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Silvio Berlusconi, The Impossible Biography

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's death at the age of 86 reveals his complexity as both a public and political figure — in Italy and beyond. The author, who has tried in vain to write Berlusconi's biography, sifts through the truth behind the many myths.

Image of ​Silvio Berlusconi at the EPP Congress in 2017

Silvio Berlusconi at the EPP Congress in 2017

EPP / Flickr
Mattia Feltri


ROME — A few years ago, a friend suggested that I write a biography of Silvio Berlusconi — the kind that becomes indispensable to consult and cite every time Berlusconi is mentioned, like the biography of Julius Caesar written last century by French historian Jérome Carcopino.

This undertaking presented two problems. One was immediate: unfortunately, I don't have the stature of a Carcopino. The other, bigger problem showed up shortly after: Berlusconi has such a long history in politics, with so much written about him, that it becomes impossible to separate truth from legend.

For a couple of days, I dedicated myself to drafting the topics I wanted to cover. Very simple: Berlusconi is a politician, Berlusconi is an entrepreneur, Berlusconi is a sportsman.

I immediately added Berlusconi and the judiciary. This chapter was already long and complex: the investigations against him on charges of corruption, tax evasion, proximity to the Mafia, even the 1993 mob-linked killings in Milan, and many more topics.

Trying to frame Berlusconi as a politician immediately gave me hell, looking at his long career. Berlusconi and TV was already by itself a book of 400 pages. Berlusconi and soccer was another 300 pages. Berlusconi and the women in his life, his friends, his family, his connection to culture, his relationship to his wealth, his houses, his enemies and more.

The above prologue to this article quickly gets long, and was nothing compared to the original book outline, which I continued to enrich with other sections.

And so I gave up. If done right, I think it's a three-year job that requires full-time attention and dedication.

A writer's challenge

It was not just the abnormal amount of issues to dissect, but also, how to divide them. Is it possible to separate the real estate mogul from the politician, the TV man from the football man, the man of the world from the criminal defendant, the private from the public?

Doubts pile up.

And as doubts piled up, a final obstacle was added: polarization. Not so much the polarization raised in the country, but the polarization in me who, immersed in my projects, alternated moments of irresistible repulsion with moments of interminable fascination. How was I to achieve the detachment necessary to face such an enormous subject?

When the resolutions had not yet been abandoned, I had thought of dividing the book into two parts: the winner and the loser. More polarization.

TV and AC Milan

Berlusconi even polarized himself. The world before Berlusconi was one thing and the world after him was another. His media presence was to Italy what Michael Jackson and Steven Spielberg have been to America: when the party started. Berlusconi turned everything upside-down.

But when I write of the impossibility of separating one Berlusconi from another, I am thinking precisely of his Channel 5 network, which in 1981, began broadcasting the Mundialito, a friendly soccer tournament invented by Berlusconi, to create new TV licensing opportunities after decades of monopoly by state broadcaster RAI. That is the precise moment in which soccer was no longer a sport, but a show. That's it. Over. Stop.

Football, which was a stadium event, begins to transform into a televised event. The advertising revenue would be staggering. Berlusconi's purchase of the AC Milan team becomes consequential. But for the mogul's dizzying brain, the team is not playing for the TV. He wants to win, beat the competition.

As soon as he purchased the club, Berlusconi said that it had to become the best and most beautiful in the world. Sounds like a motivational speech from the perfect manager. Instead, it was a prediction and a promise.

Advertising and marketing exploded and cable TV showed the live championship. For 15 years, led by Milan, Italian teams dominated Europe.

Image of a \u200bprotest against Berlusconi in Rome 2009

Protest against Berlusconi in Rome 2009

Erik il Rosso / Flickr

Replicating an old lesson

His final undertaking, the least successful, was politics. His party, Forza Italia, swept away the opposition with a communication made up of slogans, video clips and commercial optimism. As a result, the party won the 1994 elections. Berlusconi seemed unstoppable. Everything he touches begins to shine.

His television network Mediaset and football club Milan were his own masterpieces, but the vision he built for the country was a failure.

Today, Italian politics is entirely the result and remains of Berlusconi. We live on polls, for the digital evolution, likes and followers, we live on video clips – perhaps in the form of Facebook live broadcasts or monologues for Instagram and TikTok – we live on jokes. The scandalous Forza Italia has generated other Italian political parties.

But nobody in Italy (or beyond?) knows how to go beyond Berlusconi. They take the new tools to replicate an old lesson.

Emperor's decline

Even in this, we all remained a product of Berlusconi. Not even he would have predicted his impact. He completely missed the digital revolution. His three networks live on old glories for a hoary audience. He arrived last and failed with pay TV. Streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are the daily source of entertainment for today's kids.

And what about Putin?

With Milan, he experienced a long and slow decline, mimicking the decline of his television empire. It was made up of bad player acquisitions, supporting championships and above all, economic resources no longer aligned with his ambitions.

His allies on the political right, from Giorgia Meloni to Matteo Salvini, scrambled behind him with his weapons, just adapted to the smartphone, not the television.

And what about his scandalous flirting with Putinism even through Russia's all-out invasion of Ukraine? It was not anti-Atlantism, but nostalgia, or more likely self-imprisonment in the past in which Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush exchanged a peace sign, and he was the high priest.

Berlusconi was a man who changed the world and, when he no longer knew how to change it, he refused to change with the world. He preferred to remain on the throne surrounded by his own mythology, the most important of the many illusions he created.

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Kosovo, A New Theater For Russia's War With The West?

After meeting with the Russian ambassador, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić has now demanded NATO take over security in northern Kosovo, days after a deadly shootout between Serbian gunmen and Kosovar police. The violent clash has raised tensions in the Balkan region, with some Russian authorities drawing parallels with another European conflict — the one in Ukraine.

image of Wagner and Russian flags

Wagner is on their way to Kosovo, Wagner Telegram channels announced.

Michal Kubala

The deadly clash in northern Kosovo on Sunday is reverberating far beyond the Balkans. At first glance, distant histories seem to be repeating: World War I starting in Sarajevo, the breakup of Yugoslavia drove 1990s geopolitics.

Yet there may be much more recent history at play: is the conflict linked to the war in Ukraine?

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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The latest incident began with ethnic Serb gunmen blocking a bridge with armored vehicles and opening fire on approaching Kosovar policemen, killing one officer. The gunmen then barricaded themselves in a monastery, where at least three were killed by sniper fire. The incident has escalated tensions between Kosovo and Serbia that have been festering for years.

Indeed, Kosovo has long accused Serbia of receiving Russian support to destabilize the Balkans. Belgrade meanwhile has alleged ethnic cleansing of Serbians in Kosovo, and has refused to recognize Kosovo’s unilateral proclamation of independence, withome of the rhetoric has harkening back to the prelude to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Is Russia behind the latest incident? If the situation blows up in the Balkans, could there be spillover that escalates the showdown between Moscow and NATO?

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