Berlusconi, Silvio (b. 1936)

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Italian businessman and politician.

Until 2006 businessman and politician Silvio Berlusconi was the Italian prime minister and the leader of his party, Forza Italia. He is the president of AC Milan, a first-division soccer team; the owner of Elmond, parent company of the publishing house Einaudi; and the majority stockholder of the publisher A. Mondadori. According to Forbes, he was in 2005 the richest man in Italy. He began his road to fortune in the 1960s in the building sector, constructing many residences in Milan, and later entire residential and commercial complexes, becoming in the process the leading Italian figure in the industry. After the Edilnord Center, he built Milan 2, Milan 3, and the "Sunflower," all residential complexes near Milan. His entrepreneurial activity even won him the honorific Cavaliere del Lavoro (Knight of industry) in 1977. In 1974 he launched Telemilano, the cable television affiliate of Milan 2, which was soon diffused throughout all of Lombardy, and created the holding company Fininvest, of which he became president. In 1980 he founded Canale 5 (Channel 5), the first private national television network in Italy, which he followed with Italia 1 (1982) and Rete 4 (1984). His networks benefited from well-known favors (particularly the Mammì Law on television broadcasting, which aimed at regulating radio and television networks, but which allowed one "player" to own three networks) conferred by the ruling Italian Socialist Party, or PSI, which Berlusconi repaid by granting to Bettino Craxi's (1934–2000) party free interviews, bulletins, and commercials on his channels.

His entry into politics occurred in the early 1990s. At the end of 1993 Italy was wracked by the "Clean Hands" (Mani Pulite) judicial investigation launched by Judge Antonio Di Pietro (b.1950) of the Public Prosecutor's Office of Milan on 17 February 1992, which implicated nearly the entire leading class of the political establishment. On 26 January 1994 all the television news programs transmitted a message from Berlusconi, who announced that he was resigning from all active duties related to his conglomerate in order to "take the field" and dedicate himself to politics. He explained his decision as an essential measure aimed at containing the "communist threat" (traced to the center-left coalition challenging him in the polls); while his detractors attributed it to the necessity of protecting his economic interests, then threatened by the loss of Craxi's support. He therefore founded Forza Italia (Go Italy!), a "company-party" with its foundations in Fininvest and the other colossus among his holdings, Publitalia, an advertising firm. Forza Italia is entirely identifiable with Berlusconi, who presents himself as a liberal and as an entrepreneur in the service of politics.

During his career Berlusconi addressed himself to the Italian public with simple and incisive slogans ("A worker-president," "A million jobs"). Speaking the language of soccer and using a plethora of sports metaphors, he imbued his political endeavors with an aura of a sporting match and proved himself capable of galvanizing the fans. For the elections of 1994 he allied himself with the party of Gianfranco Fini (the Alleanza Nationale, or "National Alliance") to win votes in the South, in the coalition called the "Pole of good government"; while in the North he formed an accord with the Lega Nord (Northern League) of Umberto Bossi (b. 1941), thus engendering the "Pole of liberty." The two coalitions won the elections (Forza Italia garnered 21 percent of the ballots) with a 45.9 percent share, against the 32.9 percent of the progressives. On 10 May 1994 Berlusconi formed his first government (Forza Italia, Alleanza Nationale, Lega Nord, CCD or Center Christian Democrats, UDC or Union of Christian Democrats, and the Democrats of the Center), which ended its short life on 22 December 1994 with the withdrawal of the Lega Nord. After an interim government led by Lamberto Dini (b. 1931) (17 January 1995–11 January 1996), there followed the elections of April 1996, won by the center-left. Under the government of Romano Prodi (b. 1939), first, and then that of Massimo D'Alema (b. 1949), Berlusconi remained with the opposition until the next national elections of 2001, when he returned to government with a new coalition, called the "House of Liberties" (Casa delle Libertà, composed of the Alleanza Nationale, Lega Nord, CCD, and UDC).

The second government of Berlusconi began on 11 June 2001 and to 2006 was the most enduring in the history of the Italian Republic. This success was due to the ability of the leader of Forza Italia to conciliate traditionally opposing forces, such as the Alleanza Nationale and the Lega Nord, and to patch up differences whenever these have menaced the internal coherence of the coalition. Berlusconi has been at the center of numerous accusations of corruption and budgetary falsification; with regard to Italian judges, he has often expressed himself publicly in a critical manner. The outcome of various cases that include him among the accused (in the SME case, in November 2004, the public prosecutor's office requested a sentence of eight years for kickbacks allegedly given to the financial police, or Guardia di Finanza) has been blocked by a law, approved by the Berlusconi government, which affords immunity to the highest officials of the state.

In foreign policy he was pro-American, and he supported the United States in the decision to attack Iraq in 2003 (although Italy did not send troops during the conflict, but only in the aftermath). In domestic policy, Berlusconi decriminalized budgetary irregularities; offered two amnesties in the fiscal and building sectors; launched reforms of the educational, judicial, and telecommunications systems; and inaugurated various projects to improve highway infrastructure. At the end of November 2004 the houses of the Senate approved a contentious reduction in taxes, which constituted one of Berlusconi's pre-election promises. In the April 2006 elections, Berlusconi was narrowly defeated, with Prodi once again taking over the position of prime minister.

See alsoCrime and Justice; Italy; Leisure; Northern League; Television.


Andrews, Geoff. Not a Normal Country: Italy after Berlusconi. London, 2005.

Bell, Martin, and Paolo Bellucci. Italian Politics. Vol. 17: The Return of Berlusconi. New York, 2002.

Blondel, Jean, and Paolo Segatti. Italian Politics: The Second Berlusconi Government. New York, 2003.

Bufacchi, Vittorio, and Simon Burgess. Italy since 1989: Events and Interpretations. New York, 1998.

Ginsborg, Paul. Silvio Berlusconi: Television, Power, and Patrimony. London and New York, 2004.

Jones, Tobias. The Dark Heart of Italy. New York, 2004.

Ruggeri, Giovanni, and Mario Guarino. Berlusconi. Inchiesta sul signor TV. Milan, 1994.

Santarelli, Enzo. Profilo del berlusconismo. Rome, 2002.

Stille, Alexander. The Sack of Rome: How a Beautiful European Country with a Fabled History and a Storied Culture Was Taken Over by a Man Named Silvio Berlusconi. New York, 2006.

Maria Teresa Giusti