Silvio Berlusconi has died today at the age of 86. It has been said that not a day has gone by in Italian news media over the past 50 years without him making headlines of some sort. He certainly was a larger than life character and a major figure on the international political stage. His nickname was Il Cavaliere (the Knight). I’m certainly no fan of his quite extreme right-wing politics but his colourful life certainly merits an article here in WezGWorld.
I have been a fan of AC Milan since the late 1980s, when Liverpool FC were, post-Heysel disaster (RIP 39 Juventus fans), banned from European football. This was the era of Rijkaard, Gullit and Van Basten – the Dutch trio, playing the best club football in the world. I even bought an AC Milan kit at the time. It was in 2005 that my loyalty to Milano was challenged when, on the night of my life, I watched my belovèd Liverpool FC fight back from 3-0 down at half time in the Ataturk Olympic stadium in Istanbul to beat the Mighty Milano of Maldini on penalties after a 3-3 draw in extra time #ynwa #fivetimes – Milano got their revenge only two season later in 2007 in Athens in another Benitez-Ancelotti European Cup Final square off. Silvio Berlusconi bought AC Milan in 1986 and under his ownership the club have won 5 European Cups and have been right at the summit of first class global football. I had respect for Roman Abramovich as Chelsea owner and I guess ,in writing this article on Silvio Berlusconi, I am paying respect to a rival club owner who I believe was good for the game.
Berlusconi is most famous for being the longest serving Italian Prime Minister. He became head of the first right-wing government in Italy since World War 2, when first elected in 1994. His political party, Forza Italia, is still very much a force in the contemporary Italian political scene, being a critical component of new far right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy coalition government.
I was recently watching a documentary on Berlusconi’s membership of the shady secret society, Propaganda Due. His obituaries are split fifty-fifty, with some celebrating his greatness, his popularity, how he typifies the Italian man, whereas others are more focussed on his controversial scandals, of which there are many. There is such a multitude of cases from the Milano prosecutor’s office for there to be no substance to his mafia links with the Cosa Nostra. However, he has primarily dodged most of the legal cases against him, bar a conviction in 2012 for tax fraud, that carried a 4 year sentence, that was commuted due to his age. He was a successful businessman with, in addition to ownership of the successful Serie A AC Milano, he had a property empire and media empire.
As a ‘populist’ leader he paved the way for future right-wing scandal-ridden extremists of the modern era such as Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, all content to undermine democratic institutions and court notoriety and who hold a general disdain for the status quo of the system. He compared himself to Christ and Italian polls did support his fame and grandiosity in many ways. In representing the Italian man – his values are more eighteenth century than modern world twenty-first century with his complete lack of political correctness. He was unquestionably a misogynist par excellence but also certainly a big fan of women. I think the whole ‘Bunga Bunga’ scandal which seemed pretty Trumpian in its excesses says it all. My favourite Berlusconi quote is with reference to German Chancellor Angela Merkel whom he allegedly described as an “unbeddable lard-arse” and publicly humiliated at a NATO summit. The headline at the time was just so wrong on so many levels that it did sort of catch attention.
He has continued to make headlines long after his official retirement from frontline politics. He has been a bit of an embarrassment to Italy with the whole Ukraine crisis. He admitted that one of his best mates, Vladimir Putin, sent him a few crates of Russian vodka for his birthday and indeed the Kremlin was one of the first outlets to make a statement on Silvio Berlusconi’s death today with Vladmir Putin leading the tributes from international leaders and stating:
“For me, Silvio was a dear person, a true friend,” wrote Putin. “I have always sincerely admired his wisdom and his ability to make balanced, far-sighted decisions, even in the most difficult situations. During each of our meetings, I was literally charged with his incredible vitality, optimism and sense of humour. His death is an irreparable loss and great sorrow.”
Larger than life, most certainly, very controversial. AC Milano are perhaps the legacy to focus on for this Italian statesman. RIP Silvio Berlusconi (29 September 1936 – 12 June 2023)