ROME (AP) — Adored, scorned, impossible to ignore in life, former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi in death drew tributes even from critics, and ever more lush 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 has 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.
— 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.”
— 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.”
— “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.”
— 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.”
— 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 long had owned, next to bouquets of flowers.
The Associated Press