Italy’s ex prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has died aged 86 after being treated for leukemia. 

Born in a Milanese middle-class family, he first rose to success as a real-estate entrepreneur before becoming a media tycoon and then turning politician. 

He dominated the public narrative for 30 years, winning three general elections and changing the course of Italy’s politics.

A success, however, partially overshadowed by many scandals and faux pas, Euronews takes a look at his legacy.

The astonishing number of charges against him

Berlusconi faced 36 trials – a record for an Italian PM – often with extremely serious charges like mafia-affiliation, bribery and underage prostitution. The only definitive conviction however came for tax fraud, in 2013. He was expelled from parliament and lost the coveted title of “Cavaliere del Lavoro” or “Labour Knight”. He often accused his prosectuors of being “red/Communist” and “politicised”. 

The unbelievable first electoral victory

Berlusconi won his first election in 1994, just four months after founding his party, Forza Italia. It was a double victory: he defeated the favoured and bigger centre-left coalition, and managed at the same time to politically resuscitate the centre-right camp after a giant corruption scandal in 1992 nearly wiped it out.

Silvio Berlusconi, in front of the Forza Italia banner, claims victory for the conservative alliance in Italy’s general elections in Rome, March 29, 1994

Communication revolution

Berlusconi’s political success was largely down to his communication skills. 

A media mogul, he brought TV-style scripts to politics with catchy and memorable slogans like “I’m taking to the pitch” or “love always trumps hate and envy”. He didn’t shy away from using his media empire for political propaganda, at times even on entertainment shows. It always sparked calls for tougher conflict of interest laws, which however no government, left or right-wing, ever really looked at.

Personalisation of politics

Before Berlusconi, Italy’s politics was polarised between the Catholics and the Communists. After Berlusconi, it became pro-Berlusconis VS anti-Berlusconis. One of his party’s official anthems is titled “Meno male che Silvio C’e’, sort of “Thank God we have Silvio”. His entire party identifies with him and around him. He never designated a successor and it’s hard to imagine any future for Forza Italia without its founder.

Silvio Berlusconi poses before the “Porta a Porta” TV show at the Rai 1 headquarters on May 22, 2014 in Rome

Only Italian PM to complete a mandate

From 2001 to 2006. Berlusconi is the only PM in Italy’s republican history to have stayed in charge for five consecutive years, until the actual end of his mandate. It wasn’t enough however to win him a second consecutive term, as he went on to lose the 2006 vote against his arch-rival Romano Prodi.

United the ‘Romans’ and the ‘Nordics’

Berlusconi succeeded in the very difficult task of bringing together the separatist Northern League party and the “loyalist” National Alliance, now Brothers of Italy. An often troubled relationship which however led to several electoral successes. The two parties are still allied today in Giorgia Meloni’s government. A long and rare liaison, given the extreme volatility of Italian politics.

League leader Matteo Salvini, left, Silvio Berlusconi, and Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni in Rome Thursday, Sep. 22, 2022

AC Milan

Berlusconi didn’t just resuscitate a political camp, but also a football team. He took AC Milan from the shallow waters of Serie A to lift them to Champions League glory five times. In Italy, he won more titles than any other football club owner. 

AC Milan president Silvio Berlusconi celebrates winning the Champions League against Liverpool in Athens, May 23, 2007

Source: Euronews

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