On Wednesday, June 14, 2023, Italians bid farewell to former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at a state funeral held in Milan’s Duomo cathedral. The government declared the day a National Day of Mourning so flags were flown at half-staff.
Tens of thousands of supporters of the controversial four-time Prime Minister gathered at the venue for the state funeral on Wednesday to pay their last respects.
The people outside the Duomo, including fans from Berlusconi’s beloved AC Milan soccer club, erupted in applause as a sign of respect as his rose-draped casket was hoisted out of the hearse and into the cathedral for the funeral Mass.
Inside, Italy’s business and political elite, including the President and three former Prime Ministers, gathered alongside Berlusconi’s children and companion, who openly wept as the casket was placed in front of the altar.
Hungarian President Viktor Orban and Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, were among the highest-ranking foreign dignitaries in attendance.
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 Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. Italian President Sergio Mattarella and former Premiers Matteo Renzi, Paolo Gentiloni and Mario Draghi were on hand, as well as other politicians.
Berlusconi was a divisive figure for Italians, and renowned abroad for his crude jokes and so-called bunga-bunga parties. Berlusconi died at the age of 86 on Monday, June 12, 2023 in a Milan hospital where he was being treated for chronic leukemia.
His family held a private wake on Tuesday, June 13, 2023, at one of Berlusconi’s villas near Milan.
Milan Archbishop Mario Delpini did not mention Berlusconi’s complicated legacy in his eulogy, saying that 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.”
Delpini added, “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 is a man and now he meets God.”
AC Milan fans waved the team’s red and black flags and chanted “One President, there’s only one President” as the casket was carried out of the cathedral after the Mass.
Forza Italia’s Fate In A Limbo
Presently, it is uncertain as to whether and how Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party will survive following his demise.
Berlusconi’s Deputy, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, declared on Monday that, “We have the duty, as Forza Italia, to move forward, and we will.”
Despite the reassuring words, Forza Italia’s fate is far from secure. Experts claim that Berlusconi’s personal hold on the party makes it vulnerable in his death even as it is key to holding up Meloni’s 8-month-old coalition government.
Roberto D’Alimonte, a political scientist who writes for Il Sole 24 Ore, opined, “If the party stands, then the government is OK. But if the party starts to disintegrate you have to see where these people go.” D’Alimonte added, “Meloni needs these votes in the Senate and in the house. Meloni cannot do without that 8%.”
Berlusconi founded Forza Italia in 1994, entering politics as a major corruption scandal created a power vacuum. He briefly renamed it People of Liberty, before returning to the original name after the defection of a one-time political successor.