Condom comic ban enrages Italians

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ALBERT the Wolf, his girlfriend Martha the Hen and the little black Aids virus they always manage to thwart have been banned from Italy's high schools, by order of the Education Minister. And half of Italy is up in arms.

Albert is a beloved comic strip figure, and Italy's anti-Aids commission picked him to help teach the under-20s how to avoid getting Aids in a jazzy little booklet written in teenage slang. 'Love is . . . two hearts and a little hood,' says one cartoon as Albert and Martha laugh at the virus running away under a condom. 'It takes two to make love. And it can take two to be careful' says another, as Albert discovers Martha has applied chewing-gum instead.

But the minister, Rosa Russo Jervolino, won't have it. She denies reports that she objected to the word profilattico - condom - although she disapproved of the 'dirty language' used. She said she banned it because schools should not become a place for the distribution of booklets 'behind which there could be major economic interests'. Yesterday, as the storm raged on undiminished, she pointed out that schools were 'seriously involved' in other ways in teaching about Aids.

Unconvinced, the daily La Repubblica, among others, suggested that the minister, who is also president of the Christian Democrat party, was influenced by the Catholic Church's continuing opposition to condoms, despite their importance in combating Aids.

Ferdinando Aiuti, an immunologist and member of the anti-Aids commission, said her remarks were 'out of the Inquisition'. The booklet had 'been approved by 40 experts, including educationalists, psychologists, doctors and psychiatrists'. More than 90 per cent of schoolchildren liked it.

The Northern League called it 'typical of the arrogance and blindness with which religious integralists have always been able to harm society'. The Liberal Party said it was reporting the minister to the public prosecutor for allegedly failing to safeguard public health.

Ironically, Ms Jervolino's move may result in far more people reading the booklet. The Greens have said they will distribute it outside schools, the 'Young Left' organisation has promised to attach condoms to each copy. The president of the headteachers' association pointed out it was up to schools to choose their teaching material.

The SCR public relations firm, which has printed 1,657,000 copies of the booklet, has been inundated with requests from newspapers and magazines, which want to give it away to readers.

Albert's creator, Guido Silvestri - pen-name 'Silver' - says the incident has inspired another strip, Henry the Mole, 'who puts a colander on his head, grabs a sword and sets off on a crusade: against imbecility'.