Thursday, June 11, 2009

What a pair

Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, right, in Rome on Wednesday.

Where'd Muammar get those shades?

Italy came to terms with its colonial past on Wednesday in a somewhat surreal news conference with two of the world’s most colorful politicians, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

Surreal and colorful are perfect adjectives for this pair.

The Colonel's visit comes just months after Italy agreed to pay Libya $5 billion in reparations as part of a treaty nominally about healing colonial wounds but in practice more about helping business and stemming illegal immigration.

Curiously, the Colonel has never promoted himself to General.

In rambling remarks, Colonel Qaddafi praised Italy as the “only colonial state” that had “cleaned up its past from expansionist and colonialist policies.” Mr. Berlusconi, at turns weary and ebullient, declared “a new era of peace and friendship and collaboration” between the countries.

A good point.

In one of the least notable colonial histories in Europe, Italy ruled Libya from 1911 to 1943.

32 years as colonial master.

Earlier, Mr. Berlusconi greeted Colonel Qaddafi at Rome’s Ciampino airport, where the North African leader was flanked by his trademark cadre of female bodyguards, whom the Italian news media referred to as “Amazons.”

What can anyone add? Well, leave it to the Colonel to come up with something.

Colonel Qaddafi arrived with a provocation pinned to one lapel of his baggy military uniform: a black-and-white photograph of a Libyan resistance leader, Omar al-Mukhtar, who was hanged by the Italians in 1931. “This hanging is like the crucifixion of Christ for Christians,” Colonel Qaddafi said at the news conference. “For us, this image is a bit like the cross that some of you wear.”

So, Muammar is claiming al-Mukhtar was the son of Allah?

Italy had practical goals in mind. The financial crisis has led Italian blue-chip companies like the bank Unicredit and the energy utility ENI to rely more on Libyan investment. So in exchange for the $5 billion in reparations it is due to receive over 20 years, Libya will provide Italy with more oil, make it easier for Italian companies to conduct business there and place Italian companies “in first place” to win infrastructure contracts, Mr. Berlusconi said.

Reparations to one person, perhaps a bribe to another.

Colonel Qaddafi, meanwhile, offered ruminative remarks on colonialism and migration. He said that Italians should understand “the appeal of Europe” to many Africans. “They have no identity,” he said. “They come out of the forest, they say, ‘In the North there’s money, I’ll go to Libya and then to Europe.’ ”

Out of the forest? What a choice of words.

Students have protested his planned speech at La Sapienza University, and the Jewish community has also grumbled about the colonel’s visit. Many Jews fled to Italy after being expelled from Libya in 1967, and many of them are asking for restitution for their confiscated property.

Perhaps the Colonel can dip into the 5 billion, or, perhaps, ask his friend Silvio for a few Euros.

In Rome, Colonel Qaddafi has pitched his Bedouin tent in a public park, the Villa Doria Pamphili.

That is spin par excellence.

At his request, on Friday he is expected to meet with 700 Italian women from the business and cultural sectors, an encounter organized by the equal opportunities minister.

The Colonel gets the final word.

No comments:

Post a Comment