In the Milan Cathedral, Mario Delpini, Archbishop of Milan, summed up the debate in Italy about Berlusconi and said: When a man is a politician, he is looking for victory. A politician has supporters and opponents. Some like it very much while others can’t stand it.
Italy bid farewell to its former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, on Wednesday, at a state funeral attended by thousands of people, including senior politicians and a few foreign leaders.
The state funeral for the billionaire, who died Monday at the age of 86 of leukemia, began at 3pm local time in Milan’s cathedral.
Mario Delpini, Archbishop of Milan, said during the funeral ceremony: “When a man is a politician, he is looking for victory. A politician has supporters and opponents. Some may admire him very much, while others may not tolerate him.”
“Silvio Berlusconi is my first and last political love. It’s a very sad day for Italy,” said Luigi Vecchione, 48, an employee of a textile company from Borgoscia in Piedmont.
“He was a leader with a strong personality, he created jobs and he was sympathetic to everyone. We will miss him,” he added, wearing a black T-shirt bearing the image of a large red heart.
Lucia Deli, 30, a municipal employee who also wore mourning clothes, came from Altamura in Puglia. “Silvio Berlusconi was the greatest politician in Italian history and left a huge void that will be impossible to fill,” she says.
“Georgia Meloni is a great prime minister, but no one will replace Silvio,” she added.
Orban, the Emir of Qatar and the Iraqi president
Flags were flown at half-mast in Milan and throughout Italy on top of public buildings.
The funeral ceremony was broadcast on giant screens placed in the famous square in the capital of Lombardy and the front square of the cathedral, so that those who could not enter could follow it.
The ceremony was attended by prominent Italian political figures, the most important of which are the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, the Prime Minister, Georgia Meloni, and her two deputies, Matteo Salvini and Antonio Taiani – Vice President of “Forza Italia” which was founded by Berlusconi.
Democratic Party leader Eli Schlein and former center-left government leader Matteo Renzi represented, among others, the left-wing opposition and centre-left.
Meloni and Salvini, the far-right leaders of the ruling coalition, attended a memorial service on Tuesday evening at the billionaire’s villa in Arcuri, near Milan.
The European Union was represented by the Italian Commissioner for Economic Affairs, Paolo Gentiloni, former Prime Minister.
Among the rare foreign leaders who attended the summit were Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid.
This state funeral, stipulated in the protocol, is accompanied by a national day of mourning, a precedent for a former prime minister who does not enjoy unanimous agreement and is causing controversy among Italians.
Rosie Bindi, former leftist minister in the second government of Romano Prodi (2006-2008), told public radio that “a state funeral is a right thing, but national mourning for a divisive person like Silvio Berlusconi seems to me an inappropriate choice.”
“He did not respect the state”
Senator Andrea Crisanti of the Democratic Party (centre-left) voiced his dissent.
Crisanti said Berlusconi “did not respect the state when he defrauded the tax authorities,” pointing to his last sentence in 2013 to four years in prison – reduced by an amnesty to one year – in a tax evasion case related to his Mediast media empire.
The career of the man who was constantly returning after being declared politically dead is closely intertwined with the history of Italy in the past thirty years.
He was also one of the country’s richest people, and Forbes estimated his fortune in early April at about 6.4 billion euros.
The man, who had a crush on women much younger than himself, has been embroiled in countless lawsuits related to controversial receptions. Abroad, he was known for a string of scandals, blunders, frequent trials and dramatic diplomatic affairs.
His passing has sparked reactions around the world from the White House and the United Nations to the sports world. Russian President Vladimir Putin called him a “true friend” while his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, said he was “a key figure in contemporary Italy”.
Berlusconi was the father of five children from two marriages and the grandfather of a number of grandchildren.