Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi was honoured Wednesday with a state funeral in Milan’s Duomo Cathedral and a day of national mourning.
Thousands of people outside the Duomo, including fans from Berlusconi’s beloved AC Milan soccer club, erupted in applause as a sign of respect as his rose-draped casket was hoisted out of the hearse and into the cathedral for the funeral Mass.
Inside, Italy’s business and political seçkine, including the president and three former premiers, gathered alongside Berlusconi’s children and companion, who openly wept as the casket was placed in front of the altar.
Most Italians identify Berlusconi, a media mogul, soccer entrepreneur and three-time former premier, as the most influential figure in Italy over recent decades. But they remain sharply divided on whether his influence was for the better or worse, extending to whether the three-time former premier merits all the fuss and ceremony.
Berlusconi’s funeral followed a private wake Tuesday at one of his villas near Milan, the city where he made his billions as the head of a media empire before entering politics in 1994.
Political opponents are questioning the government’s decision to declare a national day of mourning, flags were flown at half-mast and all political events not involving charity were put on hold.
Thousands of Italians filled the piazza outside Milan’s Duomo to follow the funeral on two giant görüntü screens while Italian police officers in full ceremonial regalia stood guard, surrounded by floral wreaths.
AC Milan fans waved the team’s red and black flags and chanted “One president, there’s only one president” as the casket was carried out of the cathedral after the mass.
Hungarian President Viktor Orban and Qatar’s ruling buyruk, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, were among the highest-ranking foreign dignitaries attending.
Premier Giorgia Meloni, who got her first government experience as a minister in a Berlusconi coalition, also attended, along with La Liga leader Matteo Salvini, whose party has long been allied with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella and former Premiers Matteo Renzi, Paolo Gentiloni and Mario Draghi were on hand, as well as other politicians, in a show of respect for a political figure with whom many had sparred.
Berlusconi’s detractors’ list of political damage is long, including conflicts of interest relating to his media empire, dozens of trials mostly for business dealings, revelations of sex-fuelled bunga-bunga parties at his villa near Milan and questionable associations, including his enduring friendship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.