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Italy: The latest fashion – blue socks against Berlusconi

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A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

MILAN, ITALY – As the political climate grows increasingly tense in Italy, the fierce battle between the supporters of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his critics is having an unlikely effect: It has turned azure socks into a political symbol.

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So what do socks – of any color – have to do with politics? It started in court: Early in October, Fininvest, one of the media companies owned by the Berlusconi family, was sentenced to pay 750 million euros (US$1.1 billion) in damages in a bribery case to its rival, CIR.

Channel 5, a TV station also owned by the Berlusconi family, retaliated by secretly filming the judge who handed down that sentence, Raimondo Mesiano, and aired the reportage two weeks later. The footage was presented as a scoop of the judge’s “eccentricity” on a weekend in Milan. Judge Mesiano is shown going to the barbershop, then sitting on a bench while a voice-over says, “Here’s another oddity. He’s wearing a dress shirt, blue pants, white shoes, and azure socks ... of the kind one shouldn’t wear in court.”

In this country where fashion often counts more than actions, being caught wearing inappropriate socks, even on a weekend, can indeed damage a man’s reputation. The national association of magistrates accused Channel 5 of airing a “denigratory campaign” against Mesiano.

The political opposition soon turned azure socks into a symbol of protest against what they see as Mr. Berlusconi’s war on the judiciary and his excessive control over the media. Dario Franceschini, now the former leader of Italy’s Democratic Party, often wore azure socks while running for reelection in last month’s primaries. On Twitter, he urged his supporters to do the same “to show solidarity with the judiciary.”

Lucia Annunziata, the host of a popular TV show often critical of the government, showed up wearing azure socks as well. Facebook hosts several anti-Berlusconi groups with names like “Azure Socks for the Constitution” and “Let’s give a pair of azure socks to the prime minister.”

The government and its supporters scoff that azure socks are proof of the opposition’s lack of ideas.