Both adored and scorned, the late former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has drawn tributes from his critics and fans including Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as prayers from Pope Francis.
Following word of Berlusconi’s death on Monday in a Milan hospital, where he was being treated for chronic leukemia, reactions have poured in from around the world.
Here are some of the tributes:
Russian President Vladimir Putin
In a condolence telegram, Putin hailed Berlusconi as a “patriarch” of Italian politics and a true patriot who had improved Italy’s standing on the world stage.
“I have always sincerely admired his wisdom, his ability to make balanced, far-sighted decisions even in the most difficult situations,” Putin said in the telegram released by the Kremlin. “During each of our meetings, I was literally charged with his incredible vitality, optimism and sense of humour.”
Berlusconi hosted Putin twice at one of his Sardinia Emerald Coast villas, and the Russian reciprocated, including a stay at Putin’s dacha. For Berlusconi’s last birthday in September, Putin gifted him bottles of vodka, even as the Italian government staunchly backed Ukraine in the war against the Russian invasion.
“Undoubtedly, he was a politician on a European and world scale,” Putin said. “There are few such people in the international arena now. He was a great friend of our people and did a lot to develop business, and friendly relations between Russia and European countries.” Berlusconi had expressed reservations about sanctions against Russian interests over the invasion.
Former US President George W. Bush
In a message from Kennebunkport, Maine, Bush recalled Berlusconi as a “vibrant leader with a personality to match. (Wife) Laura and I were fortunate to spend a good deal of time with him during my presidency. There was never a dull moment with Silvio. He strengthened the friendship between Italy and the United States, and we are grateful for his commitment to our important alliance. Laura and I send our condolences to the Berlusconi family and the people of Italy.”
In a condolence telegram sent to Berlusconi’s eldest daughter, Marina Berlusconi, the Pontiff assured his closeness to all the family. He said that the late premier had carried out “public responsibilities with an energetic temperament.” Francis prayed that God grant “eternal peace for him and consolation of the heart for those who weep for his passing.” Francis said he joined in the condolences “with a fervent remembrance in prayer.”
Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
In a statement, Blair recalled his many interactions with Berlusconi: “Silvio was a larger-than-life figure with whom I worked closely for several years as Prime Minister. I know he was controversial for many but for me he was a leader whom I found capable, shrewd and, most important, true to his word.”
Italian President Sergio Mattarella
Matterella’s role as head of state was one coveted by Berlusconi – he sought unsuccessfully in recent years to be chosen by Parliament for that position – but in his tribute, Mattarella described the former premier as a “protagonist of long seasons of Italian politics.
“Berlusconi was a great political leader who marked the history of our republic, influencing its paradigms, customs and language,” Mattarella said.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
The Commission President took to social media platform Twitter to offer her condolences. Berlusconi “led Italy in a time of political transition and since then continued to shape his beloved country. I extend my condolences to his family and the Italian people.”
French President Emmanuel Macron
Macron said Berlusconi was “a great entrepreneur, and he left his mark on Italian political life over the last few decades, and we send the Italian people and the Italian government our condolences.”
Fabrizio Marrazzo, a spokesperson for Italy’s Gay Party
Marrazzo recalled Berlusconi as “a liberal person who contributed to the dissemination of LGBT+ issues on his television networks,” including the first television interviews in Italy with gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans people.
Still, Marrazzo noted that Berlusconi’s solidarity on the political front sometimes wavered. In 2010, buffeted by sex scandals over his partying with women decades younger, Berlusconi offended many with his remark that it was “better to be passionate about a beautiful girl than a gay.”