Up yours! When politicians give the middle finger

News   |  27.05. 2023

Sometimes even the most stoic of politicians can’t take it anymore and, instead of responding with a reasoned argument, they simply flip the bird at their opponent. In the European Parliament this week, a very serious debate about a migrant shipwreck off the Italian coast turned into a shouting match, with Czech lawmaker Tomáš Zdechovský accusing German socialist Birgit Sippel of giving the middle finger to colleagues.

“You think you can get away with this? You should be before the ethics committee here. Calm the hell down, colleague,” Zdechovský snapped.

Incidentally, “Calm the hell down, colleague” sounds perfect for printing on a T-shirt, perhaps worn by an exasperated centrist MEP.

The Parliament has seen offensive gestures before — and not just when a Bulgarian MEP gave a Nazi salute in the chamber. Back in April 2016 — when the idea of a country actually voting to leave the EU was just a Nigel Farage wet dream — arch-federalist Guy Verhofstadt and British Tory Syed Kamall had a disagreement over the EU’s terror response with the Brit making what we might politely call a lewd hand gesture and what we might impolitely describe as “called him a wanker.”

Kamall later admitted making the gesture, tweeting: “You can take the boy out of North London … actually I’m personally fond of Guy” — although that implies that lots of people make the wanker gesture at Kamall as he wanders around Haringey.

Fast-forward to last year and another Tory, Andrea Jenkyns, gave the middle finger to what she described as a “baying mob” outside Downing Street.

Use of the middle finger as an insult is believed to date back as far as 4th Century BC Athens, when the philosopher Diogenes told a group of visitors exactly what he thought about the orator Demosthenes by making the gesture. Meanwhile, the ancient Romans called the middle finger the digitus impudicus (“offensive, indecent finger”).

One of the oldest political middle fingers for which photographic evidence exists is of then-U.S. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller giving the middle finger to hecklers at Binghamton University in New York — what became known as “the Rockefeller Salute.”

Rockefeller’s influence is still clearly being felt, and not just in the European Parliament. In March, French Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti gave the middle finger to the leader of the Les Républicains (LR) group, Olivier Marleix, who had just reminded the parliament that Dupond-Moretti faces conflict of interest charges. Dupond-Moretti said he “regretted this gesture.”

Source: Politico