Italian ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi honoured with state funeral in Milan

Italian Ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi Honoured With State Funeral In Milan
Silvio Berlusconi's coffin is carried into Milan's cathedral, © LaPresse
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By Colleen Barry, Associated Press

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was honoured with a state funeral in Milan on Wednesday, a day of national mourning, as his legacy – positive or negative – was being hotly debated among the people.

A crowd of tens of thousands of people erupted in applause as his flower-draped coffin was taken out of the hearse and carried into the city’s Duomo cathedral.


His children and companion wept as the coffin was placed in front of the altar.

ADDITION Italy Berlusconi Funeral
Silvio Berlusconi’s brother Paolo Berlusconi, right, and children Barbara, second from right, Pier Silvio, and Eleonora, left, wait for his coffin to arrive at Milan’s cathedral (Antonio Calanni/AP)

Most Italians identify Mr Berlusconi, a media mogul, football entrepreneur as well as 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 he merits all the fuss and ceremony.

Mr Berlusconi died on Monday at the age of 86 in a Milan hospital where he was being treated for chronic leukaemia.

His family held a private wake on 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.

Archbishop of Milan Mario Delpini did not gloss over Mr Berlusconi’s complicated legacy in his eulogy, saying he was a businessman who found success and failure, a politician who won and lost, and a notoriety-seeking personality who had admirers and detractors, “those who applaud him and those who detest him”.


“But in this moment of farewell and prayer, what can we say about Silvio Berlusconi? He has been a man: a desire for life, a desire for love, a desire for joy,” he said. “He is a man and now he meets God.”

Italy Berlusconi Funeral
A crowd of tens of thousands of people erupted in applause as Silvio Berlusconi’s coffin was taken out of the hearse and carried into Milan’s cathedral (Stefano Porta/LaPresse/AP)

Political opponents are questioning not only the decisions of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s government to hold a state funeral – an honour that can be afforded all former premiers – but to also declare a national day of mourning, which is more rarely invoked.


In the case of the latter, flags were flown at half-mast and all political events not involving charity were put on hold, but it was otherwise business as usual.

“Berlusconi split Italy, he insulted adversaries for 30 years, he criminalised the magistrates and he didn’t recognize laws. What are we talking about?” journalist Marco Travaglio, a long-time Berlusconi critic and co-founder of the il Fatto Quotidiano daily, told private La7 TV on Tuesday.

Nevertheless, thousands of Italians filled the piazza outside Milan’s Duomo to follow the funeral on two giant video screens while carabinieri in full ceremonial regalia stood guard, surrounded by floral wreaths.

Family members, political allies and opponents sat in the pews inside.


Italy Berlusconi Funeral
Silvio Berlusconi’s coffin is followed by, from left, his daughter Barbara, partner Marta Fascina, son Pier Silvio, and daughter Marina (Luca Bruno/AP)

Hungarian President Viktor Orban and Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, were among the highest-ranking foreign dignitaries attending.

Ms Meloni, who got her first government experience as a minister in a Berlusconi coalition, also attended, along with League leader Matteo Salvini, whose party has long been allied with Mr Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party.

Opposition politicians were also on hand in a show of respect for a political figure with whom many had sparred.

Barbara Cacellari, a Forza Italia councillor and one-time candidate for the European Parliament, said protests over how to officially mark Mr Berlusconi’s death showed a lack of respect.

“The person must be respected per se. He is a person who represents the history of this country,” she said outside the cathedral, adding: “No-one is without stains, I think.”

Mr Berlusconi is widely recognised as a precursor to the type of populist politics that would later take Donald Trump to power in the United States, both using their high profile as businessmen to springboard into the political arena, upending politics as usual along the way.

Italy Berlusconi Funeral
People wave a Forza Italia party flag in front of Milan’s Gothic Cathedral, ahead of Silvio Berlusconi’s state funeral (Stefano Porta/LaPresse/AP)

Supporters of Mr Berlusconi’s legacy cite his success in unifying the Italian centre-right after the collapse of the post-war political landscape with the 1990s “Clean Hands” corruption scandal.

They also see his times as leader as periods of stabilisation, after years of quickly rotating governments, while admiring his bold rule-breaking and irreverence, perhaps especially in the face of other global leaders.

His 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.

“He is not a leader who helped us grow,” said Beppe Severgnini, a long-time foreign correspondent and writer for Corriere della Sera. “He tapped all of our weaknesses: moral, fiscal, sexual, everything.”

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