Roberto Calderoli, Vice President of the Italian Senate, apologized today for remarks made over the weekend in which he compared Cecile Kyenge, Italy's first black minister, to an orangutan.
So if you thought that America had the corner market on politicians saying stupid things in public, you were wrong. Apparently they're everywhere. You can work out on your own whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.
Calderoli, who is a leading member in Italy's staunchly anti-immigration Northern League Party, made the remarks to a group of 1,500 supporters over the weekend. He told them that "I love animals - bears and wolves as everyone knows - but when I see the pictures of Kyenge I cannot but think of, even if I'm not saying she is one, the features of an orangutan." He went on to accuse Kyenge of wanting to establish "tribal traditions" in Italy, said that her status and success were encouraging illegal immigration, and suggested that she would be better suited to serving as a minister "in her own country." Minister Kyenge, an Italian citizen, was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The backlash against Calderoli was, to put it mildly, rather fierce. Many critics called for Calderoli to resign his position as Senate Vice President, including some within his own party. Minister Kyenge herself was among those calling for him to step down, suggesting that he should "search his conscience" and consider the way his remarks reflected on the office he holds.
Calderoli did ultimately apologize yesterday, first by issuing a public statement that he "did not mean to offend and if minister Kyenge was offended I am sorry, but my comment was made within a much broader political speech that criticised the minister and her policies." He later told the Italian media that he had called Kyenge and apologized to her directly.