At 84 years old, convalescing from Covid and after almost three decades of political career, the magnate is vindicating himself with his project to unify the Italian right
20 years ago, Italian families received a copy of ‘An Italian Story’ at their homes free of charge and without request, a 125-page book with a multitude of color photos and hagiographic-style texts that narrated the life of Silvio Berlusconi: from his family beginnings to his success as a construction entrepreneur, passing through his landing on television and his football triumphs as president of AC Milan. The volume ended, of course, with his entry into politics with Forza Italia, his first experience of government (1994-1995) and his promises for the general elections that were held in May 2001 and that Berlusconi won widely.
The magnate was then 64 years old and had no desire to retire, as he would demonstrate by remaining as a leading figure in Italian politics for the next two decades. Although he will turn 85 next September and his health has deteriorated greatly since he caught the coronavirus at the end of last summer, which has forced him to spend months in and out of hospitals, Berlusconi continues to resist withdrawal. His latest initiative is his project to refound the Italian right by merging Forza Italia with the League of Matteo Salvini and the Brothers of Italy, the post-fascist formation of Giorgia Meloni. The latter has already given him pumpkins, while Salvini’s enthusiasm for the unification, originally planned for 2023, is one notch below that of the Forza Italia leader.
“Berlusconi is going to remain active in politics as long as God allows it,” says Bill Emmott, former editor of the British weekly ‘The Economist’ and responsible for a memorable cover in 2001 in which he declared the tycoon “unfit” for take the reins of Italy. “His new idea of joining forces with the other formations on the right makes sense for Forza Italia because today it is the smallest of the three. It is a way of trying to increase your influence and ensure the survival and longevity of your movement. But I don’t think the merger will finally take place, because it doesn’t make much sense for Salvini and Meloni. ”
The latter has made the Brothers of Italy, a far-right party that even bears a neo-fascist symbol on its shield, to become the first conservative political force in Italy in voting intention, although it is almost tied with the League, according to the latest polls. . “Meloni and Salvini have been able to make good use of the void that Berlusconi has left on the right by refusing to retire or to be replaced in the leadership of Forza Italia. Although with this attitude, he has caused those who aspire to take over his legacy to compete by moving towards increasingly radical positions. That is why in Italy there is hardly a moderate center-right left, ”Emmott warns.
27 years after his first electoral campaign, in which he successfully exploited the power vacuum generated after the disappearance of the Christian Democracy and the Socialist Party due to the ‘Tangentopoli’ corruption scandal, Berlusconi has left an indelible mark on the Italian politics with clear international repercussions. “He was the first modern ‘anti-establishment’ leader, who knew how to set in motion a personalist populism that worked, in which he had no problem breaking the law and telling lies,” says the former editor of ‘The Economist’, featuring Donald Trump , Boris Johnson and Jair Bolsonaro as emulators of Berlusconi’s peculiar way of understanding politics.
For Italians, the impact of the former ‘Cavaliere’, a title he had to renounce in 2014 after being finally sentenced for tax evasion, goes beyond the games of power: with his televisions he has been shaping the country’s society for four decades. For Emmott, one of the great consequences of ‘berlusconismo’ is precisely “the cultural degradation” that it has achieved through its television programs. “It has had an enormous impact on popular culture in Italy,” warns the British journalist, who analyzed the country’s political, social and economic decline in the documentary ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’, released in 2012.