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Following former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s death on June 12th, the campaign song “Menomale che Silvio c’è” (Thank Goodness for Silvio) is no longer true and his death leaves a hole in Italian politics. Following his death, this song has become the most popular song in Italy on Spotify. It is unclear who will take over his political party Forza Italia, or if it may die off if his children cut the purse strings. This has the risk of destabilizing Italy’s current ruling coalition as it consists of Fratelli di Italia, Lega, and Forza Italia. This would force Meloni into creating an new coalition. if she is unable to do so, Italians would head to the polls in a new election.
Berlusconi received a state funeral which is a rare honor for a politician who is not the current prime minister. This was contested by some along with the date of his funeral, June 14th being declared a day of mourning in Italy. It is not necessarily surprising that an exception was made for Berlusconi who served as Prime Minister four times, which is the record in Italy. The funeral was held in the Cathedral of Milan, fitting for Berlusconi who was born and died in the city. Besides the cathedral being packed, supporters for Berlusconi gathered in the piazza in order to say their goodbyes.
While Berlusconi died a billionaire, he amassed this wealth after years of hard work and smart business deals. Originally Berlusconi sold vacuum cleaners and was a singer on cruise ships and in night clubs. In 1961 he graduated with a law degree from the University of Milan. He starts a construction company which constructed residential buildings in Milan including in the neighborhoods Milano 2 and Milano 3 just outside Milan. Both were designed with the idea of giving residents an abundance of green space and to make cars seem invisible.
In 1971 Berlusconi created a company called Telemilano which is a local cable television company. He would eventually grow it into Mediaset which is the largest media empire in Italy. He was able to build his media empire off the ingenuity of finding a loophole in national legislation to create a television empire despite a ban on the creation of a national network. He did this by buying local television stations but running the same program on each station.
During the pandemic, Berlusconi donated 12 million dollars to the region of Lombardia to build another hospital. Lombardia was ground zero in Italy for Covid-19. He sold A.C. Milan in 2017 yet quickly become the owner of a soccer team the next year with the purchase of Monza. Monza quickly rose from Serie C to Serie A, the top division. For the 2022-2023 season, its first year in Serie A, it finished in a respectable 11th place out of 20 teams and will remain in the top division next year. At the time of his death, his net worth stood at 6.9 billion dollars. His ability to work around the law is also seen in his political career.
In 1993 Berlusconi creates his infamous political party, Forza Italia. The name for the party comes from a chant that the soccer team A.C. Milan uses. Berlusconi gained a loyal political following in Italy with this party. One of the best-known examples that demonstrates this support is a video of a woman who is overcome with emotion as she sings along to his campaign song. In 1994, Forza Italia along with Lega Nord win 43 percent of the vote as a coalition and Berlusconi becomes Prime Minister for the first time. The two parties struggle to work together and lose the 1996 election. Forza Italia goes on to win the 2001 election and serves a full mandate as Prime Minister, the first to do so in Italy in over 50 years. His last term as prime Minister which started in 2011 led him to set another record as the Prime Minister which served the longest since 1946. During this term he survived 53 confidence votes. Berlusconi also served as a member of the European Parliament between 1999 and 2001 and 2019 and 2022. Both times he had to resign as it is not permitted under Italian law to serve in both the Italian Parliament and the EU Parliament simultaneously.
Berlusconi’s Numerous Scandals
Admittedly there is not a single person on this planet who is perfect, and Berlusconi exemplifies this with his many scandals. Arguably his most notorious scandal is the bunga bunga parties he threw and his luxurious villa. The nickname was introduced to the public by Ruby, a Moroccan nightclub dancer. Berlusconi maintains the parties were innocent and that he gave money to young women out of his generosity. According to 33 young women however, they stated that they were paid to have relations with him. Each party followed the same agenda. First, guests would be served dishes in the colors of the Italian flag, then female guests would participate in X-rated activities, and finally to finish the evening Berlusconi would pick one or more women to spend the night together. Ambra Battilana and Chiara Danese allege that they were promised jobs on his tv channel for their participation in a party.
Berlusconi was involved in a minimum of 36 legal proceedings yet was found guilty only twice in 2013 and 2015. This is partly because of his ability to use his political power to change laws to make his wrongdoings legal. His mausoleum was deemed illegal at the time of its construction due to being too close to inhabited buildings yet Berlusconi’s government changed the law which had been in force for over 200 years in 2003. One charge finally stuck however, when Berlusconi was convicted of tax fraud in 2013. As part of his punishment, he was unable to hold office for 6 years. In 2018, a judge ruled that the ban would be lifted a year early due to good behavior. For Berlusconi, this decision would come to late as the election already happened. Forza Italia was the second largest party in the center-right coalition after the election which Berlusconi argues is a consequence of voters knowing that Berlusconi could not become Prime Minister.
He had this chance again in 2022, yet Giorgia Meloni became Italy’s first female Prime Minister as Fratelli di Italia received the highest share of votes. Forza Italia would become a part of the ruling coalition along with Lega as Fratelli di Italia did not receive enough votes for an outright majority in Parliament which would be necessary to rule alone. Berlusconi would go on to cause problems in the ruling coalition with Prime Minister Meloni due to his friendship with Putin. Meloni would have to reprimand Berlusconi publicly to send the signal that the Italian government supports Ukraine and not Russia on the issue of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. While he was Prime Minister four times, his career ended with him playing a supporting role in the ruling coalition.
While Berlusconi may have passed away, his presence will continue to be felt in Italy. As a result of Berlusconi’s larger than life personality and failure to appoint a political heir before his death, whoever attempts to do so will have large shoes to fill. As many politicians fail to do so he did not live up to his campaign promises over his three decades in the Italian political scene. This may make it difficult for Forza Italia to recover from his death or cause the party to disappear entirely from Italian politics. As for Berlusconi’s die hard supporters, they will now have to say we are fortunate there was Silvio.
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