The Godfather of Modern Populist Nationalism

Silvio Berlusconi died at 86 on June 12, 2023, in Milan (where he was also born), in the San Raphael private hospital—a place where he dealt with different health issues for years.

One can effortlessly point one’s finger at Berlusconi for wrong-doing, as many have done during his 30 years in Italian politics. His right-hand man, Marcello Dell’Utri, was convicted for conspiring with the Mafia (on behalf of Berlusconi) and for tax fraud. Dell’Utri and Berlusconi founded the “Forza Italia” political party in 1994, where the Italian media magnate and (four-time) ex-prime minister started his path in the political realm. Throughout his history in politics, he was charged and sometimes convicted of several severe crimes, from tax fraud to corruption to prostitution of underaged women.

To understand Berlusconi’s complex biography it is relevant to point out three aspects of his character that made him the godfather of modern populist nationalism. He was first a charismatic entertainer: he often told jokes about himself and publicly made controversial remarks to his opponents. One time, in the EU’s Parliament, he said he would suggest Martin Schulz (the EU Parliament’s German member) for the role of nazi kapo in a movie that was being filmed in Italy. Secondly, his success in business affairs and control of the most important private media company in the Bel Paese made him a “self-made” billionaire with a very outspoken and lavish lifestyle. Berlusconi was a symbol of “winning” and being on top of the capitalistic ladder: a person who got things done, with outstanding material results. Finally, due to his power and money, he could afford to have very divisive and—at times—original opinions about important societal issues. He was the king of political incorrectness. This made him look authentic, direct, and pragmatic. Everything his opponents were not.

EU flags at half mast at the EPLO building in Roma, Italy, following the death of Silvio Berlusconi, former Italian Prime Minister and former MEP, Photo: Eric Vidal/European Union 2023 – Source : EP

Title image Silvio Berlusconi, Photo: European Union 2003 – EP

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