Bunga Bunga on the big screen- could a new biopic support Silvio Berlusconi's comeback?

Indigo Films

Indigo Films

POLITICO Europe By Hannah Roberts

Billowing Bedouin tents, lanterns and a troupe of belly dancers adorn the manicured gardens of a former cardinal’s villa on Rome’s Janiculum Hill, as dozens of beautiful young women, champagne flutes in hand, gyrate to a sensual beat.

A scene from cinema or recent Italian political history? The answer is both: this decadent party is one of the set pieces of “Loro” (“Them”), an upcoming film by Oscar-winning director Paolo Sorrentino that focuses on Silvio Berlusconi and his entourage during the bunga bunga years of orgies at the former prime minister’s villas.

A new film recalling Berlusconi’s sex scandals in widescreen would be the stuff of nightmares for most political leaders, especially at a time when the #MeToo movement is gaining momentum. Coming on top of his other troubles, it should perhaps be enough to bury Berlusconi for good. But the aging lothario has an uncanny talent for snatching victory from the jaws of defeats, gaffes, setbacks and scandals.

The film’s distribution company in Italy, Universal Pictures, declined to say whether it would release the movie before the election on March 4. Even if it doesn’t, news of the movie’s impending release has already pushed the billionaire businessman’s sexual excesses back into the national discussion.

And yet, instead of seeking to stall the film’s opening (the fate of a documentary released before the 2013 election), Berlusconi — who controls the film company Medusa that co-financed Sorrentino’s previous two films — appears relatively relaxed about the production; he even offered the use of his villas as locations.

Berlusconi’s aides declined to comment for this article, but his family’s newspaper Il Giornale listed it among the best upcoming films of 2018, saying the movie “dedicated to Silvio Berlusconi … will be about power, money and charisma.”

Vittorio Sgarbi, a close Berlusconi ally and likely culture minister in any future Berlusconi government, said the billionaire businessman had met with Sorrentino to talk about the film.

“If it comes out before the election, it could be an advantage as it will create a reaction. It’s an interpretation of the events and there will very likely be parts that are offensive and defamatory. But it is not a given that it will damage Berlusconi.”

Most Italians have already formed an opinion about Berlusconi, so a new film is unlikely to change many minds, said Michael Day, author of “Being Berlusconi: The Rise and Fall from Cosa Nostra to Bunga Bunga.”

“He is vulgar, dishonest and unreconstructed, but he is funny,” said Day. “He’s good company. He doesn’t appear spiteful or vindictive. So, people are still able to get a vicarious thrill when they watch him flit by helicopter from one luxury villa to another to have group sex with young women young enough to be his great granddaughters.”

“There have been lots of films on Berlusconi and he is still here,” said Maurizio Gasparri a senator in Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. “This is the usual propaganda but people will vote on real problems: immigration, the economy.”

The secret to Berlusconi’s success is that he does evoke a kind of admiration among parts of the electorate. As for the Sorrentino film, “if it glamorizes events or simply emphasizes the decadent or even absurd side of the bunga bunga saga, it might even boost Berlusconi’s appeal,” said Day.

Rather than damage Berlusconi’s reputation, a film with Sorrentino’s style and composition “is likely to contribute to the myth,” said Catherine O’Rawe, a lecturer in Italian cinema at Bristol University.

If the party scenes are anything like “La Grande Belleza” (“The Great Beauty,” which won the Oscar for Best Foreign-language Feature in 2014), “Loro” will make for a visually spectacular take on that aspect of Berlusconi’s life, she said. The star of “Loro” and “La Grande Belleza,” Toni Servillo, previously played seven-time Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti in Sorrentino’s “Il Divo.”

“Sorrentino didn’t shy away from the dark aspects, but Andreotti still emerges as a star,” said O’Rawe. “That’s the danger.”

Recent polls have shown Berlusconi’s right-wing bloc commanding 39 percent of the vote at most, insufficient to deliver an outright majority. In fact, none of the competing parties is in a position to do so, and so lengthy wrangling to hammer out an alliance — an Italian tradition — seems inevitable.

At 81, Berlusconi is getting on; he suffered a heart attack in 2016. This is probably his last chance to lead the country again and seal his legacy as a statesman. But there are numerous obstacles to Berlusconi’s return to power, including a ban from political office for a tax fraud conviction pending an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

More legal troubles are looming at a new trial later this month, for allegedly corrupting witnesses during his previous trial for paying for sex with a 17-year-old. (In 2015, Italy’s High Court overturned an earlier conviction on the grounds that Berlusconi did not know the girl was under 18 when they had sex.)

Berlusconi can take comfort in the fact that his core supporters are unlikely to be put off by either the new trial or the film. He has always had a predominantly female voting base and the bunga bunga scandal did not change that, said Giovanni Orsina, political historian at the Luiss University in Rome.

Sorrentino’s film will be seen — like the many criminal charges Berlusconi has fought through the decades — as part of a long-running judicial persecution at the hands of a left-leaning pack of prosecutors. “Whatever fallout the bunga bunga scandal was going to have on the vote has already happened,” said Orsina.

For retired lawyer Maria Rosaria Coletti from Rome, a long-standing Berlusconi supporter, the sex scandal was always a politically motivated legal offensive, designed to tie Berlusconi up in court for years and ending in his forced resignation in 2011.

“It was a documented international attack, culminating in a coup d’etat orchestrated by other European leaders,” she said, adding that Berlusconi’s womanizing is not predatory but the inevitable consequence of being the proprietor of a media and television empire. “The few times I’ve met him I’ve seen girls literally jump on him.”

The flipside of Italy’s tolerance for archaic sexual mores is antipathy toward women who dare to challenge it. At the Women’s March in Rome last weekend, Italian actress Asia Argento spoke of the fierce backlash in her home country after she accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of rape. Italy is “stuck in the Middle Ages” when it comes to victims of sex attacks, she said, urging women not to vote for Berlusconi. “The patriarchy has infiltrated our DNA thanks to that pig.”

After a decade of crisis, commentators say gender and #MeToo won’t play a large part in the election, with economic issues taking center stage.

As Colletti put it: “The left have dismantled family values and the values of the church. I don’t see Berlusconi as a god, but he is the one who represents what I want.” For the former cruise ship crooner, the show may yet go on.

 

Five Star Movement: the unanswered questions about Italy’s populist party

Big Read, The Financial Times 

By Hannah Roberts and James Politi

When Davide Casaleggio took the stage at a former Olivetti typewriter factory in Ivrea, north-west Italy, in early April, his audience had already been subjected to an apocalyptic, 10-minute film. The internet, it warned, was “like atomic energy” that could be used for good or evil, including the creation of “Orwellian dictatorships”.

“We’ve had some of the best minds of the country here today to talk about the future, so we can understand what awaits us,” said Mr Casaleggio, referring to participants in the day-long affair that included Fabio Vaccarono, the chief executive of Google Italy. “The future is already present, you just have to know where to see it.”

An uncharismatic 41-year-old management consultant and extreme sports aficionado, Mr Casaleggio was able to host such a high-profile event because he has placed himself directly at the intersection of the internet and politics in the eurozone’s third-largest economy.

He is president of the Rousseau Association, which runs a pioneering internet platform designed to introduce direct democracy into the anti-establishment Five Star Movement by conducting online primary votes, surveying members on policies and receiving donations. This has made Mr Casaleggio the gatekeeper and most important force behind Five Star, a political party founded in 2009 and fronted by comedian Beppe Grillo, which is aiming to take control of the country’s parliament in the general election scheduled for early next year.

For supporters, Mr Casaleggio — whose small Milan-based company also runs a blog by Mr Grillo that is Five Star’s primary vehicle for communicating with Italian voters — is a trailblazer in adapting the tools of the internet to give citizens a direct voice in modern politics and to shatter the mould of backroom deals. “We brought the digital revolution to politics,” says Carla Ruocco, a Five Star lawmaker. “We are the closest to the piazzas, to the people.”

But the complicated fusion of Mr Casaleggio’s public and private functions has raised questions about accountability gaps and potential conflicts of interests within Five Star at a critical juncture. Critics question whether a single individual should play such a significant role while having no official position in the party and while his business is so central to Five Star’s activities.

“Casaleggio is the head of the Five Star structure, which puts him at the centre of the movement. It all goes through him,” says Piero Ignazi, a professor of political science at the University of Bologna.

“Transparency is one of their battle horses, but it is entirely partial transparency,” says Fabio Bordignon, a professor of political science at Urbino university and a specialist on Five Star.

Even some of the membership are calling for more internal democracy. “There is a democratic deficit here,” said one Five Star insider. “It’s like a sect.”

Heading into the heat of the election campaign, Five Star is trying to convince an anxious, dissatisfied electorate that its purported honesty and independence can wipe out corruption from the country’s politics and snatch economic sovereignty back from the EU. Given it is currently neck-and-neck in the polls with the ruling centre-left Democratic party, it has a realistic shot at gaining power in the elections. At a party conference next weekend in Rimini and with Mr Casaleggio’s blessing, party members are expected to choose Luigi Di Maio, a 31-year-old Neapolitan and vice-president of the lower house of parliament, to be its candidate for prime minister in an online vote run by Rousseau.

With Five Star possibly approaching power, Mr Casaleggio’s presence as a businessman at the heart of the party has brought echoes of the debate surrounding the reign of Silvio Berlusconi, the media mogul and former three-time prime minister, who dominated Italian politics for two decades. “The scale is different but the principle is the same,” says Mr Ignazi.

Most of all, Mr Casaleggio’s low-profile means that little is known of his deeper political views and the agenda he might push were Five Star to win the election. In the past he has at least flirted with ideas about how to use technology to manipulate public opinion — in an echo of the semi-authoritarian path he vowed to exorcise in the opening film in Ivrea.

In a book called Tu Sei Rete, or You Are Network, Mr Casaleggio wrote that people, like “ant colonies”, could be easily conditioned through the diffusion of simple messages.

“It’s necessary that the components are many in number, that they meet casually and they are not aware of the characteristics of the system in its complexity,” he wrote. “An ant must not know how the formicary works, otherwise all the ants would take on the best and least tiring roles, creating a co-ordination problem.”

Mr Casaleggio’s pivotal role in Italian politics is essentially inherited. His father, Gianroberto Casaleggio, co-founded Five Star in 2009 alongside Mr Grillo, and was himself seen as the éminence grise behind the party. When Gianroberto died in April last year, he passed the reins of his company — called Casaleggio Associati — to Davide. With it came the keys to one of the strongest political parties in Europe.

A child chess prodigy, Mr Casaleggio graduated in economics at Milan’s Bocconi University. He lives with his long-term girlfriend, Paola Gianotti, a champion cyclist, and practises ice diving in frozen alpine lakes, according to a friend in his diving club. His mother, Elizabeth Birks, is British, but his English is “not perfect”, she points out, noting a detectable Italian accent.

Five Star colleagues paint a picture of a reserved, target-driven man rather than a political visionary, making him unlike his father. “He is distant, a man of few words,” says one. Max Bugani, one of Davide’s closest allies, adds: “He is a workaholic, a bit manic, very focused.” One former Five Star parliamentarian told the FT that “Casaleggio has only one objective, to become the leader in the world at developing algorithms that determine web behaviour and then sell that information to clients.”

Mr Casaleggio declined to comment for this article, but at a press conference in Rome in early August denied any active role at the helm of Five Star. “My role has always been of support to the movement. I do not hold elected office, I do not ask Five Star for a salary. I am one of many activists, many volunteers,” he said.

Mr Casaleggio has, however, been much more than that since his father died. He has participated in most of the big political moves made by Five Star in recent months, including a failed attempt to switch alliances in the European Parliament in January. He has frequently travelled to Rome to huddle with Mr Grillo and other key officials, including Virginia Raggi, the embattled Five Star mayor of the Italian capital. Since Five Star lacks any headquarters, key meetings have been held at the Hotel Forum, a four-star albergo 500m from the Colosseum overlooking the ruins of the ancient city. Just this month, Mr Casaleggio appeared with Mr Grillo in a video to fundraise for the Rimini conference.

If Five Star were to win the premiership, possibly in alliance with other populist parties, it would be unclear who would be calling the shots, and based on whose interests. There are no formal mechanisms for party members to challenge Mr Casaleggio’s leadership — giving him, along with Mr Grillo — virtually unchecked power.

 Casaleggio Associati is essentially a small ecommerce consultancy that advises clients on the best strategies to sell more online, both domestically and internationally. Public data suggest it is not a very lucrative business. In 2016 it lost €48,000 on revenues of just under €1m and it has been lossmaking for the past three years.

One of its biggest annual events is the presentation of a report on ecommerce trends in Italy. At the latest one in early May at Milan’s chamber of commerce, Mr Casaleggio gave a 30-minute speech about chatbots and internationalisation, but not once did he mention his role at Five Star. Some of the more than 150 participants said the lines between his business and the politics should be drawn more clearly. “The fact that there is a business behind Five Star which is selling consulting services can lead some companies to pay for consulting work because they hope for some political connection. I don’t know but it does not seem like a very transparent structure,” said Marco Magnocavallo, the chief executive of Tannico, an online wine retailer who was a panellist at the event.

Venerando Monello, a lawyer close to the ruling Democratic party who has mounted a legal challenge over the relationship between Five Star’s leadership and its elected representatives, took it a step further: “We do not know what relationships Casaleggio Associati has with foreign powers or foreign companies. We don’t know whether there can be interference with the political activities of Five Star from Casaleggio’s commercial activities.”

A spokesman for Mr Casaleggio refused to comment on the challenge, but Five Star officials shrug off these concerns. They argue that their digital model — which means they have low overhead costs, no headquarters or offices — means they are less susceptible to money. Any flaws in accountability, they add, pale in comparison with the lobbying ties of Italy’s traditional parties. “How can we be influenced? We do politics without any money,” says Carla Ruocco, the Five Star lawmaker.

The nerve centre of Five Star’s structure is Rousseau — Gianroberto’s brainchild and an internet platform named after the 18th-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau who championed direct, as opposed to representative, democracy. Through Rousseau, Five Star selects party members, holds online votes for candidates in local, regional and national elections, allows people to propose and comment on legislation, and receives donations. This year, members have also voted on Five Star’s platform for the next election, on everything from energy to banking to foreign affairs. Rousseau is Five Star’s pride and joy, and a system that has attracted interest from other populist movements around Europe. The only possible parallels so far are the “pirate parties” of Germany and Sweden, though they never attained Five Star’s strength and favoured the use of open-source software, which is not the case with Rousseau.

“I say this with great humility, but equally great firmness: there is nothing similar in the world, no one else has ever created such a way of aggregating people and ideas as us”, said Danilo Toninelli, another Five Star lawmaker.

While Mr Casaleggio may dismiss his importance to Five Star as a whole, he cannot do the same when it comes to Rousseau. He is the president of Rousseau and his company shares the same address in Milan, even though they are separate entities legally. The leadership of Rousseau also includes two of Davide’s right-hand men: Mr Bugani, a city councillor in Bologna, and Pietro Dettori, the former social media manager at Casaleggio Associati.

So far, Rousseau only has about 140,000 registered members — out of Five Star’s approximately 9m voters in the 2013 general election — and only those who entered the movement before July 2016 can vote on party issues. Rousseau staffers say they have a target of 1m members, but screening is costly and time-consuming. “We have so many requests, we have to make sure they are real people,” says Mr Bugani.

But critics say that limiting membership helps Mr Casaleggio minimise internal opposition. “We don’t know anything about the internal political debate, and the players at the top have total control,” says Massimiliano Panarari, a professor of communications at Luiss University in Rome. “It’s a lot like the Italian Communist party [during the cold war].”

The most extreme example of aversion to serious dissent within Five Star actually came from Mr Grillo, who scrapped the results of an online vote in which Marika Cassimatis was chosen by Five Star members as the mayoral candidate in Genoa against the founder’s wishes. Five Star officials say this was an isolated case, but Ms Cassimatis says the episode exposed the party’s authoritarian streak.

“When Five Star started it was really revolutionary, now it is just vertical,” Ms Cassimatis says. “Direct democracy does not exist any more, in contrast to the original ideals,” she says.

In Rome, Mr Monello is challenging a contract signed by Ms Raggi before her election as mayor of Rome in which she agreed to abide by Five Star standards or face a €150,000 penalty, raising the prospect that even she lacks independence vis-à-vis Mr Grillo and Mr Casaleggio. The suit was dismissed by a civil tribunal but Mr Monello is appealing.

Mr Casaleggio has done little to address such worries, including resisting pressure to have every online vote certified independently, to eliminate concerns about potential manipulation by the leadership. In recent years, DNV, a third party, has been asked to verify two Five Star votes, according to Renato Grottola, director of certification at DNV. In August, Mr Casaleggio said that only “in certain cases” would an external company be involved in certifying votes, depending on how “delicate” the poll was, but he could not say what those instances might be.

Meanwhile, a successful hack in early August against Rousseau, in which troves of members’ data, including emails and passwords, were stolen, has raised worries about the security of the system. “This is a major opposition party in Italy and they are vulnerable,” says David Puente, a former Casaleggio employee.

If Rousseau is Five Star’s nerve centre, Beppe Grillo’s blog — which is also managed by Casaleggio — is its powerful mouthpiece and its main vehicle for communication.

“It’s the tool for recruiting sympathisers and for projection, it is like the constitutional charter of the movement,” says Professor Panarari.

But here, too, there are big gaps in accountability. Mr Grillo’s blog is managed by staff at Casaleggio Associati, though the nature of the commercial relationship is opaque. It is unclear who decides what posts should be published and who edits them, which some Five Star officials have complained about. Meanwhile, Mr Grillo’s blog generates advertising from a number of sources via Google ads and other agencies. There are also other websites — such as TzeTze, which disseminates pro-Five Star and anti-government news — that also generate advertising and are run by Casaleggio.

Large multinationals such as American Express, Sky and Durex, the condom brand owned by Reckitt Benckiser, frequently appear on the blog with ads. “It’s mainstream advertising, it’s the big players in the market economy, and it’s very appetising to them as it’s the voice of one of the main players in Italian politics,” says Mr Panarari. Luca Alagna, a digital marketing consultant, estimates that Mr Grillo’s blog could generate between €220,000 and €690,000 per year, depending on the cost per thousand viewers it charges, though he suspects the number is closer to the lower end of the bracket.

Five Star has, however, refused to say what the annual advertising revenues are from the websites in Casaleggio’s orbit, on the grounds that they are not significant. “Frankly I don’t think you get a lot of revenues from online ads,” says Ms Ruocco.

In response to a question from the FT at a press conference last month, Mr Casaleggio acknowledged that Mr Grillo’s blog was a “commercial enterprise” run by his firm since 2005, but noted that it was separate from Five Star’s official communication, which is now done through a less popular linked website called Blog delle Stelle (Stars Blog).

So far, the Rousseau platform has raised more than €450,000 in donations, including some €30,000 from foreign sources, through deposits at an account at Banca Etica, a financial institution based in Padua dedicated to socially responsible investing.

Though its foreign policy has a clear pro-Kremlin tilt, and senior Five Star officials have met top figures in Vladimir Putin’s party, there is no evidence of Russian donations to Five Star.

Rousseau has published a list of donors, but supplying only their initials. Some say the real source of funding at Five Star is the several million euros in public money it receives for its parliamentary activities each year, but it is unclear whether this could be used for the general election campaign.

Mr Casaleggio’s rise within Five Star has not been greeted uniformally well by the rank-and-file.

There is a more radical, purist faction of Five Star which is displeased and says Mr Casaleggio’s entry on to the scene has not been particularly fruitful — and is upset at his support of Mr Di Maio, who represents the more moderate wing of Five Star. “Since Gianroberto died the whole movement has turned into a campaign to get Di Maio elected,” complains one Five Star ally in Rome.

“Davide Casaleggio is a smart guy but a corporate guy. It’s like being on a Boeing 747 and the pilot dies: you can find someone to direct the plane but no one can land it. And when you run out of fuel you crash,” he adds.

After contributing to the collapse of Matteo Renzi’s government by campaigning for a defeat of his constitutional referendum in December, Five Star’s polling numbers have stalled, amid fears that voters may be starting to drift to the centre-right. The lacklustre poll performance and the internal divisions, combined with the mismanagement of Rome, are driving more soul-searching within the party than at any point since its founding, including pressure for more internal democracy.

“There are too many shadowy areas, too many unresolved problems, too many conflicts of interests,” says Nicola Biondo, a former Five Star communications chief and the author of a book called Supernova: how Five Star was killed. “I have a prophecy: the story of Five Star will end badly.”
 


 


 


 


 

 

Survivor’s story: Venetian Ghetto’s last witness to Auschwitz

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Virginia Gattegno, 93, on how she survived the Nazi death camp and why it is vital to preserve Venice’s historic Jewish quarter

At Home by Hannah Roberts (Financial Times) 

Sitting outside her retirement home in the Venetian Ghetto, wrapped in scarves and a coat, Virginia Gattegno shivers in the spring sunlight. More than 70 years after enduring the Polish winter of 1944, the Auschwitz survivor still feels the cold. She explains: “For us Mediterranean people, who hadn’t experienced cold, that was the cruellest thing, worse than the hunger.” The birdlike 93-year-old is the last witness of the Nazi death camp living in the ghetto today.

When in 1516, the Doge, Leonardo Loredan, enforced segregation of Venetian Jews, on a small island formerly used as a metal foundry (geto in the Venetian dialect), he instituted the world’s first ghetto. Jews were in the main limited to working as pawnbrokers or moneylenders, wearing yellow circles as identification, and were locked inside the island’s gates at night. While appallingly discriminatory, it was, for some, a shelter from even worse persecution elsewhere.

To mark the 500th anniversary, the remaining Jewish community of about 450 have organised a series of commemorations, including the first performance of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice in the ghetto’s principal square, the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo, where Gattegno has lived since 2007. The community is raising funds to preserve the quarter’s crumbling tenement houses and five ornate synagogues.

We walk the few steps to an arched green door, the entrance to the Jewish retirement home. Up an unembellished stair, Gattegno’s bright first-floor room looks over a canal to the arched bridge linking the ghetto to Venice’s many small interconnected islands. The gates are long gone, but two soldiers with automatic weapons stationed outside are a stark reminder that Jews are still not safe in Europe.

Gattegno, originally from Rome, married a Venetian called Ugo Cipolato, with whom she had two daughters. She has lived in Venice for the past 60 years. Hatred for Jews has never really disappeared, she says. She lost her mother, grandmother and two younger brothers in the concentration camp, and almost starved to death herself, but she did not speak of Auschwitz until the 1990s.

Before the Holocaust, such evil seemed unthinkable, she says. “The Germans had been among the most civilised, sophisticated people in Europe, who treated Jews the best.” But the fear that anti-Semitism is in resurgence in Europe drives her to retell her story. She believes that conserving the physical site of the ghetto, a reminder of the persecution of Jews for centuries, is vital. “The ghetto must be here to remind people, because after the last witness to the Shoah [Holocaust], who will tell what happened to the Jews?”

Gattegno laughs easily and often. She has the uninhibited candour of old age, chattering about her youth: “I wanted to be an actress you know”, breaking into song. At times she demonstrates a gallows humour, asking, “You know why so many Jews play the violin? Because it’s difficult to escape with a piano.”

The floor in her room is traditional Venetian Terrazzo, yet the furniture is modern and inexpensive. A painting of Jerusalem’s multi-denominational roofs hangs on the wall, alongside several landscapes with Monet-style brushwork, painted by her father, who was the headmaster of a Jewish school and died in 1941.

Her prewar possessions were lost forever. But sitting on her single bed, she shows me a family photograph recovered from relatives, taken before they relocated to Rhodes in 1936. On Rhodes the Jewish quarter was distinct, an island within the island. Gattegno remembers daily swimming and baked spaghetti with sultanas and octopus. In 1943, Gattegno, then 19, met an Italian soldier, Ugo. “I was no Rita Hayworth,” she says, “but he fell love with me when he saw me in my bathing costume.” One photograph shows the young couple on the sand, grinning at each other.

Ugo fled when the Germans arrived in September 1943. In July the following year the island’s Jewish community of 1,600 was deported with ease. First, the men — including Alberto, Gattegno’s 16-year-old brother — were arrested. Then the women and children were put on barges that headed for Piraeus.

 Living on an island, they knew nothing of the death camps. “Had we known we would have thrown ourselves overboard.” Many died during the three-week passage by sea and cattle car to Auschwitz. Gattegno turned 21 on the way and 22 on the way back, “At least for some of us there was a return journey,” she says. On arrival, Gattegno and her sister Lea remained together. They never saw their family again.

Among the books on Gattegno’s shelves is Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz. “Everything he wrote, we lived it.” Forced labour, hunger and depersonalisation followed. They ate once a day. Their heads were shaved and Gattegno was tattooed with the number A-24324 on her left wrist. She attributes her survival to “will and instinct. It wasn’t religion. Probably because I was young and strong and with my sister.” The two refused to believe talk of the gas chambers, maintaining an optimism that saved them from despair.

The hardest part to hear is when Gattegno recalls losing Lea for a week. “Auschwitz was vast, a city. I had no way of knowing where she was. I went from building to building calling ‘Lea. Lea’”. The pitiful hopelessness is still there in the inflection of her voice.

The pair were in the sick bay in January 1945 when the Germans evacuated, filing 56,000 prisoners out of the camp on death marches, leaving the infirm behind to starve. Gattegno, weighing just 35kg, combed the camp for scraps. “The Germans left nothing. I found a turnip, frozen. I had to throw it against a wall to break it. This allowed us to survive for one more day.” A rare instance of compassion came when a Polish woman signalled that if Gattegno chopped some firewood she would give her some biscuits. “When I picked up the axe I was so weak I collapsed. She looked at me and understood and fed me anyway.”

When the Russians arrived later that month, Gattegno was assigned kitchen work and regained weight rapidly. The sisters remained at Auschwitz until July 1945, when, having no one left in Rhodes, they joined relatives in Rome. When they arrived, wearing Russian fatigues, they looked well fed. “The family looked at us as if to say, ‘What concentration camp?’” Gradually Gattegno discovered that her grandmother, mother and four-year-old brother had probably been gassed on arrival. Her other brother had been killed by a mine on the eve of their liberation. Ugo wrote to her, desperate to be reunited. They were married in Venice and she was welcomed into his Catholic family, former fascists. Gattegno raised her daughters as Catholics hoping to ensure their safety. She never spoke of the camp, even with Lea, who now lives in Belgium. “Because she lived it as well. What was there to say?”

When she was widowed in 1964, Gattegno trained as a schoolteacher. In the 1980s she began to revisit her roots, attending the ghetto’s synagogues. In the 1990s Gattegno started to give talks at schools. “It’s not something you talk about willingly. Many of the generation afterwards preferred not to know. But I felt a duty. Because if the survivors did not speak now, there was a risk of forgetting, of saying that it never happened.”

In 2007 she moved into the ghetto’s retirement home, where there are four other inhabitants. The oldest is 105. “She wanted to be among her own people again”, says Gattegno’s younger daughter Donatella Cipolato, 56. “These days she talks about Auschwitz more than ever before.”
 

At Home with Greek civil rights campaigner Manolis Glezos, formerly the eldest MEP

© Yannis Karpouzis

© Yannis Karpouzis


The one-time resistance hero still fighting for Greece at 93 explains why the struggle for Greek autonomy is not over

By Hannah Roberts

There is nothing so formal as street names in the mountaintop village of Apeiranthos, on the Cycladic island of Naxos. “Just ask for my house,” second world war resistance fighter Manolis Glezos instructs me.

Sure enough, everyone knows the home of Apeiranthos’ most famous son, next to the bakery. I follow my nose past a church hewn into the rock, up winding white-paved passages and tumbling bougainvillea, arriving at the source of a waft of traditional crusty psomi bread.

Glezos — a hero in Greece since he humiliated the Nazi occupiers by climbing up the Acropolis and tearing down the swastika flag in 1941 — is scribbling notes for his next book already on his vine-covered stone terrace. The act of defiance, for which he received a death sentence in absentia, came to inspire resistance movements across Europe.

Now 93, with long white hair, a moustache and fisherman’s cap, the life-long activist and freedom fighter, who served 12 years in prison for his opposition to fascism and the military regimes that followed, is a revolutionary straight from central casting.

Glezos resigned as the oldest member of the European Parliament last summer — where he represented the far-left ruling party Syriza — in a parliament also populated by nationalists and neo-Nazis. In January he apologised for having trusted prime minister Alexis Tsipras after the government negotiated a painful third bailout.

“I’m not disappointed, I’m furious,” he says. Glezos maintains that Greece should not have to repay its debts on the — disputed — basis that Germany owes Athens €1tn in wartime reparations.

Sitting in a director’s chair, with a makeshift lectern across his knees, he waves his hands as if conducting an orchestra. “It is Germany that owes us,” he says. “What would I have done? What I have always done: never give in to a foreign power.” Glezos’ solution would be to ask for a standstill, with no give or take of funds until equilibrium is restored to the Greek economy.

Glezos lives with his wife Georgia in a modest one-bedroom cottage. He has two children: Nikos, a nuclear physicist and Maria, a teacher. He insists on telling his story in his own time. “Wait,” he answers often yet with the measured pace of someone who has witnessed almost a century unfold.

He was born in this village where, out of a population of 1,000, there are six Glezos families — “ours is the largest”. The stone-floored property, which he has owned for 20 years, is rather austere. A Peruvian blanket is pinned to the wall of the bedroom, where an iron bedstead is covered with a folksy cover.

Above a huge fireplace is an iron pestle and mortar, a coffee pot and a traditional coffee grinder. Black-and-white photographic portraits, including his grandfather in a traditional fesi hat, decorate one wall.

Glezos’ grandfather was a goatherd and a skilled practitioner of folk medicine. His method for putting a dislocated hip back in place was unconventional to say the least: tie the patient’s legs round a horse that had been deprived of water for three days and fed corn with salt. “The horse went crazy. But its belly swelled and the hip returned to the correct position.”

Because of this “medical” tradition, the family intended Glezos to be a doctor. He went to Athens aged 13, working after school at a pharmaceutical company. Even so, the family could not afford the medical school fees, so he read economics.

His formation as a political radical was accidental. A boy arrived in his class from the Dodecanese islands, annexed by Mussolini who had imposed a policy of Italianisation. “Five of us boys signed an oath in blood to liberate the Dodecanese from the fascists.” Soon afterwards, they saw a teacher burning communist books, and, curious, decided to find copies. “We found we agreed with their ideas. So our group took on patriotic and anti-fascist ideas without anyone to explain them to us.” Too young to fight when the war began, they became a small independent resistance cell. “We didn’t know how to make bombs but we improvised with petrol and chemicals from the pharmaceutical lab.”

When the Nazis occupied Athens in April 1941, they hoisted a huge swastika over the Acropolis. Glezos and his friend, Apostolos Santas, determined to remove the flag as it “offended all human ideals”.

In a library book, they read about a cave leading to the top of the Acropolis, a secret passage used in ancient times. On the night it took several hours to shinny up the 50ft flagpole and tear down the flag. Glezos remembers his fearful mother waiting up. “‘Where were you?’ she wanted to know. I gave her a piece of the flag. She said nothing but hugged and kissed me. She knew.”

Over the course of four decades, Glezos has been imprisoned numerous times by the Germans, the Italians and then by Greek rightwing and military governments. He was tortured and put in solitary confinement. “They say to survive in prison you should love yourself, eat and read. Well I never loved myself, I didn’t care about food but I constantly read.”

Hardback books on ancient Greek and more modern philosophers are stacked on a wooden bench and a tidy desk beside a foot-long mobile phone from the 1980s. One of the many books that Glezos has published tells the story of his younger brother Nikos, who was executed by the Nazis in 1944 as a resistance fighter. This tragedy confirmed Glezos’ destiny. He would keep fighting for freedom all his life, in the name of his fallen comrades. After the Germans retreated from Greece in 1943, Britain, fearing a communist takeover, turned against its partisan allies, a move that almost led to Churchill’s assassination. Glezos’ comrades plotted an explosion at British HQ, Glezos himself carrying the fuse wire through the sewers beneath. But just before detonation, Churchill unexpectedly arrived. In his low-key way, Glezos remembers: “I didn’t think it would be a good idea to murder one of the ‘Big Three’.”

Wooden shutters block out the strong sun indoors, but the plant-filled terrace doubles as a sitting room, and friends repeatedly drop in for strong coffee during my visit. Glezos apologises for snacking on breadsticks: he is diabetic. Despite his age, he has remained true to his vocation to fight for Greek autonomy. At the age of 89 he was tear-gassed in 2011 at an anti-austerity protest. In 2014 he entered the EU parliament, personally gaining 430,000 votes, more than almost any other candidate. Glezos initially supported the EU he says, “but not this politics — autocracy, dictatorship. If the EU flag were flying in this village, I would tear it down today.” Why did he join an institution he calls undemocratic? Glezos says he managed to affect change from the inside. In his valedictory speech to the Parliament he recited a verse from Euripides, in Ancient Greek, in which Theseus declares Athens a free city, free of tyranny and ruled by the many.

He has no plans to slow down. Next year he will publish four books, including one on social mobilisation and a history of acronyms. He plans to publish an astonishing 37 more. “I hope I live long enough,” he says. “Life owes him 12 years because of his time in prison,” says Georgia. Glezos has been mayor of Apeiranthos twice, in 1997-98 and 1998-99, when he tried to make every decision by ancient-Athenian style direct democracy. A map of the ancient world is among several hanging in his bedroom, including a map of Paros, his motherland. A Soviet poster hangs alongside it. As he walks me out of the village, past the Manolis Glezos Cafe, a woman leans out of the window and exclaims: “I bless you a thousand times. May the Holy Mother protect you.” The Virgin’s protection will need to suffice: he is, he maintains, the only Greek political figure without police protection.


 

The Knight Manager - Financial Times

At Home with Matthew Festing, Grand Master of the Knights of Malta  The ex-soldier is Grand Master of a Catholic fraternity that was founded in the 11th century and carries out aid work in 120 countries   By Hannah Roberts   The private residence of the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta is perched high above the Ligurian Sea on a rocky promontory near Rapallo and within view of the mouth of Portofino harbour.  A Maltese Cross flies from the battlements of Villa Pagana, or Villa Malta, as the locals have called it since the 1950s, when the Spinolas, a family of princely merchants, entrusted it to the world’s oldest surviving chivalric order.  The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta (to give it its full name) is an enigmatic Catholic religious fraternity founded in 1048.  Despite having no territory, it is considered a sovereign entity under international law, printing its own postage stamps and coins.  A butler, in a white jacket with gold buttons, leads me into the salone, where I await His Most Eminent Highness The Prince and Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, also known as Matthew Festing, a former Grenadier Guardsman from Northumbria in England.  I was briefed to “present formally”, as befitting an encounter with a head of state but, disappointingly, Festing is in mufti, consisting of a blue jacket and green trousers, rather than his ceremonial black cloaking.  The former Sotheby’s consultant took possession of the ochre villa — surrounded by maritime pines and an exotic garden of cacti, palms and orange bird-of-paradise flowers — in 2008 when he was appointed as the order’s 79th Grand Master. Festing was elected for life in a secret ballot at a papal-style conclave in Rome and has both a ceremonial and decision-making role overseeing its humanitarian activity. He does not draw a salary although his living costs are met.  Festing plays down the grandeur. “You would think, gosh, it’s an enormous house, you can have 25 people to stay, but you’d be pushed to have more than six. It’s a family home really.”  Aged 66, he has not married or had children — as one of about 60 professed knights, he has taken a vow of celibacy, as well as of poverty and obedience. But his great-nieces and nephews visit in the summer, playing in the tower and cruising in his 1960s Ligurian fishing boat.  The villa was built in the early 1600s, with a watchtower as defence against any attack from French-Piedmontese troops. An antique brass telescope stands at a first-floor window, pointing out to sea as if anticipating a raid.  Historically, members of the order have been descended from European nobility. Festing traces his family back to 14th-century knights. His ancestor, Sir Adrian Fortescue, a cousin of Anne Boleyn, was executed because he refused to sign an oath acknowledging Henry VIII as “Supreme Head” of the Church in England instead of the Pope.  We sit amid 17th-century Genovese furniture looking through wooden doors on to the chequered-floor terrace and the sea beyond. The room is replete with chandeliers, portraits of regional nobility and antique oddities, including a stuffed turtle and a harpsichord.  Behind a curtain is a chapel with red silk walls, six carved wooden pews, a green-painted altar and a spectacular view. Which for the local priest who says mass there every morning might be part of the attraction.  There are two staircases, the servants’ and the grand, both leading to the first floor where “Aeneas’ Escape from Troy” by the Neapolitan painter Luca Giordano (1634-1705) hangs in Festing’s office. “Gloomy but extraordinary,” he says. Previously it was on the dining room ceiling. “It was absolutely black but when it was cleaned all sorts of funny things appeared, like a dog in the bottom left-hand corner.”  Paintings were Festing’s first love during his years as Sotheby’s representative in Northumbria — he once found an unknown painting by Constable of a garden. “It was an extraordinary find. She, a perfectly ordinary lady, was the descendant of Constable’s neighbour, a Mr Gardener. Constable must have painted it and given it to him. So it was Mr Gardener’s garden.”  Festing, a hospitable fellow, offers a splendid lunch, saying grace in Latin before and after. We are served bresaola, orange and grapefruit salad, followed by saffron risotto with osso buco and then cheeses, accompanied by white wine.  The order was founded when a group of knights established a hospital to tend people of all faiths. The motives of these warrior monks were “complicated”, Festing admits. “Some were on a religious high, others were simply short of land.”  Because of their military training, the original knights also acted as a Christian militia, defending pilgrims from attack. They were driven out of Jerusalem in 1291, settling in Rhodes and then Malta, which they ruled until they were forced out by Napoleon in 1798.  Its territory lost, the order is now headquartered in Rome and draws on its charitable rather than military roots, operating humanitarian relief and medical missions in more than 120 countries. Almost 100,000 people work with and for the order, including more than 80,000 as volunteers. “It’s bigger than the British army,” Festing points out.  Some of its 25,000 doctors, nurses and paramedics run older people’s homes in England, schools for autistic children in France and homes for people affected by leprosy in Brazil. The order has been at the forefront of Europe’s refugee crisis, providing doctors on Italian coastguard vessels rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean. It also runs 70 emergency shelters and 30 registration centres with medical and legal facilities for refugees in Germany.  The order’s property portfolio pays for its central administration in Italy, but worldwide operations are decentralised and run by individual associations. Work is funded by donors such as the EU, government and international agencies as well as individuals — more than 1m in Germany and 1m in France. “They might be a little old lady who gives you five euros and they might be Mr Big who gives you 10,000 euros.”  As a sovereign entity, the order has a network of embassies, permitting diplomatic relations with 104 countries. Like Palestine, another stateless sovereignty, it has observer status at the UN. This unusual place in international politics, together with its mysterious practices and rituals, has provoked no shortage of Dan Brown-style conspiracy theories over the years, with some claiming that the order is a shadowy clique of modern-day Crusaders with a Christian supremacist agenda.  In 2008 the order was accused of links to Blackwater, the mercenary security group, a connection Festing’s predecessor robustly denied. There have also been (rebutted) claims that the former US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, was a member. The order has had to face wild accusations from conspiracy theorists of orchestrating everything from the assassination of John F Kennedy to the Iraq war.  In reality the order’s influence has been overstated, says Festing, and it doesn’t cut much ice with politicians. It is “a complicated thing” he admits. Having embassies provides the order with direct “access” to government. “We don’t just [have ambassadors] for the hell of it. But because it facilitates other work. Say you want to get pharmaceuticals through without export duties, or if equipment gets stuck at customs for months, you might be able to use access to negotiate.”  Festing seems believable possibly because he looks and sounds like someone you might see in cricket whites at a village match in England, or the kindly headmaster of a prep school. He enjoys country pursuits. The Field magazine is lying on the hall table. He certainly doesn’t look or sound like the head of a Masonic cabal, pulling the strings of the world order.  The organisation has been part of Festing’s life “always, since I was a child”. After reading history at St John’s College, Cambridge, he joined the Grenadier Guards with tours of duty in the Gulf, Northern Ireland and Belize. On leaving the army he was “recruited” to work for the order by his uncle.  The potential for adventure was likely to have been a draw. Festing drove emergency supplies to Bosnia by convoy during the 1990s conflict. He was often required to move in improbable worlds. As part of a series of schemes to help abandoned women in the Balkans to support their families, he trundled around the north of England sourcing curlers and hairbrushes to enable them to start hairdressing businesses. “There was something very odd about that.” Under the same scheme he found himself “on the periphery of a chicken-breeding operation. The whole thing was quite peculiar.”  His present role involves “going round thanking people, encouraging people and trying to show an interest in what they are doing”.  Although Festing holds the status of a cardinal, the order is separate from the Vatican thanks to a 12th-century decree guaranteeing its independence. Nevertheless, the pope emeritus Benedict XVI — “not God’s Rottweiler, he’s God’s teddy bear” — is close to the order, although it was Pope Francis who put Festing’s predecessor — Andrew Bertie, a fellow Englishman and a distant cousin of the Queen — on the first step of the ladder to sainthood, which will happen if/when two miracles are attributed to him. “He is on the very, very, very bottom rung,” Festing says. Yet before I can ask whether he is likely to follow the same path, he cuts me off. “We’re very different.”

At Home with Matthew Festing, Grand Master of the Knights of Malta
The ex-soldier is Grand Master of a Catholic fraternity that was founded in the 11th century and carries out aid work in 120 countries

By Hannah Roberts

The private residence of the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta is perched high above the Ligurian Sea on a rocky promontory near Rapallo and within view of the mouth of Portofino harbour.

A Maltese Cross flies from the battlements of Villa Pagana, or Villa Malta, as the locals have called it since the 1950s, when the Spinolas, a family of princely merchants, entrusted it to the world’s oldest surviving chivalric order.

The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta (to give it its full name) is an enigmatic Catholic religious fraternity founded in 1048.

Despite having no territory, it is considered a sovereign entity under international law, printing its own postage stamps and coins.

A butler, in a white jacket with gold buttons, leads me into the salone, where I await His Most Eminent Highness The Prince and Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, also known as Matthew Festing, a former Grenadier Guardsman from Northumbria in England.

I was briefed to “present formally”, as befitting an encounter with a head of state but, disappointingly, Festing is in mufti, consisting of a blue jacket and green trousers, rather than his ceremonial black cloaking.

The former Sotheby’s consultant took possession of the ochre villa — surrounded by maritime pines and an exotic garden of cacti, palms and orange bird-of-paradise flowers — in 2008 when he was appointed as the order’s 79th Grand Master. Festing was elected for life in a secret ballot at a papal-style conclave in Rome and has both a ceremonial and decision-making role overseeing its humanitarian activity. He does not draw a salary although his living costs are met.

Festing plays down the grandeur. “You would think, gosh, it’s an enormous house, you can have 25 people to stay, but you’d be pushed to have more than six. It’s a family home really.”

Aged 66, he has not married or had children — as one of about 60 professed knights, he has taken a vow of celibacy, as well as of poverty and obedience. But his great-nieces and nephews visit in the summer, playing in the tower and cruising in his 1960s Ligurian fishing boat.

The villa was built in the early 1600s, with a watchtower as defence against any attack from French-Piedmontese troops. An antique brass telescope stands at a first-floor window, pointing out to sea as if anticipating a raid.

Historically, members of the order have been descended from European nobility. Festing traces his family back to 14th-century knights. His ancestor, Sir Adrian Fortescue, a cousin of Anne Boleyn, was executed because he refused to sign an oath acknowledging Henry VIII as “Supreme Head” of the Church in England instead of the Pope.

We sit amid 17th-century Genovese furniture looking through wooden doors on to the chequered-floor terrace and the sea beyond. The room is replete with chandeliers, portraits of regional nobility and antique oddities, including a stuffed turtle and a harpsichord.

Behind a curtain is a chapel with red silk walls, six carved wooden pews, a green-painted altar and a spectacular view. Which for the local priest who says mass there every morning might be part of the attraction.

There are two staircases, the servants’ and the grand, both leading to the first floor where “Aeneas’ Escape from Troy” by the Neapolitan painter Luca Giordano (1634-1705) hangs in Festing’s office. “Gloomy but extraordinary,” he says. Previously it was on the dining room ceiling. “It was absolutely black but when it was cleaned all sorts of funny things appeared, like a dog in the bottom left-hand corner.”

Paintings were Festing’s first love during his years as Sotheby’s representative in Northumbria — he once found an unknown painting by Constable of a garden. “It was an extraordinary find. She, a perfectly ordinary lady, was the descendant of Constable’s neighbour, a Mr Gardener. Constable must have painted it and given it to him. So it was Mr Gardener’s garden.”

Festing, a hospitable fellow, offers a splendid lunch, saying grace in Latin before and after. We are served bresaola, orange and grapefruit salad, followed by saffron risotto with osso buco and then cheeses, accompanied by white wine.

The order was founded when a group of knights established a hospital to tend people of all faiths. The motives of these warrior monks were “complicated”, Festing admits. “Some were on a religious high, others were simply short of land.”

Because of their military training, the original knights also acted as a Christian militia, defending pilgrims from attack. They were driven out of Jerusalem in 1291, settling in Rhodes and then Malta, which they ruled until they were forced out by Napoleon in 1798.

Its territory lost, the order is now headquartered in Rome and draws on its charitable rather than military roots, operating humanitarian relief and medical missions in more than 120 countries. Almost 100,000 people work with and for the order, including more than 80,000 as volunteers. “It’s bigger than the British army,” Festing points out.

Some of its 25,000 doctors, nurses and paramedics run older people’s homes in England, schools for autistic children in France and homes for people affected by leprosy in Brazil. The order has been at the forefront of Europe’s refugee crisis, providing doctors on Italian coastguard vessels rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean. It also runs 70 emergency shelters and 30 registration centres with medical and legal facilities for refugees in Germany.

The order’s property portfolio pays for its central administration in Italy, but worldwide operations are decentralised and run by individual associations. Work is funded by donors such as the EU, government and international agencies as well as individuals — more than 1m in Germany and 1m in France. “They might be a little old lady who gives you five euros and they might be Mr Big who gives you 10,000 euros.”

As a sovereign entity, the order has a network of embassies, permitting diplomatic relations with 104 countries. Like Palestine, another stateless sovereignty, it has observer status at the UN. This unusual place in international politics, together with its mysterious practices and rituals, has provoked no shortage of Dan Brown-style conspiracy theories over the years, with some claiming that the order is a shadowy clique of modern-day Crusaders with a Christian supremacist agenda.

In 2008 the order was accused of links to Blackwater, the mercenary security group, a connection Festing’s predecessor robustly denied. There have also been (rebutted) claims that the former US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, was a member. The order has had to face wild accusations from conspiracy theorists of orchestrating everything from the assassination of John F Kennedy to the Iraq war.

In reality the order’s influence has been overstated, says Festing, and it doesn’t cut much ice with politicians. It is “a complicated thing” he admits. Having embassies provides the order with direct “access” to government. “We don’t just [have ambassadors] for the hell of it. But because it facilitates other work. Say you want to get pharmaceuticals through without export duties, or if equipment gets stuck at customs for months, you might be able to use access to negotiate.”

Festing seems believable possibly because he looks and sounds like someone you might see in cricket whites at a village match in England, or the kindly headmaster of a prep school. He enjoys country pursuits. The Field magazine is lying on the hall table. He certainly doesn’t look or sound like the head of a Masonic cabal, pulling the strings of the world order.

The organisation has been part of Festing’s life “always, since I was a child”. After reading history at St John’s College, Cambridge, he joined the Grenadier Guards with tours of duty in the Gulf, Northern Ireland and Belize. On leaving the army he was “recruited” to work for the order by his uncle.

The potential for adventure was likely to have been a draw. Festing drove emergency supplies to Bosnia by convoy during the 1990s conflict. He was often required to move in improbable worlds. As part of a series of schemes to help abandoned women in the Balkans to support their families, he trundled around the north of England sourcing curlers and hairbrushes to enable them to start hairdressing businesses. “There was something very odd about that.” Under the same scheme he found himself “on the periphery of a chicken-breeding operation. The whole thing was quite peculiar.”

His present role involves “going round thanking people, encouraging people and trying to show an interest in what they are doing”.

Although Festing holds the status of a cardinal, the order is separate from the Vatican thanks to a 12th-century decree guaranteeing its independence. Nevertheless, the pope emeritus Benedict XVI — “not God’s Rottweiler, he’s God’s teddy bear” — is close to the order, although it was Pope Francis who put Festing’s predecessor — Andrew Bertie, a fellow Englishman and a distant cousin of the Queen — on the first step of the ladder to sainthood, which will happen if/when two miracles are attributed to him. “He is on the very, very, very bottom rung,” Festing says. Yet before I can ask whether he is likely to follow the same path, he cuts me off. “We’re very different.”