ROME — Adored, scorned, impossible to ignore in life, former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi in death drew tributes even from his critics, and ever more lavish praise from admirers, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as prayers from Pope Francis.
Following word of Berlusconi’s death on Monday in a Milan hospital, where he was being treated for chronic leukemia, reaction poured in from around the world, from national leaders to announcers who burst into tears on one of his television networks, for the populist three-time premier and media mogul.
Here are some of the reactions:
— In a condolence telegram, Putin hailed Berlusconi as a “patriarch” of Italian politics and a true patriot who had improved Italy‘s standing on the world stage.
“I have always sincerely admired his wisdom, his ability to make balanced, far-sighted decisions even in the most difficult situations,” Putin said in the telegram released by the Kremlin. “During each of our meetings, I was literally charged with his incredible vitality, optimism and sense of humor.”
Berlusconi hosted Putin twice at one of his Sardinia Emerald Coast villas, and the Russian reciprocated, including with a stay at Putin’s dacha. For Berlusconi’s last birthday in September, Putin gifted him bottles of vodka, even as the Italian government staunchly backed Ukraine in the war against the Russian invasion.
“Undoubtedly, he was a politician of the European and the world scale,” Putin said. “There are few such people in the international arena now. He was a great friend of our people and did a lot to develop business, friendly relations between Russia and European countries.” Berlusconi had expressed reservations about sanctions against Russian interests over the invasion.
— Former U.S. President George W. Bush, in a message from Kennebunkport, Maine, recalled Berlusconi as a “vibrant leader with a personality to match. (Wife) Laura and I were fortunate to spend a good deal of time with him during my presidency. There was never a dull moment with Silvio. He strengthened the friendship between Italy and the United States, and we are grateful for his commitment to our important alliance. Laura and I send our condolences to the Berlusconi family and the people of Italy.”
— Far-right Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, whose coalition government’s junior partners include the Forza Italia party Berlusconi founded three decades ago, bid him “farewell, Silvio” in a video statement carried on Italian television. With his passing, “a great European political leader and a great Italian is gone. His intuitions, his battles, his commitment transformed our nation and opened spaces for authentic liberty.”
— Pope Francis, in a condolence telegram sent to Berlusconi’s eldest daughter, Marina Berlusconi, assured his closeness to all the family. The pontiff said that the late premier had carried out “public responsibilities with an energetic temperament.” Francis prayed that God grant “eternal peace for him and consolation of the heart for those who weep for his passing.” Francis said he joined in the condolences “with a fervent remembrance in prayer.”
— The Biden administration extended its condolences to Berlusconi’s family, friends “and to the government and people of Italy,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “The prime minister worked closely with several U.S. administrations on advancing our bilateral relationship. We stand with the people of Italy today.”
— Tony Blair, a former U.K. prime minister, in a statement recalled his many interactions with Berlusconi. “Silvio was a larger-than-life figure with whom I worked closely for several years as Prime Minister. I know he was controversial for many but for me he was a leader whom I found capable, shrewd and, most important, true to his word.”
— Former center-left Italian Premier Romani Prodi, who in 2006 narrowly defeated Berlusconi in an election to take the premiership, said that their rivalry “never exceeded into enmity on the personal level, keeping the confrontation in a context of reciprocal respect.” A former European Commission president, Prodi expressed appreciation for Berlusconi’s “support for the pro-Europe cause, above all because it was confirmed and reiterated in a period in which our common European destiny was harshly and unwisely under accusation.”
— “We had our political differences but on a personal level, he was always charming and engaging company,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister and former NATO secretary-general, said of Berlusconi.
— Italian President Sergio Mattarella, whose role as head of state was coveted by Berlusconi — he sought unsuccessfully in recent years to be chosen by Parliament for that position — in his tribute described the former premier as a “protagonist of long seasons of Italian politics.
“Berlusconi was a great political leader who marked the history of our republic, influencing its paradigms, customs and language,” Mattarella said.
— Former center-left Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, who now heads a centrist opposition party, recalled Berlusconi’s divisive legacy in a message on Twitter. “Silvio Berlusconi made history in this country. Many loved him, many hated him. All must recognize that his impact on political life, but also economic, sport and television, has been without precedence.”
— European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted about her sadness. Berlusconi “led Italy in a time of political transition and since then continued to shape his beloved country. I extend my condolences to his family and the Italian people.”
— French President Emmanuel Macron said Berlusconi was “a great entrepreneur, and he left his mark on Italian political life over the last few decades, and we send the Italian people and the Italian government our condolences.”
— Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, Berlusconi’s top Forza Italia official, said the late premier was a “precious engine of ideas.” “Berlusconi changed the history of our country,” he said.
__In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Berlusconi “obviously a tremendously significant figure in the life of Italy, in the political life, in the public life of the country. Many American administrations worked with him over the years.”
— Fabrizio Marrazzo, a spokesperson for Italy’s Gay Party, recalled Berlusconi as “a liberal person who contributed to the dissemination of LGBT+ issues on his television networks,” including the first television interviews in Italy with gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans people. Still, Marrazzo noted that Berlusconi’s solidarity on the political front sometimes wavered. In 2010, buffeted by sex scandals over his partying with women decades younger, Berlusconi offended many with his remark that it was “better to be passionate about a beautiful girl than a gay.”
— On one of the three private television networks in Berlusconi’s media empire, a pair of announcers hosting a live morning talk show choked up and shed tears when giving the audience the news of his death. Outside one of Berlusconi’s villas, in Arcore, near Milan, someone placed a scarf from AC Milan soccer club, which Berlusconi had long owned, next to bouquets of flowers.
This story has been corrected to show that the spelling of the Gay Party spokesperson’s last name is Marrazzo, not Marazzo.