Addio, Silvio: The Life And Legacy Of Berlusconi

Farewell to an icon: Silvio Berlusconi's passing marks the end of an era for Italy. What happens now?

Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi., CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Silvio Berlusconi died at age 86 after struggling with leukaemia for weeks. Italy bids farewell to one of its most influential and controversial figures who enormously impacted the nation’s political and cultural spheres during the last forty years.

Political Career

Born in a Milanese middle-class family in 1936 and gone up to the news as a constructor, Silvio Berlusconi’s political journey was undeniably the most significant aspect of his heritage, serving as the country’s Prime Minister on three separate occasions from 1994 to 2011. Known for his magnetic personality and ability to connect with the broader public, he exploited the political void left by the Tangentopoli scandal by founding Forza Italia, shaping a model for contemporary populists worldwide. 

His international positions were ambiguous, as he privileged direct diplomacy with strongmen such as Vladimir Putin, George W. Bush, and Muammar Gaddafi while maintaining a formal Atlantist and pro-EU stance within the European Popular Party. His electoral campaigns primarily focused on economic reforms, job creation, and his vision of a productive and prosperous Italy. However, his tenure faced several contradictions, criticism and challenges, like when in 2011, he resigned following the budget law’s rejection during the economic crisis, which made Italy risk financial default.

Media Empire

Beyond his political role, Silvio Berlusconi wielded considerable influence through his vast media empire. As the owner of the Fininvest group, he controlled numerous television channels through Mediaset, newspapers, and publishing houses, providing him with a platform to shape public opinion and promote his agenda.

Berlusconi’s media outlets played a pivotal role in constructing his image and consolidating his power, centering the public debate around his conflict of interest for decades. These concerns led to the souring of political divisions and legal challenges, as in 2012 when he was convicted of tax fraud. He now leaves the media company in the hands of his sons, who stayed clear from public life. 

Personal Life and Controversies

While the primary focus of Berlusconi was on politics and media, it is worth mentioning anecdotes from his personal life above the lines. Known for his charismatic personality, he often captured attention with his extravagant lifestyle, involving his past as a cruise ship crooner, the ownership of the triumphant soccer giant AC Milan, and lavish social gatherings, which brought to the racy Rubygate scandal. These personal happenings generated a public fascination for better or worse, underscoring the urban legends surrounding his image portrayed in movies such as Loro by Paolo Sorrentino and Il Caimano by Nanni Moretti.

What Will Change Now in Italian Politics

Silvio Berlusconi’s passing will likely result in significant changes within the Italian political landscape. His charismatic leadership and effective influence have shaped the dynamics of the country for an extended period, still maintaining today a decisive 8% of consent within the center-right governing coalition. With his absence, the need to reassess power dynamics within the conservative electorate will be immediate. The enduring influence of his Forza Italia party, a consistent political force, will face challenges surviving without its iconic leader or a charismatic heir. 

This transitional period may pave the way for the emergence of new political figures and parties to the center and the right, leading to potential shifts in power dynamics in the post-Berlusconi era. Nonetheless, most of his electorate might temporarily find refuge in his long-lasting allies, the current Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, and the League’s leader Matteo Salvini, shifting the overall political spectrum towards more radical positions. At the same time, some more moderate and liberal voters could see their allegiance to a familiar political figure vanish and become decisive for forming a center-left coalition, polarizing the political landscape at the expense of non-aligned parties. What is certain is that the future trajectory will be significantly influenced by the legacy Berlusconi leaves behind as Italy embarks on a new chapter in its history.