An Italian prince waltzes into politics
Prince Emmanuel Filiberto of Savoy hopes his recent win in Italy's 'Dancing With the Stars' will ignite a political career in his homeland.
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The prince will have to distance himself from the murky past of his father, Prince Victor Emmanuel, who has been embroiled in a series of scandals over the years.
The older prince was briefly jailed in 2006 on suspicion of corruption and recruiting prostitutes for clients at a casino in an Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. He was never charged, and denies the accusations. In 2004, he was involved in a punch-up at a Spanish royal wedding, assaulting his cousin and arch rival, Duke Amedeo of Aosta, who also claims the defunct Italian throne. Prince Victor Emmanuel is also remembered for an incident in 1978 when he fired a rifle from his yacht while moored off Corsica and killed a young German tourist. A court case dragged on for years, until, in 1991, he was acquitted of manslaughter by a French court.
"There have been various shenanigans over the years," says James Walston, professor of Italian politics at the American University in Rome. "The Savoys tend to have either misbehaved or to have been decent but dim. The prince is regarded by most ... as a rich playboy, although he seems to be less thick than his father."
His son's tilt at a political career may also be hampered by the memory of the family's war record. His great-grandfather, King Victor Emmanuel III, fervently supported Mussolini's fascist dictatorship and collaborated on anti-Semitic race laws that sent nearly 8,000 Jews to Nazi concentration camps.
Prince Emmanuel has hardly maintained a regal detachment from the hurly burly of Italian life since his family came out of exile. He is a staple of gossip magazines, having married in 2003 a beautiful French actress, Clothilde Courau. And he has appeared in TV commercials, using his royal credentials to promote, among other things, pickled olives.
In a front-page editorial, one of Italy's most respected broadsheets mocked the prince's TV victory, hailing him as "a king for an evening."
"The hereditary prince of a kingdom which no longer exists won the scepter and throne, or at least their parodies" in the "papier-mache" world of reality TV, La Stampa opined.
The prince stood in last year's national elections, when Berlusconi was reelected prime minister, but won just a tiny fraction of the vote.
"The prince's manifesto seems to be populist center-right, but Italians already have that from Berlusconi," says Professor Walston.
"He'd like to do what some of the Balkan royals have done, which is to come back into democratic politics and use the royal name. But there are very few Italians who are confirmed monarchists, and they are a dying breed. If a referendum on bringing back the royals was held today, they'd be lucky to get 10 percent."
The prince shakes off doubts about his credibility with the unassailable confidence of a man with centuries of royal rule behind him. Asked if he could envisage Italy restoring its monarchy, he by no means rules it out. "Italy is a republic and I respect the Constitution. But I look at the examples of other monarchies, like Britain, Spain, or Sweden, where the monarchy has been a unifying force which rises above politics."
The prospect of a royal restitution looks extremely distant. But the prince believes he has a role to play in the homeland that he had never visited until six years ago. "There are plenty of things that one can do without being a king," he says.