German chancellor cancels his vacation in Italy


BERLIN - No sooner did Italy and Germany extricate themselves from last week's diplomatic imbroglio than they got into another one yesterday, with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder reacting to an Italian official's insulting remarks about German tourists by imposing an unusual sanction: He canceled his vacation in Italy.

Schroeder seemed to be bowing to German public opinion, inflamed this time by comments from the Italian tourism minister, Stefano Stefani, who characterized German tourists as beer-swilling, chauvinistic boors who "invaded the beaches of Italy" every year.

This latest fracas began Friday, when Stefani, who is a member of the small nationalist Northern League party, wrote in a letter to his group's official newspaper, La Padania, "We know the Germans well, those stereotyped blonds with a hyper-nationalist pride who have always been indoctrinated to be first in the class at any cost."

Apparently angry over last week's argument about comments by Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, that likened a German deputy in the European Parliament to a functionary in a Nazi concentration camp, Stefani called Germany a "country intoxicated with arrogant certainties." Although they like to vacation in Italy, he said, Germans also like to deal in anti-Italian stereotypes.

The newspaper Bild Zeitung, Stefani continued, referring to Germany's largest mass-circulation tabloid, "doesn't forget to lie about the number of car thefts in Rimini or even the last statistics from Mafia killings in Sicily."

In more normal times and between countries such as Italy and Germany that generally do not look for trouble, the remarks probably would not have become an urgent matter worthy of the attention of the most senior and powerful German officials, but as the new squabble indicates, these are not normal times for Italy and Germany.

The two nations were on opposite sides in the debates leading to the war in Iraq, with Schroeder a leading European opponent of American policy and Berlusconi a supporter of it. Then, last week, Berlusconi made his remarks, which went over extremely badly in Germany.

Yesterday, Stefani declined to take back anything that he said, and Berlusconi, who did not follow the advice of at least two German Cabinet ministers to fire Stefani, also showed no regret over the latest incident. Asked by Italian reporters for his reaction to Schroeder's cancellation, Berlusconi replied, "I'm sorry for him."

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