Silvio Berlusconi’s Allies and Enemies React to His Death

Silvio Berlusconi may have polarized Italy during his decades in the media and political spotlight, but the initial reaction to his death at 86 on Monday was marked by unity and praise, even if sometimes grudging.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, whose government included Mr. Berlusconi’s party as a coalition partner, described him in a video message as “one of the most influential men in Italian history.” The justice minister, Carlo Nordio, spoke of “an end to an era of Italian history” in which the former prime minister and media titan was an “undisputed protagonist in the life of the country.”

The Vatican secretary of state, Pietro Parolin, said he had relayed the condolences of Pope Francis, who is recovering from abdominal surgery, to Mr. Berlusconi’s daughter Marina. The pope, Mr. Parolin said, described Mr. Berlusconi as a “leading figure in Italian political life who held public responsibilities with energetic temper.”

Before entering politics, Mr. Berlusconi had revolutionized Italian viewing tastes through his three television channels, which carried more glamorous fare — including game shows and American soap operas like “Dallas” and “Dynasty” — than that offered by the state broadcaster, RAI. They were the first private national channels available in Italy, and Mr. Berlusconi would go on to use them, and their stars, to bolster his political career.

Mr. Berlusconi’s unexpected move into politics in the 1990s polarized Italians between those who believed he was more interested in serving his own business interests than those of the nation, and those who saw him as a break with a corrupt and politically impotent class that had governed Italy since the Second World War.

An investigation conducted by prosecutors in various Italian cities swept away most of that class, and Mr. Berlusconi stepped into the vacuum.

On Monday, two of Mr. Berlusconi’s three channels interrupted regular afternoon programming to broadcast clips of Mr. Berlusconi’s most famous speeches and public appearances, with interviews with friends, political commentators and some of the television personalities he turned into stars.

Antonio Tajani, a deputy prime minister and a longtime friend and member of Mr. Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, posted a photograph on Twitter showing the two men early in their political careers, some three decades ago. “Immense suffering. Simply, thank you President, thank you Silvio,” he wrote.

Even lawmakers who had criticized Mr. Berlusconi for years recognized his influence.

Though he spent 30 years opposing Mr. Berlusconi “on a political level” in “harsh conflict,” the former prime minister Massimo D’Alema said in a note that Mr. Berlusconi had made an “indisputable contribution” toward creating a new conservative bloc in Italy, “linked to the European democratic system.”

Elly Schlein, leader of the center-left Democratic Party, an incarnation of which Mr. D’Alema once led, said in a statement that, while “everything has divided us, and divides us from his political vision,” the party expressed “human respect to a person who was a protagonist of our country’s history.”

“The end of an era” blazoned the headline in the daily La Repubblica, arguably the major newspaper that most openly opposed Mr. Berlusconi when he first entered politics in 1994.

Foreign leaders also expressed their condolences.

Mr. Berlusconi had been a staunch defender of Moscow after the invasion of Ukraine, and in a message to Sergio Mattarella, his Italian counterpart, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia called Mr. Berlusconi a “remarkable person behind some of the most important events in Italy’s modern history.” Russia would also remember him as “a principled and consistent supporter of strengthening friendly relations between our countries,” Mr. Putin said, adding, in a personal note, that “Silvio was a dear person, a true friend.”

In France, the far-right leader Marine Le Pen remembered Mr. Berlusconi as “an atypical figure, with an extraordinary life and a dazzling career. ”

A.C. Milan, the soccer team that under Mr. Berlusconi’s ownership won both domestic and European titles, issued a tribute on its website: “Silvio Berlusconi, forever with us.”

On its website, A.C. Monza, the soccer team that Mr. Berlusconi owned at the time of his death, wrote: “A void that can never be filled, forever with us. ”

Condolences also came from the country’s industrialists — whose president, Carlo Bonomi, described Mr. Berlusconi’s “visionary tenacity” that made him a protagonist of Italian business — and Rome’s mayor, as well as the nation’s flight attendants association and an actress who famously impersonated Mr. Berlusconi in biting satires on television.

“I can’t say that I’ll miss him, but …,” the actress, Sabina Guzzanti, wrote on social media, alongside a photo of her being made up as Mr. Berlusconi.

Mr. Nordio, the justice minister, said in his statement that Mr. Berlusconi would be remembered for “the debate around justice,” which Mr. Berlusconi had always intended to steer in a “liberal direction,” a reference to the clashes with the judiciary that accompanied the protracted legal battles that Mr. Berlusconi faced during his three decades in politics.

On Monday, Marcello Viola, the chief prosecutor of Milan, where Mr. Berlusconi waged most of his court cases, issued his condolences for “a person who marked Italy’s history.”

 A day of national mourning will be held Wednesday to coincide with a state funeral at the Milan Cathedral. Flags on public buildings, embassies and consulates would be flown at half-mast until then, a government official said.

On Monday, television cameras set up camp outside Mr. Berlusconi’s villa in Arcore, as family members and close friends trickled in to pay their last respects. Locals and passers-by placed flowers, handmade placards, and AC Milan and AC Monza scarves on a lawn in front of his home.

A photograph on the home page of the website of Forza Italia, which he founded nearly 30 years ago, depicted a smiling Mr. Berlusconi shaking hands with supporters. “We’d never like to let you go, Ciao Presidente,” it read.

Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting from Siena, Italy, and Aurelien Breeden from Paris.

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