In Italy, Loose Lips Don't Get Kissed

Veronica Lario demanded in a published letter that her husband, Silvio Berlusconi, right, apologize for his sexist comments.
Veronica Lario demanded in a published letter that her husband, Silvio Berlusconi, right, apologize for his sexist comments. (Alessandro Bianchi -- Reuters)
By Sarah Delaney
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, February 1, 2007

ROME, Jan. 31 -- Sometimes love does mean having to say you're sorry, and in the case of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, it means doing it in a very public way.

In an act of venting pent-up exasperation, Berlusconi's wife, Veronica Lario, took him to task in a letter on the front page of a major daily newspaper for openly ogling and commenting on starlets, and demanded a public apology for the "damage to my dignity." Several hours later, she got one.

"Dear Veronica, here is my apology," wrote Berlusconi, 70, a man not easily humbled, blaming on pride his earlier failure to ask forgiveness. "I was reluctant in private, because I am playful but also proud. Challenged in public, the temptation to give in is strong. And I can't resist."

Lario, 50, a former actress, was objecting specifically to remarks the flamboyant media tycoon reportedly made to female admirers last week as he greeted a showbiz crowd at an Italian television awards ceremony. The remarks were, as quoted in her letter: "I'd follow you anywhere" and "If I weren't already married, I'd marry you."

She wrote, "They are comments that I interpret as damaging to my dignity, comments that for the age, political and social position, family context . . . of the person who made them, can't be brushed off as harmless jokes."

Lario has distinguished herself and earned respect across the political spectrum for her efforts to keep their family life private, functioning as a foil for the attention-loving Berlusconi. She has appeared at his side as first lady on only two occasions: once to meet President and Laura Bush and once to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and his wife, Ludmila.

In her letter, Lario said she had "overcome the reserve that has characterized my way of being over the course of 27 years" at Berlusconi's side. Over that long period she had faced "inevitable contrasts and painful moments" with "respect and discretion."

But enough, apparently, is enough. And by publicly reacting, she said, she could send a message to their two daughters and their son: They should demand respect from men, and he should give it to women.

Wednesday night the excitement was being discussed simultaneously on five major television stations. The Italian public not only seized upon this celebrity gossip but also took the opportunity to indulge a fondness for politicizing everything. Lario's choice of news organs for her venting was noteworthy -- La Repubblica, one of the former prime minister's most unrelenting critics. Berlusconi responded by releasing his apology through his Forza Italia party.

In his kiss-and-make-up letter, Berlusconi reminded his wife that "we've been together for a lifetime." He acknowledged tough times, blaming it on his "crazy" public life, and admitted he was "often irreverent." But he said he held her dignity "in my heart, even when a thoughtless remark comes from my mouth."

He supplicated: "Please forgive me, I beg you, and take this public testimony as a proud act of love. One of many. A big kiss, Silvio."

Everyone had a comment on the highly uncharacteristic detour into the Berlusconis' private life.

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