After informing the public at the end of March that he had been suffering from leukemia for some time, the former Italian prime minister Berlusconi died this morning at the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan. He had been hospitalized due to health complications after battling a lung infection.
Silvio Berlusconi, known as a charismatic and controversial figure, played a significant role in Italian politics for many years. His leadership was often marked by his business background and his media empire, which influenced the Italian media and politics landscape. He led the “Forza Italia” party and served as Prime Minister in multiple Italian governments over the years.
He graduated in Law in 1961 and began his career as an entrepreneur with the planning and construction of the Milan districts ‘Milano 2’ and ‘Milano 3’. He then embarked on his television project with the foundation and purchasing of numerous local TV stations, until the creation of Mediaset, the first private national television group. The acquisition of the football club AC Milan then gave him international notoriety and soon accompanied his entry into politics.
In 1994, on the wave of his success in the football world and maintaining his die-hard fans’ spirit, Berlusconi founded his center-right party ‘Forza Italia’. In the same year, he won the elections and began what was to be the first of his four hiccup governments amidst judicial turmoil and scandals.
The legal proceedings against Silvio Berlusconi are many, as are the scandals connected to him. Considered to be the third richest man in Italy, the origins of his wealth and the means he used to make it are still subject to controversy and remain unpunished .
Despite facing legal challenges and scandals throughout his political career, he remained a prominent figure in Italian politics and had a lasting impact on the country’s political landscape.
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And for some observers, especially sociologists, Berlusconi is considered a “proto-Trump” figure, using his presence in the TV world as a trampoline to his political career. There are notable similarities between Berlusconi and Trump. Both grew their fortunes on allegedly mafia-linked real-estate developments, transitioned into successful careers as media moguls, and, against all odds, ascended to the helm of their respective national governments.
Like Trump and well before him, Berlusconi insisted on the fact that he was not a career politician but rather a successful “self-made entrepreneur”, who had decided to enter politics to save his country from leftism.
Like Trump, Berlusconi owed his success to his extraordinary use of TV, which, in his case, was made easier by the fact that he owned most of the country’s private TV channels. And finally, very much like Trump, Berlusconi took the political scene by storm by ignoring all the norms of institutional courtesy and politeness, preposterously presenting himself as a victim of judges and electoral authorities, while never shying away from the most vulgar and sensationalist tactics to capture public attention – including his famous penchant for sexual jokes.
Berlusconi was given numerous nicknames that made him suddenly recognisable to the general public at home and abroad, from the most honorable such as “Il Cavaliere” (“The knight”) or “His Emittance” to those given to him by his numerous opponents such as “Il Caimano” (“The caiman”).
Although opinions on him and his career in the public eye are deeply polarised, it is certain that his death profoundly touches many political figures in Italy and around the world. His demise has led to an outpouring of tributes and farewell messages, with many reflecting on his contributions and controversies. And, predictably, it has sparked reactions and condolences from various political figures and the media – particularly from the populist right.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban believes that “A great fighter has gone”. And the Lega leader and government ally Matteo Salvini – who many considered Berlusconi’s political heir – comments on the death, saying he is crushed by the news: “I am devastated, today a great Italian says goodbye, but above all I am losing a great friend.”
Gone is the great fighter. pic.twitter.com/vH6OgxbiE2
— Orbán Viktor (@PM_ViktorOrban) June 12, 2023
Silvio Berlusconi’s passing marks the end of an era in Italian politics, as the country mourns the loss of a former showman leader, this is also a crucial event marking possible important shifts in the Italian political landscape.
Yet, whether this marks the end of Italy’s love affair with populism and to what extent the political ground could shift is unclear at the moment: Italy is at present in the hands of a strong right-wing political leader, Giorgia Meloni, who stands to continue many of the right-wing policies that Berlusconi supported, and his party, Forza Italia, is currently in the government.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Silvio Berlusconi at Malta Congress in 2017. Featured Photo Credit: European People’s Party.