Geopolitics

Will Marina Berlusconi Carry On The Dynasty?

The eldest daughter of the disgraced prime minister controls the family businesses with an iron fist. The question is whether she'll decide to bring the same passion to politics.

Family comes first
Family comes first
Maria Corbi

TURIN — She would do anything for her father. In fact, she already has. But Marina Berlusconi really wants to avoid going into politics. She has said it would be a huge sacrifice, above all because of her love for her three children: Gabriele, Silvio and the business. The business is Fininvest, a financial holding company controlled by the Berlusconi family where Marina serves as president.

She is also the one who puts her children to bed at night. Cinderella, Peter Pan and the birth of the family empire are their bedtime stories. Marina Berlusconi's zodiac sign is Leo, represented by fire, and the 46-year-old has a temperament to match. She has always supported her father, no questions asked. And right now, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Berlusconi’s tax fraud conviction, the future of the man — and his party — may be in her hands.

Her physical appearance may suggest fragility, but from her 12-centimeter heels she leads the company troops like a general and, according to those who know her, she would revolutionize the party and its recruitment process if she entered politics. The hawks of her father's Forza Italia party are calling for her to get involved, but that could prove a bitter surprise.

Just ask Rupert Murdoch. Marina was the one who blocked the sale of one of her family's companies to the media magnate. Or Barbara Berlusconi, Marina’s half-sister from Berlusconi’s second marriage, who wanted to work for Mondadori, Italy's largest book and magazine company where Marina is chairman. “Today no one’s position is secure, not even the daughter of the boss.”

Finding her place

She asks a lot of herself, and of others. Her education was rather unusual, as was her childhood, much of which was spent under protection because of her father's political career. She later started, but failed to complete, studies in law and political science. But ultimately she discovered her vocation: business.

When in March 1998 Silvio Berlusconi refused Rupert Murdoch’s offer to buy their TV and entertainment company Mediaset, it became clear that she wasn’t just the daughter of the boss, but in fact a true company leader. “The heart prevailed,” Berlusconi said at the time. Or rather, Marina did. From then on, there was no doubt about her influence.

As soon as she became president of Fininvest, she set about choosing her top managers, opting for people she considered “salaried thinkers.” And they have a very symbiotic relationship with her. “Dad told me: ‘The managing director must have the same relationship with you as I have with Gianni Letta,’” the uncle of current Italian prime minister Enrico Letta and a close advisor to Berlusconi. The rumor mill claims that she is taking lessons in politics — and only one man could be her teacher: her father.

All in the family

Silvio and Marina Berlusconi aren't just a father and daughter, but also a team. They are bound by ties of affection, obviously, but also of mutual respect. Every cutting remark made about her father also affects Marina. She criticizes him too, sometimes savagely, but only in private.

Family comes first for Marina. Her mother Carla Dall’Oglio taught her the art of discretion. She adores and protects her brother, Pier Silvio, with whom she shares the family businesses and the fight to keep control, which is being contested by the children of Silvio’s second wife Veronica Lario — Luigi, Eleonora and Barbara.

Beyond the gossip and questions of succession, Marina actually has an affectionate relationship with her half-siblings. But she has no contact with their mother Veronica. She has few friends. Those she does have are often invited to her villa on the Cote d’Azur, a few kilometers from Saint Tropez, where her yacht is moored. Here she feels normal, like she does at her house in Bermuda, avoiding — quite rightly — the paparazzi and the high society circles in Sardinia.

Marina always seems to be fighting for a kind of impossible normality. And for respect, both in business and elsewhere. She is asked questions that, instead of focusing on her work, dwell on her habits and obsessions: her backcombed hair (“If I left if flat, I would look exactly like my father”), the very high heels, the figure without an ounce of fat. Pasta is banned in her house, and the gym sessions are long.

Forbes calls Marina Berlusconi one of the most powerful businesswomen in the world. By day she wears a trouser suit and a white shirt as she strides through the Fininvest offices. In the evening, she can be found at home cooking dinner for her children and husband Maurizio Vanadia, a former ballet dancer at the famous Scala opera house in Milan who has a sculptured physique and a total veneration for his wife.

It was love at first sight for both of them. Marina told the story of their first meeting to her friend Alfonso Signorini, also director of Chi, a weekly gossip magazine: “I still remember it. He was playing the role of the evil Rothbart in Swan Lake. He was incredibly beautiful. I was leaning so far out of the box to follow him with the binoculars that my mom kept elbowing me: ‘Be careful or you’ll fall out!’”

No one would have bet on Marina being such a success in business, but she proved them wrong. The question is, will she do the same in politics?

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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