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Silvio Berlusconi: The Rise and Fall of Italy’s Populist Politician

  • Silvio Berlusconi is an 86-year-old former prime minister of Italy who rose from a poor worker’s family to a real estate tycoon and media mogul. He entered politics in 1994 and became the prime minister of Italy three times, leading a right-wing populist party and facing various lawsuits and controversies. He is often compared to Donald Trump, the former president of the United States, as they both use their media power and personal charm to challenge the establishment and the judiciary.

In his campaign speeches, the word “deep state” is always on his lips, and “fake news” is also a common word he uses in response to attacks on himself; his early success in real estate development is well known in his country A public figure; he repeatedly made unscrupulous “violent comments” and finally aspired to the highest position of power in the country, but has been plagued by lawsuits and scandals.
Oh, and he’s also a media mogul and owner of an Italian Serie A club. The former US President Trump, who is currently entangled in lawsuits such as “falsified business records”, “fraud” and “rape”, if there is a “grandfather”, then the 86-year-old former Prime Minister of Italy who was sent to the intensive care unit for leukemia in April this year Berlusconi can be counted as one.
Italian modernist artist Marinetti said: “Italy not only shows the past, but also inspires the future.” The first decade previewed how right-wing populist politicians combined media, business, and public opinion to gain power, fight against the judiciary, and influence public opinion.
Proficient in entertainment politics

On May 5, 2023, “Big Mouth” Berlusconi made another controversial statement. In order to justify his advocacy of a strong EU military, he even absurdly used the assumption that China “occupied Italy” as an analogy. Although Lao Bei stepped down as prime minister for more than ten years, he still leads the Forza Italia party, and the deputy leader of the party is currently serving as deputy prime minister and foreign minister.
Lao Bei not only often talks nonsense, but is also proficient in entertaining politics. Opening Lao Bei’s campaign video, you can see a bald man standing on the podium, jumping and cheering with friends from the same party. This bald man with a grin showing white teeth and bouncing knees is the longest-serving Prime Minister of Italy after World War II, with a combined term of 9 years.
“I was sweating and painting the rough house, and then a couple came in and asked where the sales manager was. I said to them ‘I’ll go in and call him’, and immediately rushed into the office, wiped off the sweat with a towel, and tidied up Hair, and then put on a suit and came out. They were all surprised and asked: “Aren’t you the painter just now?” I said: “That’s just my cousin who is a little mentally retarded.” After that, the couple became I got my first client.”
Lao Bei told this story many years later, intending to show that he changed from a member of a poor worker’s family to a business tycoon, relying on qualities such as being able to please, performing, and thick-skinned.
Berlusconi, who made his fortune in Milan real estate in his early years, was born in a workers’ area near Milan train station, the son of an active member of the Italian Communist Party. During World War II, Milan was heavily bombed by the Allied forces. In order to save the family from the war, Berlusconi’s father first sent his wife and children to a village in the north of Milan to settle down, and then went to neutral Switzerland to work alone to make a living.
People in the small village were xenophobic, and Berlusconi was forced to do odd jobs on the village dairy farm when he was about 10 years old to help support his family. One day he went to help with milking, and the other day he sold fruit and cheese on the streets of the small town. He was used to seeing all kinds of things in the world at an early age, and learned the skills of observing words and expressions and pleasing each other.
Today, the Berlusconi we know is a bald old man with exaggerated hand movements and oily head. Back in the 1950s, Berlusconi was a standard handsome man. His smile was as bright as the Mediterranean sun, and his dark complexion coupled with a healthy and strong physique, coupled with a casual suit designed in Italy, made him look like a star to people at that time.
On cruise ships where rich people vacation, he sings every night like a handsome human jukebox, repeating the 150 popular songs in Italian, English and French that he knows by heart. During the day, he acts as a tour guide for passengers on cruise ships. Even those places he has never been to or even knows nothing about, he can make up some impromptu fictional “historical stories”.
On the cruise, he met Canari, a well-known real estate businessman in Milan. By borrowing money from east to west, Berlusconi raised enough 30 million lire to persuade the other party to let him become the second shareholder of Milan Due, a real estate development company in Canari. This year, Berlusconi was only 25 years old.
On cruise ships where rich people vacation, he sings every night like a handsome human jukebox, repeating the 150 popular songs in Italian, English and French that he knows by heart.

After World War II, the whole of Italy was in disarray. As an important industrial city in the north, Milan has welcomed a large number of migrant workers from southern Italy, resulting in a huge housing market demand. Berlusconi is not only a construction site contractor, but also responsible for sales of buildings. He also helps with painting when he is the busiest. He has multiple roles. He can be said to be a standard “slash youth”.
The world is a big stage

In the 1960s, the Milan real estate market bubble emerged, and the industry was no longer optimistic about Milan’s housing prices. At the same time, the aging Canari began to retreat, and Berlusconi showed his ambition to open his mouth.
His plan is to persuade the Milan municipal government to contract out the retirement apartment for him to build. At that time, the officials in charge of retirement affairs in Milan would rather build retirement apartments in Rome than stay in Milan. In order to make the officials in charge change their minds, Berlusconi invited officials to visit his model real estate and arranged a “good show” at the same time.
He asked all members of the family to come out in full force, creating a scene of “customers coming like clouds” in his model real estate. All his relatives plus acquaintances and friends he knew and about a hundred people walked back and forth around the model real estate. When inspection officials walked by, his relatives would marvel at the construction quality of the building.
Seeing that there are fountains, gardens, sports and commercial supporting facilities, Milan officials finally decided to approve the retirement apartment project in Milan to Milan Due. Under the general environment of the cold wave of the property market, Berlusconi successfully counterattacked, and since then he has emerged in the Italian business circle.
From selling on the street to singing on cruise ships, to making achievements in the real estate field, Berlusconi relies on this trick every time he makes a leap: he sees the world as a stage, and he is the “show master” who can always improvise and please the audience. After gaining his fortune, his next goal was to influence the public in the field of television broadcasting.
Before 1976, the Italian constitution prohibited private companies from setting up television and radio businesses. However, the content of the Italian public media RAI is too didactic. Apart from news and weather forecasts, there are a lot of Catholic educational content. After 1976, the Italian radio and television field was opened to private operators. Berlusconi grabbed the “first taste soup” and established Italy’s first private TV station in Milan.

At that time, Italian law restricted private TV stations from producing news programs, live broadcasting business, or rolling out a nationwide TV broadcasting network, except for entertainment and gossip programs. Berlusconi “has a countermeasure”: Can’t engage in live broadcast? Then simply record fake live broadcast content to make the audience feel that they are watching the live broadcast, but it does not constitute a violation of the law; since the establishment of a national broadcasting network is not allowed, first buy some small local stations, and then put The videotapes of the program I bought were played on small stations in different places in turn.

On August 21, 2011, Milan, Italy, AC Milan chairman Silvio Berlusconi and captain Ambrosini held the Berlusconi Cup together

When facing advertisers, Berlusconi laid out the catalog of TV stations under his name on the stage, giving advertisers the impression that Berlusconi controlled the entire national TV network. In the end, huge advertising orders flowed from the state-run TV station RAI into Berlusconi’s pocket.
In the context of market liberalization in the West in the 1980s, in order to further suppress public opponents, Berlusconi established his own American film copyright library and advertising company, and quickly “dried up” RAI’s resources in the two major sectors of content production and commercial revenue . In a conservative Catholic country like Italy, he also launched an adult pornographic TV channel for the first time. In this way, the three national TV broadcasting networks under the name of Berlusconi, especially the TV broadcasting brand “Canale 5”, whose logo is derived from the “snake swallowing flower” logo in medieval Florence, finally crowded out the TV sets in Italian family living rooms. .
Berlusconi laid out his own TV station directory on the stage, giving advertisers the impression that Berlusconi controlled an entire national TV network. In the end, huge advertising orders flowed from the state-run TV station RAI into Berlusconi’s pocket.

While holding TV broadcasting resources, Berlusconi saw the public opinion and taste of the Italian audience from the advertising market data, and decided to intervene in politics. During the Cold War, Italy’s special geographical environment and strong patriarchal culture made it difficult for individuals without social roots and laymen working alone to enter the political arena. But in the 1990s, Italy’s party politics ushered in a round of reshuffle.
Declare war on the “deep state”

Against the background of the Cold War, various moderate left and right factions in Italy formed a “Christian Democratic Party” to maintain the majority in Congress, and excluded the pro-Soviet and pro-communist Italian Communist Party from forming a cabinet. Under the Christian Democratic Party, which is full of factions, the leaders produced by social organizations such as churches and labor unions have more power to speak than cabinet ministers. In their eyes, Berlusconi is just an “upstart” who runs a pornographic TV channel.
State television also hated him. Berlusconi recalled a phone call with Willi de Luca, then director of RAI: ​​”He resented my private broadcasting station for stealing his viewers. He threatened me that politicians would find him. My trouble is that sooner or later, the tax officials will come to check my account and find out what I have done. After the call, my legs can’t stop shaking.” Just like Trump today,
facing Regarding the “capital swamp” and the “deep state”, Berlusconi used his own media resources to allow people loyal to him to “shock” the state organs that hold power. In 1984, an Italian court issued an injunction, claiming that Berlusconi’s TV station had violated the Italian constitution, and several American versions of imported programs with high ratings were suspended.
In order to counteract, Berlusconi put the complaint telephone number of broadcasting management, the telephone number of RAI director’s office and the prime minister’s office telephone number on the TV screen, encouraging the audience to call and complain. All three hotlines were busy with a large number of incoming calls. The heads of the three agencies expressed their dismay, and finally succumbed to public opinion.
In the next five years, Italian courts issued injunctions three times, each time stopped by Berlusconi’s “only friend” in the political arena, the Social Democratic Prime Minister Bettino Classi. By 1992, Klassy was embroiled in a corruption scandal, one of which was an improper money deal with Berlusconi.
Klassie, who has lost power, can no longer shelter Lao Bei’s business empire. Lao Bei decided to “get off the stage in person” and moved his stage from television to politics.
congressional house of cards

From the end of World War II to the congressional election in 2022, Italy has produced 68 governments in 76 years, and the average life expectancy of each government is 1.1 years. Rachel Donadio, Chief European Correspondent of The New York Times, believes that the land of Italy seems to be inserted into the center of the Mediterranean Sea like a foot, where multiple powers in the southeast, north and west have been divided and ruled for a long time, which has led to public distrust of the national central government. Low levels of trust have contributed to the fragmentation of party politics in Italy’s parliament today.
After the end of the Cold War, it was no longer necessary to maintain the blockade against the Italian Communist Party, and the Christian Democrats quickly fell apart. “It’s my turn to end.” In 1994, Berlusconi became the prime minister for the first time. At this time, he was already the richest man in Italy and a cross-border tycoon who entered AC Milan. In a football-loving country like Italy, Berlusconi wants to use football traffic to cultivate a group of “die-hard voters”.
Berlusconi, known as the “rich prime minister”, listed such a “recipe” for future “populist politicians” before Trump emerged: use his acting talent to create personal charm, Let your personal charm overwhelm the authority of state institutions, create a group of diehard fans of your own, and let yourself gain the right to speak and public influence for a long time.
In Italy and the EU, there are many people who are dissatisfied with Berlusconi’s “cross-border take-all”. Italian scholar Veroli believes: “The huge media operation machine he controls is beyond the reach of any elected government head. He controls the political party created by himself. His followers are not fighting for a certain idea. , but to fight for his personal power.”
British political scientist James L. Neville called Old Bei “a Mussolini not like Mussolini” and contaminated him through the media empire. The way of power can be compared to the contemporary fascist seizure of power. But Berlusconi’s first cabinet, which was established in 1994, was a typical Italian short-lived cabinet, which collapsed only in May 1995.
After more than six years of political chaos, Italian voters once again chose Berlusconi, and the “rich prime minister” made a comeback. In a breezy televised live broadcast, Old Bay promised to bring political stability and economic development to Italy for a considerable period of time. Since then, the ups and downs of Berlusconi has become a player in Italian politics for more than 20 years. Today’s Italian female prime minister, Meloni, was once the youth minister in Berlusconi’s cabinet.
Patients with sequelae

Berlusconi has been entangled in various lawsuits since the period when he was preparing to build a private television broadcasting network. In 1992, he started a judicial tug-of-war with a group of lawyers and parliamentarians who were deeply dissatisfied with him in his hometown of Milan.

The group of lawyers has been digging old accounts for Berlusconi, starting with how he bought a stake in the real estate developer, to the way he won the tender for the apartment project for retirees in Milan, to the way he ran the television broadcasting network. In 1993, a large group of local bankers, municipal officials and real estate developers in Milan were sacked, including many financial service institutions that had money transactions with Lao Bei or gave loans to companies under his name. Berlusconi was finally approached by a series of tax officials, as the head of the RAI had threatened.
Berlusconi, with his ups and downs, has been a player in Italian politics for more than 20 years. Today’s Italian female prime minister, Meloni, was once the youth minister in Berlusconi’s cabinet.

As of the beginning of 2023, Old Bay is saddled with 35 judicial charges involving crimes. In addition to business and tax disputes, there have been allegations of pornography and illicit sexual relations. For example, in 2013, Lao Bei was accused of having a sexual relationship with an underage dancer in a big shop and sentenced to 7 years in prison. However, according to Italian law, the defendant’s judgment can only be executed after the lawsuit is over. Therefore, Lao Bei’s legal team adopted a procrastination strategy and used huge human and financial resources to launch various judicial tug-of-war.
The biggest scandal of Lao Bei was the pool party held in his private house for a long time, which was suspected of involving underage girls. The pool party scandal, dubbed the “bunga-bunga,” was devastating to Bay’s overseas reputation. In 2004, the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair went to Sardinia, Italy for vacation, but accidentally ran into Lao Bei on the beach. Facing the Italian Prime Minister who took the initiative to take a group photo, Blair hinted that his wife Cherie stood in the middle, thus avoiding the embarrassment caused by him shoulder to shoulder with Lao Bei.
In 2011, Italy was deeply involved in the European debt crisis and became one of the “European Pig Five”. People from all walks of life in the European Union pointed their fingers at Lao Bei, saying that he was incapable of governing the country. On November 10 of the same year, after speaking with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Sarkozy and the leaders of the EU institutions, Italian President Napolitano issued a request to Lao Bei to remove the prime minister.
In the view of Laobei supporters, Napolitano “fired” the democratically elected prime minister of his country after talking with the leaders of other countries on the phone, which is a manifestation of disrespect for democratic elections. Although it has since missed the prime ministership, Mr. Pei’s Forza Italia party has always been a force in the political arena, sometimes even a kingmaker, such as participating in the creation of the latest three parties led by the female prime minister Giorgia Meloni right-wing coalition.
In the 1980s, the label “Berlusconiism” was synonymous with self-efforts; today, the same word is synonymous with “populist politicians” who use their charisma to go all out to grab power. In addition to continuing to talk nonsense, Berlusconi, who is over eighty years old, is still keen on plastic surgery. Sometimes, this kind of personality that favors appearance more than interior has the opposite effect: his eyes have almost lost the whites after surgery, and coupled with the unnatural skin color processing, the whole person looks like a mummy.