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Libya-Italy: online reactions to the “Berlusconi connection”

While the news from Libya is getting more dramatic by the hour, many people are focusing on the recently close relationship between Gheddafi and the Italian government, given the well-known historical events between the two countries. In particular the “Berlusconi connection” emerges. Al Jazeera TV also talks about it on several occasions, with various reports by its Rome correspondent on the initial distancing by the Italian government, as well as protests by Libyan citizens in front of Libyan embassy in Rome.

Obviously there is an abundance of criticism and accusation on the Internet, not only by Italian netizens. Here is an overview of comments and reactions shared online in the last few hours.

On Twitter, the hashtag #berlusconi is going strong, with hundreds of messages per minute in every language, including the following:

tweets on berlusconi connection

tweets on berlusconi connection

The most recent tweets do not fail to note the recent statement, in which the Prime Minister finally seems to express his opinion by talking about the “unacceptable violence in Libya”:

Tweets on berlusconi connection

A video (and its variations) showing Berlusconi kissing Gheddafi's hand, during the summit of the Arab League in March 2010, is becoming quite popular on YouTube. Other popular videos show Berlusconi claiming that “Everyone should be happy about our friendship with Libya” [it] (August 2010) and that “Gheddafi is a very wise leader” [it] (June 2009).

In the meantime, confirming the recent closeness between the two countries, the story of the eight Berlusconi-Gheddafi meetings in three years [it] is reconstructed and Indymedia Lombardia broadcasts a timely dossier: All the business between Italy and Libya [it], in which among other things it is explained that:

…se da un lato l’Italia importa principalmente petrolio e gas naturale (2 miliardi di euro nel primo trimestre 2010), dall’altro vende soprattutto prodotti derivanti dalla raffinazione del petrolio e macchinari e attrezzature utili ad estrarre e lavorare queste materie prime. Il mercato dell’export è trainato dalla nostra industria pesante che, da gennaio a marzo 2010, tra macchinari generali e speciali, ha fatturato circa 85 milioni euro, mentre è di 53 milioni il ricavato derivante dall’export di autoveicoli, navi e imbarcazioni. La Camera di Commercio Italo-Libica di Roma, attraverso cui passano buona parte delle esportazioni verso la Libia, da gennaio a settembre 2009 ha registrato 2.627 fatture, per un valore di più di 357 milioni di euro di export, più di un terzo dei quali nel settore impiantistica e macchinari.

…if on one hand Italy imports mainly petroleum and natural gas (2 billion euros in the first trimester of 2010), on the other they sell mostly products derived from refining petroleum and machinery and tools for extracting and using these raw materials. The export market is pulled along by our heavy industry that, from January to March 2010, combining general and specialised machinery, had a turn over of approximately 85 million euros, while the proceeds from the export of automobiles, ships and boats was of 53 million euros. The Italian-Libyan Chamber of Commerce in Rome, in charge of most export business with Libya, in January-September 2009 registered 2,627 invoices, for a value of more than 357 million euros of exports, more than a third of which from petrochemical plant design and machinery sector.

A post entitled “Libya: Death to Berlusconi” [it] on the blog Mazzetta [it] highlights the large financial interests at play:

Non si difendono gli interessi dell'Italia spalleggiando dittatori in disgrazia e manifestando loro amicizia e stima anche quando già sono fuggiti con infamia dal loro paese. Non si difendono gli interessi dell'Italia spalleggiando dei folli che mandano gli aerei a bombardare le manifestazioni, ancora meno quando sono perdenti.

Italy's interests cannot be defended by supporting dictators in disgrace and showing them friendship and respect, even when they have run away in disgrace from their country. Italy's interests cannot be defended by supporting loser madmen who send airplanes to bomb local protests.

Paolo Brogi points out an atypical gift from Berlusconi to Gheddafi: an Ansaldo “luxury train for Libya” [it], on the occasion of the first “Day of Friendship between Italian and Libyan Peoples” held last August:

Il colonnello avrebbe infatti l’intenzione di realizzare una tratta ferroviaria superveloce non soltanto tra la capitale e Bengasi, ma per collegare l’intera zona costiera del Paese magrebino, da affiancare a una lunga autostrada che andrebbe dall’Algeria fino all’Egitto, sognando le Repubbliche arabe unite.
….
Il design, studiato in collaborazione con Pininfarina, offre ai passeggeri un ambiente gradevole e di elevato comfort. Le dotazioni del treno comprendono, tra l’altro, aria condizionata, impianti per le informazioni audio-video al pubblico e display per i posti prenotati, oltre a sedili reclinabili dotati di impianto per la diffusione sonora.

Indeed, the [Libyan] colonel intended to create a stretch of high-speed railway linking not only the capital to Bengasi, but also the internal coastal area of the Maghreb region, along with a long highway that would run from Algeria to Egypt, dreaming about the unification of Arab countries.
….
The [train] design, created in collaboration with Pininfarina, offers passengers a pleasant environment and high level of comfort. The train is fitted, among other things, with air conditioning, audio-video displays for public information and for reserved seats, as well as reclining chairs with speaker systems.

Another report circulating online covers Berlusconi's statement that he doesn't want to disturb his friend Gheddafi [it] at this delicate time:

….spiega di non aver sentito il suo amico Gheddafi per non “disturbarlo” in un momento così delicato. “Siamo preoccupati – dice il premier ai giornalisti – per tutto quello che sta accadendo lì in tutta l'area”.

….he explains that he has not spoken to his friend Gheddafi so as to not “disturb him” at such a delicate time. “We are worried – says the Prime Minister to journalists – about everything that is happening in that area”.

The same thing goes for the Foreign Minister, who hopes for “a peaceful transition in Libya” [it], on which Claudio Messora on blog ByoBlu [it] comments:

In modo pacifico? E’ riuscito a superare perfino se stesso, quando disse: “Spero che Mubarak continui a governare con lungimiranza e saggezza.”

Peacefully? He has managed to exceed even himself saying: “I hope that Mubarak continues to govern with foresight and wisdom.”

Many groups are also active on Facebook, particularly focusing on the “complicity” between the two politicians [it] and pushing Berlusconi to take a stand [it] on the consequences of those agreements with Gheddafi — including a January 2010 video on the tragic end of immigrants expelled from Libya [it].

To end on a sweeter note, there is no lack of sarcasm: here is a cartoon from Il Peggio, a “satiric blog inspired by Italian politics and the world that it moves, making it worse.” Showing Mubarak and Ben Ali on a hospital bed along with Gheddafi, the caption says: “Come here, Silvio, we left a spot just for you”.

from the satirical blog Il Peggio

Elena Intra contributed to the original post in Italian.

This post is part of a GVO special on the revolts in Libya.

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