ROME — Ever since the Italian media began peering into Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s personal life — and found a host of attractive young women — his supporters have been furiously trying to change the subject.
Among them is a small group with a big plan: to nominate Mr. Berlusconi for the Nobel Peace Prize.
“An Italian hasn’t won the Nobel Peace Prize since 1907,” said Giammario Battaglia, a 36-year-old lawyer who helped start the initiative a few months ago. “We think it’s a good moment.”
He appears to be serious.
The group contends that Mr. Berlusconi, operating behind the scenes and using his close friendship with Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, helped end the conflict between Russia and Georgia last summer. “He saved human lives,” Mr. Battaglia said.
Some are not convinced that that rises to Nobel heights or that Mr. Berlusconi played such a role in ending the war. The claim “sounds quite implausible,” said Mark Medish, a Russia adviser to former President Bill Clinton and a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Mr. Battaglia also cited a treaty Mr. Berlusconi helped negotiate with Libya last year. He represents “the best Italian gifts,” like “the ability to mediate,” Mr. Battaglia said. “We see it not just as a prize for a person, but a prize to Italian characteristics.”
For better or worse, few Italians are paying much attention these days to Mr. Berlusconi’s foreign record.
Ever since his wife, Veronica Lario, unleashed a torrent of tabloid coverage when she asked for a divorce last month, angry that Mr. Berlusconi had attended the 18th-birthday party of Noemi Letizia, a pretty blonde, the country has gone crazy with speculation over the nature of their relationship.
Appearing on national television on Wednesday, Mr. Berlusconi dismissed the controversy and any notion that it might lead to early elections. He said he had the “duty and the responsibility” to continue governing Italy.
This week, a court began examining the use of government planes to shuttle guests to his Sardinian villa, while a court confiscated hundreds of photos of guests in various states of undress at pool parties, on the grounds that releasing them would violate the prime minister’s privacy.
The Berlusconi-for-Nobel committee isn’t interested. “We want to isolate the facts and look at them in a fixed historical context,” Mr. Battaglia said.
Designed like a slick American advertisement, the Berlusconi-for-Nobel Web site features six young people giving the thumbs up, including, incongruously, a black woman. There are a growing number of blacks in Italy, but many are illegal immigrants, and it is unclear how many can vote.
A handful of members of the Italian Parliament have signed on to the Nobel effort’s Web site — with their campaign advertisements for this weekend’s elections for the European Parliament.
But the group says it is not free advertising. And it says Mr. Berlusconi is not paying them. “Absolutely not,” Mr. Battaglia said. “I think he’d like the initiative, though.”