Last June I did a post about political gaffes with American and British politicians. It has been my most successful post with 90 views. So I have decided to do an international version now.
Silvio Berlusconi is always a rich source of anecdotes. You probably remember his comments to German MEP Martin Schulz at the start of Italy’s EU presidency in July 2003: “I know that in Italy there is a man producing a film on Nazi concentration camps – I shall put you forward for the role of Kapo (guard chosen from among the prisoners) – you would be perfect.” On another occasion he said that he had used his ‘playboy charms’ on Finland’s president, Tarja Halonen, in order to secure a European food summit in Italy. This caused outrage in both Finland and Italy. The Italian ambassador in Finland was summoned by the Finnish foreign minister. An explanation by a minister in his cabinet – “anyone who had seen a picture of Halonen must have been aware that he had been joking.” – didn’t exactly help matters.
Eamon De Valera
Eamon de Valera, Taoiseach (prime minister) during WWII, paid a visit to Eduard Hempel, director of the German diplomatic corps in Ireland to express condolences on the death of Adolf Hitler in his Berlin bunker. The act was widely condemned by the international community and remains one of the biggest diplomatic blunders in the history of Ireland . But De Valera argued that to refuse condolences “would have been an act of unpardonable discourtesy to the German nation and to Dr. Hempel himself. During the whole of the war, Dr. Hempel’s conduct was irreproachable. … I certainly was not going to add to his humiliation in the hour of defeat.”
Japanese politicians, especially those from the Liberal Democratic Party seem to have an innate gift for coming out with the most inopportune remarks. In 2004 Kiichi Inoue, the Minister of State for Disaster Management, suggested that the murder of a classmate by an 11-year-old schoolgirl indicated a sign of women’s progress. He was quoted as saying “Men have committed thoughtless, harsh acts but I think this is the first for a girl.” In July of the previous year, Inoue’s predecessor in the job, Yoshitada Konoike, said the parents of a boy suspected of killing a small child should be beheaded as a warning to parents who do not control their children effectively. At a news conference Mr Konoike said: “The parents (of the 12-year-old boy) should be pulled through the streets and their heads should be chopped off.” Seiichi Ota, who would go on to become Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, was participating in a debate on Japan’s declining birth rate. He declared that at least gang rapists showed a healthy appetite for sex. At the time there was a scandal in Japan about blue-blooded students at an elite Japanese University who had formed the Super Free Club, which organised parties for Tokyo university students, at which women were lured into drinking sessions and gang-raped. Finally, a mention for former PM Yoshiro Mori, who was described as having “the heart of a flea and the brain of a shark” and achieved a single-figure approval rating during his time in office. In the 2000 campaign when there were said to be 50% floating voters Mori suggested that if these indecisive voters hadn’t decided who to vote for, they should just stay in bed on election day. When the USS Greeneville accidentally hit and sank the a Japanese fishing-school ship, Ehime Maru, killing 9 students and teachers decided it would be silly to interrupt a round of golf and he continued playing for another two hours. He finally resigned on April 26, 2001 to be succeeded by maverick Junichiro Koizumi.
Australian politics is known for its rough and tumble but some politicians still manage to cross the line. John Brogden, the leader of the right-wing Liberal Party in New South Wales had his nightmare moment in front of hundreds of journalists at a media junket while in a state of inebriation. Alcohol and politicians making public appearances are a very explosive mix and Brogden allegedly described Helena Carr, the Malaysian-born wife of former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr, as a “mail-order bride”. If that was not enough he went on to make lewd suggestions to two female journalists at the event, pinching one of them on the buttocks. These incidents forced his resignation. He apologised but the Carrs initially refused to accept his apology but relented after Brogden tried to commit suicide. The police found him unconscious, having slit his wrists in a drug and alcohol induced stupor. In 2007 Brogden spoke about his ten-year battle with depression and he became a patron for Lifeline NSW, a 24-hour crisis telephone counselling service run by Methodists. Finally, there is the case Philip Smythe, the former leader of the New South Wales Liberal/National Party Coalition, who was on a plane to Auckland for a political conference. When the cabin crew advised the passengers to put their watches back one hour for the new time zone, Smythe blurted out: “and your minds back 20 years”. What he didn’t realize that the editor of an important New Zealand paper – the Herald – was sitting directly behind him and published the gaffe on the next day’s front page.
In 1989, Yeltsin was found at a police post outside Moscow dripping wet and wearing only his underwear. His story was that he had been attacked, his head covered in a sack and dumped off a bridge into a river. Yeah, right. In 1994, Yeltsin on a boat steaming down the Volga suddenly ordered his border guards to toss his spokesman Vyacheslav Kostikov into the cold river. In the same year, at a ceremony to mark the final withdrawal of the last Russian troops from Germany, a drunk Yeltsin seized the baton from the leader of a military band and insisted on doing the conducting himself. And in perhaps the most infamous incident, Yeltsin was incapable of getting off his plane for talks with Irish Prime Minister, Albert Reynolds during a stopover at Shannon airport in 1994, leaving his hosts waiting on the tarmac. An aide said he was exhausted after a visit to the USA and Yeltsin himself claimed he had overslept. Fatigue was used to explain away a 1997 gaffe when Yeltsin startled an audience in Sweden (and his own generals) by announcing that Russia was going to dismantle its nuclear arsenal.
Hungary – Ferenc Gyurcsany
In May 2006 the Hungarian Prime Minister, Socialist Ferenc Gyurcsany, admitted in a speech behind closed doors that his government had lied to win the election earlier that year and had dome little of note in their four years in power. He also employed a lot of colourful language. Wikipedia had this censored version of the speech:
“There is not much choice. There is not, because we screwed up. Not a little, a lot. No European country has done something as boneheaded as we have. Evidently, we lied throughout the last year-and-a-half, two years. It was totally clear that what we are saying is not true. You cannot quote any significant government measure we can be proud of, other than at the end we managed to bring the government back from the brink. Nothing. If we have to give account to the country about what we did for four years, then what do we say?” Unfortunately for the candid Hungarian the speech had been recorded and was quickly made public Riots ensued, which threatened to bring down the government. In the end Gyurcsany was able to survive a vote of no confidence and a public enquiry and remains in office today.
A PP video
A video designed to attack Spain’s Socialist Party for losing control of crime backfired spectacularly on the opposition People’s Party. Television news pictures used in it turned out to have been filmed abroad or before the Socialists even came to power. One scene from 2003 of men firing pistols turned out to have been shot in the notorious Colombian city of Medellìn and featured clashes between rival drug traffickers. Another scene showing police and rioters battling it out on the streets of Barcelona was from 1986, eight years before Zapatero became president.