Silvio Berlusconi’s diversified experience and survival instinct were rare among politicians. After the 1990s mani pulite scandal, he won three general elections and shaped Italian politics for almost 30 years.
Berlusconi exacerbated the downfall of the country’s major political parties and the polarization between the Christian Democrats and the Italian Communist Party and its left-wing supporters.
Many Italians were pro- or anti-Berlusconi for decades. After the death of Forza Italia’s founder, La Repubblica predicts “a new era” of political polarization in Italy.
Entrepreneur Berlusconi entered politics. Later, he founded Mediaset, a private broadcaster. He introduced commercial television to Italy and challenged RAI’s broadcasting monopoly.
Berlusconi’s success as an entrepreneur, which Italians appreciate, helped him rise to the top of Italian politics despite his inexperience. After a severe debt crisis, he resigned as prime minister in 1994, 2001, and 2008.
European friends had already distanced themselves, and not simply because of his many foreign gaffes. Italy was in financial trouble when he left, and prosecutors were after him for his “bunga bunga” scandal.
Few predicted how much politics would follow Berlusconi’s populist model.
He was tried 36 times for mafia ties, bribery, and underage prostitution. His lone conviction was tax fraud in 2013. He lost parliament and the Cavaliere del Lavoro title. Berlusconi alleged a “communist” conspiracy for his imprisonment.
Berlusconi’s communication abilities are his most notable trait. He changed political and corporate communication. Some observers call him Europe’s first populist leader because he won over Italians. He capitalized on voters’ discontent with the current quo.
Unfortunately, his manner, deliberately or unwittingly, popularized the far-right and led to populist politicians like Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, and Marine Le Pen.
Despite being marginalized and isolated in Italian politics, Berlusconi portrayed himself as the kingmaker in recent years. Forza Italia lost its right-wing coalition supremacy. Berlusconi was replaced by Matteo Salvini of the National League and Giorgia Meloni of the Brothers of Italy.
While many leaders are praising Berlusconi, we must not allow his charm overwhelm his numerous alleged crimes and mistakes.
While others continue to ignore his sexist and racial statements, we should remember how controversy courted him till the end—last year, he sought to excuse his ally Vladimir Putin’s horrific invasion of Ukraine.
The extravagant, flashy, and controversial Berlusconi dominated Italian politics, business, and sports for 50 years. He campaigned for political change but left no meaningful legislation.
Is Berlusconi a reformer?