Silvio Berlusconi is dead: The “Jesus Christ of politics” was obsessed with himself.
The multiple former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi changed Italy like no other post-war politician. The Cavaliere died on Monday at the age of 86.
Silvio Berlusconi has repeatedly struggled with serious health problems in recent weeks. Now the “Cavaliere”, Italy’s most dazzling and controversial politician of the past three decades, has died in a Milan hospital at the age of 86.
Things had calmed down a bit around Berlusconi recently: In the government of Giorgia Meloni , whom he once made his youngest minister as prime minister, he was only a marginal figure. But there was a time when everything in Italy revolved around him: politics, the economy, football, the media, gossip.
“Jesus Christ of Politics” was obsessed with himself
The former vacuum cleaner salesman and entertainer, who had become a multi-billionaire and head of government, had polarized the country like no other before him in the post-war period.
Talking or writing objectively about Berlusconi had become almost impossible in the Belpaese. His opponents despised and hated him, his followers admired and loved him. The Cavalier was for the Italians become an obsession.
Berlusconi was also obsessed – with himself. A bank teller’s son had to be the best at everything. As an entrepreneur he temporarily became the richest man in Italy, as president and owner of AC Milan he has won five Champions League trophies. He always wanted to be loved by everyone, especially women, if necessary also for a fee.
As early as the mid-1990s, Berlusconi was in the sights of public prosecutors
He also set records in politics: he was the first and only head of government since Mussolini in notoriously unstable Italy accomplished the feat of governing an entire legislature (2001 to 2006). All in all, Berlusconi was prime minister for 3,336 days – another record. According to his own self-assessment, he was the “best prime minister of the last 150 years”.
In the spring of 1994, Berlusconi, who first made his fortune as a developer and then as a private TV pioneer, was elected the head of the Italian government . With the party Forza Italia, which he founded and led in an absolutist manner until the end, he filled the political vacuum that had arisen after the “Tangentopoli” corruption scandal with the overthrow of the Craxi Socialists and the Democrazia Cristiana (DC).
Even then, Berlusconi was in the sights of the prosecutors. “If Silvio hadn’t gone into politics, we would either have ended up in jail or under a bridge,” admitted Fedele Confalonieri, who had been close to Berlusconi for many years.
Re-elected despite charges and mafia contacts
Altogether, Silvio Berlusconi was accused in a good two dozen trials; one scandal chased the other. For example, a mafia hitman was employed as stable master at his mansion in Arcore. And yet the Italians voted for him again and again, three times in all: in 1994, 2001 and 2008.
The publicist Beppe Severgnini once summarized Berlusconi’s recipe for success as follows: “He is a kind of synthesis of all the habits, vices and virtues of the Italians. He has an incredible ability to understand the social network of the Italians . He forgives us our sins and does not preach morals: he makes us his accomplices.”
- “I don’t fear Berlusconi as such, I fear the Berlusconi in me” ( Giorgio Gaber, Italian musician and actor )
The left-wing musician, cantautore and actor Giorgio Gaber once put it this way: “I don’t fear Berlusconi as such, I fear the Berlusconi in me.”
Berlusconi has turned Italy’s politics upside down
After 1994, the basically rather apolitical Berlusconi absorbed everything like a political vacuum cleaner between the center and the extreme right of the spectrum was looking for a new political home.
In his Forza Italia party, he recycled socialists and Christian democrats that had been run down, he made them the post-fascists led by Gianfranco Fini socially acceptable and brought the managers of his advertising company Publitalia and the show stars of his private broadcasters into government.
He promised the electorate that he would run the country like a corporation, with the citizens as shareholders. A catchy slogan – but in truth Berlusconi had only ever thought of his own dividend. He ruled Italy as if it were a family business and convenience store.
- Berlusconi was prime minister for a total of 3,336 days – a record in Italy to this day.
In the end, Italy was practically bankrupt – and the then President Giorgio Napolitano felt compelled in November 2011 to the Prime Minister, who was politically paralyzed by his sex scandals and lawsuits to drop off
This was followed by a definitive conviction for tax fraud, a long-standing ban from office, banishment from the Senate, confiscation of his passport and social service in a home for people with dementia.
- “He anticipated numerous political tendencies of our day” ( Alexander Stille, in “Citizen Berlusconi” )
It took the Cavaliere a long time to recover politically and morally from his fall and his affairs. In recent years, however, Berlusconi has become decrepit and with the ambition to become President found a new role for himself: by his standards, he presented himself as statesmanlike and respectful of institutions.
His dream of the state presidency definitely burst at the beginning of 2022. Abroad is Berlusconi at the latest after the “Ruby affair” was exposed only been perceived as a kind of Italian freak show anyway.
Berlusconi was ironically called “Sua Emittenza”.
But in his own way he was a figure of the avant-garde: “Sua Emittenza”, as he was ironically called, transformed Italy into a “mediocracy” in which parties and programs no longer count, but only people, money and fame.
With his private TV stations, he was both the creator and the creature of this modern entertainment democracy. Silvio Berlusconi, wrote the US author and Italian expert Alexander Stille in his book “Citizen Berlusconi”, may appear as a bizarre, incomprehensible figure that can only be imagined in Italy.
“But he anticipated numerous political tendencies of our day.” Stille published his book in 2006. Donald Trump’s example shows that his analysis is more valid today than ever.