January 28, 2013
Silvio Berlusconi
“But other than the part where I opened my mouth, I think the remarks went well.” (Antonio Calanni / AP)

Whoops.

Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative party was polling second in Italy, then he said something favorable about Mussolini and his support for Hitler.

If you want to wander around saying positive things about Hitler and Mussolini, there are not many lines of work open to you. But being a mainstream political figure is certainly low on the list.

I thought it went without saying, but for a public figure to say something positive about Hitler or his supporters is the equivalent of handing your opponents a dead fish to shoot in a low-hanging barrel.

I also thought it went without saying that you would never, in your wildest dreams, make a statement that can be paraphrased as follows: Well, other than the minor detail of, you know, that small bit of genocide, Mussolini accomplished a lot of good things.

I also thought it went without saying that the last place to express such a sentiment was on the sidelines of a Holocaust commemoration. But it seems I was wrong on all counts.

Do we really need to say this? If there is anywhere not to express anything that could even be construed as tentative support for Hitler or his allies, that is the place. Well, “anywhere, at any time,” is the place, especially if you are a public figure, but if you have to, if you cannot contain it, this is certainly the wrong spot. On the sidelines of such commemorations, most people even shy away from endorsing certain styles of mustache or summoning taxis with excess vigor, lest their words or gestures be misconstrued.

Not Berlusconi. He said, according to the AP:

“It is difficult now to put oneself in the shoes of who was making decisions back then. … Certainly the (Italian) government then, fearing that German power would turn into a general victory, preferred to be allied with Hitler’s Germany rather than oppose it.”

Berlusconi added that “within this alliance came the imposition of the fight against, and extermination of, the Jews. Thus, the racial laws are the worst fault of Mussolini, who, in so many other aspects, did good.”

These racial laws led to the deportation and death of thousands. But, hey, Mussolini was so good with the trains!

You know you have made a gaffe when your expression of regret hours later has to include the phrase that your efforts at historical interpretation “are always based on condemnation of dictatorships.”

Now that he’s gone this far, Berlusconi might as well keep digging. If he has anything else he wants to say, he should let loose. News of another bunga bunga party might almost come as a relief at this point. Heck, strong positive feelings about Nickelback would come as a relief at this point.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.