, 6/11/2008 19:34


This sounds like a silly "storm in a teacup". What has been irking me is the continual use of the word "black" to describe Barack Obama. He is of MIXED RACE, his mother was white, father black. How can Barack Obama be called a "black" man? By the same reasoning you could call him a "white" man!!
Barack Obama appears to have a very light brown coloured skin, so he certainly could catch a sun tan.

- C. C. McGregor, Glasgow, SCOTLAND, 6/11/2008 19:35


Well Obama does come across as being rather false!!

- mark a, warrington england, 6/11/2008 19:37


Inadvisable for a PM, but pretty mild really.

- David Bourke, Rochester, Kent., 6/11/2008 19:37


Oh, please - it was clearly done in jest, and in reference to his own much ridiculed, permanently tanned self. A case of humour not translating well across cultures, especially considering that Berlusconi's statement was entirely complimentary to Obama!

- MG, Paris, France, 6/11/2008 19:38


Maria, Italy,06/11/2008 18:11

It's OK Maria, we are really sorry for our prime minister too - I can't think of anyone like him. We are so deeply, deeply sorry!

- Alan, Honiton, UK, 6/11/2008 19:38


How did this man ever get into power....Does this not say more about the soul of Italy that would vote in twice, This man to represent Italy on the world stage.

- william, Northampton ENGLAND, 6/11/2008 19:39


I agree with you, black people can have a suntan too but in the context of a vacation or being in a sunny climate..... Do you think this is what is was talking about........!?
Who gives a t... anyway what he says!?

- Milly, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 6/11/2008 19:45


I am Italian and the comment was done by Mr. Berlusconi in Italian. I can assure you that there is no language barrier to be talked of. It was just a plain stupid comment done by a man whose cultural sensitivity equals his political acumen (so, it's about zero).

Funny enough, politicians of his coalition are now praising their boss by saying that "Berlusconi is the Italian Obama"...

- mac, Italy, 6/11/2008 19:48


As Italian working in the US I can only apologize... it's the age...

- Roberto, Milwaukee, USA, 6/11/2008 19:48


This is exactly what happens when a pensioner rules your country.

- King Oxley, London UK, 6/11/2008 19:51


He's clearly just someone who can't help saying daft things. I don't think you can call this a racist comment, considering the unacceptable things he could have said if he really was racist. This is clearly humour-gone-wrong, so let's not over-react here. The guy is just Italy's answer to America's George Bush and our own beloved Prince Philip!

- Joolz, Chandler's Ford, 6/11/2008 19:52


Once again, I am left wondering how on Earth people like him get elected and into positions of any kind of authority. It just never fails that these "officials", and I mean basically from any country on the planet, never fail to blurt out such idiotic statements.

- Linda, Toronto, Canada, 6/11/2008 19:53


Looks like a media hype to me. Berlusconi? He's a real smoothie - who should have known better than to play the race card, even in such a subtle and sly fashion.

- Philip, Shetland, 6/11/2008 19:53


Perhaps he's not so much a media tycoon as a MEDIA BUFFOON.

- Brian Davis, Pickering, Canada, 6/11/2008 19:54


Why does this even make the news? It is blatantly an innocent joke that does no harm to anyone, especially considering that Berlusconi had actually been praising Obama publicly all day. If race can be used as a political weapon, it should also be allowed to joke about it. Finally, fellow Italians, all these apologies are nonsense, there is nothing to be sorry for.

- Luca, Essex, 6/11/2008 19:55


The man's an idiot. Get rid of him.

- Sid, Gateshead, 6/11/2008 19:55


...well..sorry once again, by the way i didn't vote him..................silvio GO HOME!!!! and most of all: shut up!

- alessia, carrara, italy, 6/11/2008 19:56


This sounds like a silly "storm in a teacup". What has been irking me is the continual use of the word "black" to describe Barack Obama. He is of MIXED RACE, his mother was white, father black. How can Barack Obama be called a "black" man? By the same reasoning you could call him a "white" man!!
Barack Obama appears to have a very light brown coloured skin, so he certainly could catch a sun tan.
- C. C. McGregor, Glasgow, SCOTLAND, 6/11/2008 13:35

Barack Obama identifies himself as BLACK not MIXED RACE. Maybe that happens in Scotland but over here you black or white not mixed race. In USA, it is the result of the 1 drop rule. The Italian PM is an idiot, we know lighter skin black people can get tanned but that is not what he meant by saying it. It is an obvious reference to Barack's color. Another thing, black people are NOT into "tanning" like white people. We ARE BORN TANNED AND SEXY.

- Ty, USA, 6/11/2008 19:57


Ah come on everyone!!! Lighten up - I don't suppose Barack would give it a second thought.

But I suppose I can see why our Italian readers are embarrassed by this looney.

- Sarah, London, 6/11/2008 20:00


While I voted for Mr. Obama, I think of him as bi-racial, not black. As such, I don't really think a comment about his tan would be offensive to him...I'm sure that he does not want race to be the issue. Let's just hope he lives up to his potential and quit tip-toeing around the race thing.

- AL, Deep South, USA, 6/11/2008 20:00


A lot of Italians on this post are graciously apologizing for their Prime Minister.

I would like to apologize for ours. Sorry.

- Richard, York, 6/11/2008 20:02


As an African American I have to say that I'm really not offended by this. It could've been so much worse. This comment was childlike - immature, rash, but nothing potent.

- Leah, USA, 6/11/2008 20:04


Its unacceptable.

- H H, Hants, 6/11/2008 20:05


Stop being over sensitive people! He is darker than the majority of Americans and Europeans, that's why it was an historic victory for the US. Italians and other Mediterranean people have darker skins than Northern Europeans who desire suntans. Just visit any beach in a hot country full of Germans, English Scandinavian etc. This was not a racist comment although He should have known better to make a comment like this.

- Frank, UK, 6/11/2008 20:08


This isn't a matter of the shade of Obama's skin - it's more to do with whether Berlusconi intended to cause offence or whether he just didn't care if he DID cause offence. That's wherein the insult lies. It doesn't matter a hoot whether Obama is tanned or not.

- Myself, Cork, Ireland, 6/11/2008 20:10


Berlusconi is like Bush and Palin crushed together - I feel sorry for all the rational Italians.

- Steve, london, 6/11/2008 20:10


Berlusconi is sun tanned and ignorant

- Anne, North Yorks, 6/11/2008 20:13


It's no wonder Italians want to get rid of this man.

- Tina, Germany, 6/11/2008 20:13


How fortunate it is that Obama's running mate wasn't Sarah Palin.

Just think! Right now she might be thinking "Italy? Where's that?"

- Emma, Birmingham, 6/11/2008 20:14


Why do the italians keep voting for this man?

- carole-PDG, France, 6/11/2008 20:15


So much fuss, was not an insult at all, blow out of proportion from lefty!!!

- anna, italy, 6/11/2008 20:17


LOL! I can't imagine Obama getting upset over that statement. I'm sure he has been called worse over the last year or so.

- Lisa, USA, 6/11/2008 20:17


Why on Earth do we Italians need to stand and listen to the impossible outburst of dumbness of this Silvio Berlusconi man...
I really apologize for who should be my prime minister, but whom I do NOT want to be represented by... Italy please, raise your head, get your honour and pride back!

- Luca, Padova, Italy, 6/11/2008 20:19


Please, there was obviously no insult intended and one thing that Obama has shown so far was that he doesn't get ruffled by silly things like this. Let's face it, he chose Joe Biden as his VP and Biden is famous for his gaffe's including one when referring to Obama.

The way I see it, these gaffes are necessary to make sure the pundits have something to talk about and the comedians have something to ridicule.

- Lynn, expat in USA, 6/11/2008 20:21


although i totally agree that the man is an idiot but really can´t see an insult in his remark,obama is a handsome ,good looking man with a natural tan and can´t see whats wrong with the complement.

- ebbi britt, spain, 6/11/2008 20:22


I want to apologize for the words of our prime minister, a dangerous and stupid little man.


- Andrea, Padova, Italy, 6/11/2008 20:25


well, it's a fact, Barack Obama is young handsome, and has a very nice skin colour............

- Roge Wheeler, Mexico, 6/11/2008 20:26


Oh please i am sure that the President elect Obama has more to worry about than this inane bit of gossip how pathetic they are, get real the idiots!

- Mary Morrell, Stockport Cheshire, 6/11/2008 20:28


C. C. McGregor, Glasgow is spot on !!!
Plus the fact, I would swap Silvio for the clown we have anyday.

- Steve, Lancashire England, 6/11/2008 20:30


Get used to it - if you cant stand the heat stay out of the kitchen.

- Sneaker, Scotland, 6/11/2008 20:30


Richard, York - that comment was uncalled for.

- Sneaker, Scotland, 6/11/2008 20:30


Why he has been reelected beats me. As Leah, USA rightly says, the comment was childlike - immature. He should be put out to pasture - along with a few other politicians.

- Draci, Roseau, Dominica, 6/11/2008 20:30


Alan, UK - your comment was uncalled for.

- Sneaker, Scotland, 6/11/2008 20:31


Everyone makes mistakes.I am sure Silvo wishes him all the best.I am sick of this politicully correct society we now have to live with.Anyway i myself wish all Americans the best of luck,and Obama.

- kevin sturrock, south kyme. England, 6/11/2008 20:32


What a stupid, stupid man.

- Bron, Melbourne, Australia, 6/11/2008 20:39


How petty and immature is this?
Looking for problems already, it's time to stand up and be counted.
Get down to some worthwhile business instead!

- Sassy, spain, 6/11/2008 20:41


He might say "toned" with his Italian accent it might sound as "tanned". Whatever, no harm - innocent remark.

- Liene, Nertherlands, 6/11/2008 20:43


Well, I guess thats Berlusconi off the President-elect's christmas card list!

- Kurt, Slough, 6/11/2008 20:44


I recognised it as a compliment immediately coming, as it did, from a man whose GHASTLY fake tan so obviously comes out of a bottle. Grow up people, don't be so sensitive!

- David Hawk, Blenheim, New Zealand, 6/11/2008 20:44


Why are so many British obsessed with racialism. Brainwashed by the BBC and the politicians. Get a life, there are far more serious matters to be concerned with in Socialist Britain.

- N. Marsden., Calais France, 6/11/2008 20:45

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