Good Bye, Silvio
Silvio Berlusconi passed away on Monday. His state funeral (a beautiful ceremony in Milan’s Cathedral) took place on Wednesday. Not many foreign dignitaries attended: basically, the only one of note was Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, not a darling of the West these days. Yet former Spanish prime minister José Maria Aznar had some nice things to say about Berlusconi and French President Emmanuel Macron, too.
The tone of international obituaries was sharply different than the ones in Italy, however. Foreign observers at first feared Berlusconi as a media mogul who wanted to manipulate voters through his media empire. That was when he first entered politics, in 1994. In later years, his womanizing was the true news item. Just Google “Berlusconi” and “bunga bunga.”
And yet Berlusconi should not be treated as a joke. He was a great showman, but also a revolutionary entrepreneur. As a politician, he never delivered the “free market revolution” he promised at the beginning of his career. But he established a political party anew and won three elections (half-won another, that he lost by 30,000 votes in a country of 60 million), becoming the longest serving Italian prime minister (2001-2005) in a country where a government on average last 14 months.
Watching his funeral on the Internet, his uniqueness was apparent. Inside the Church, you had political dignitaries, TV celebrities, business leaders, soccer champions: politics, entertainment, business, and sports may be contiguous fields, but you seldom met somebody who was a central figure in all of them. Berlusconi was that rare case. Outside the Church, some 15,000 people camped to say goodbye to a man they admired, a fair chunk of them being soccer fans of AC Milan. For once, (part of) the elites and the people shared admiration and affection and gratitude for the same man. That says something.
As a free marketer, I thought Berlusconi was a disappointing prime minister, as I remember in this obituary for the Daily Telegraph. But though this was a tragedy for Italy, this was not central in an incredible life, which would be wrong to remember just for some gross and undignified moments (which were there, of course). I tried to reflect on that in this piece for the Independent Institute’s The Beacon.