Silvio Berlusconi

Prime Minister of Italy

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  • In-Country Power
  • International Power
  • Respect
  • Military Strength
  • Intelligence
  • Special Skill: Slippery Sliminess

Official Stats

  • Official Title: Prime Minister
  • Government: Well-Established democracy
  • Years Left in Office: No distinct term limit
  • Political Classification: Center-right
  • Education: BS/MS in Law
  • Age: 81 (born September 28, 1936)

Silvio Berlusconi Facts and Information

Important Points

  • Berlusconi is one of the richest men in Italy, having built a TV empire in which he still controls over half of Italian media
  • Berlusconi has been indicted on multiple counts of fraud and bribery, but has used his office to shield himself from prosecution
  • Berlusconi is center-right conservative and maintains popular support in Italy by espousing traditional values and populist Italian ideology
  • Italy is a top ten world economy and G-8, G-20, EU & NATO member, but has lost international credibility under Berluscon

The Rundown

Momma mia! Now that’s an Italian! An Italian greaseball that is!  Silvio Berlusconi is a billionaire, TV mogul, soccer-team owner, recipient of dozens of felony charges, perpetrator of thousands of ethical and social faux pas….oh, and he is the current Prime Minister of Italy! He is now the second longest-serving Prime Minister of the country, a position he has held on three separate occasions: from 1994 to 1995, from 2001 to 2006 and currently since 2008.  Silvio is also the leader of the People of Freedom political movement, a centre-right party he personally founded in 2009. The clown-prince of Italian politics, he is beloved by many, despised by many more, and has made Italy somewhat of a running joke on the world stage, which is kind of sad for such an awesome country. So what’s to know about Silvio?

Well, this dude has got more dough than every pizza-flipper in Italy combined: Forbes magazine has ranked him as the 74th richest man in the world with a net worth of $9 billion. But he started of humble beginnings, which plays to his devout fans and is part of his self-perpetuated cult of personality: born into a middle-class Milan family of bankers in 1936, Berlusconi went on to study law and advertising, and made money to pay the bills as an upright bass player on a cruise ship. Really? Yep. (Due to these musical inclinations, Slivio later wrote the anthem for soccer’s AC Milan…of course, he owns the team too.) But let’s get to the real story: how did he make all that money, which he then used to buy himself into politics?

In a word: TV. After he earned some coin building apartments complexes and trading real estate around Milan, Berlusconi started investing big time in television and media. Believing that TV was our children’s future, he set up a small cable company Telemilano in 1973. Originally a small PBS-like operation, it bought up several other channels, and became the base from which Berlusconi formed his first media group Finivest in 1978. Here is where things start to get fishy for our anchovy –eating friend….

This company went on to make upwards of $60 million bucks in just 5 years, and its acquisitions grew wildly as the dollars rolled in. The actual funding sources are still unknown because of the complex system of holding companies that makes them impossible to trace, despite investigations conducted by various state attorneys. In other words, no one really knows how legit all this operation was, and there are voracious rumors that there were possible mafia links and inputs into the operation. Silvio also used his millions to start peddling influence into Italian politics at this time, in order to get legislation passed which would further benefit his media empire. A sitting Prime Minister was the best man at one of Silvio’s weddings. Ew.

Eventually Finivest expanded into a country-wide network of local TV stations which had similar programming, forming, in effect, a single national network. That’s where the real money came in. This was the equivalent of Viacom over in Italy, and it earned Berlusconi millions even before he sold large shares of if to a German investor. Thus his meteoric rise to the upper echelon of Italian business and politics…but not without detractors: Berlusconi and his associates have been investigated and charged on a variety of indiscretions including mafia collusion, false accounting, tax fraud, corruption and bribery of police officers and judges. Double ew.

This guy is just not crazy, he is Italian television crazy…which is a fitting description since he now owns over half of the TV and media industries for the entire state (TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, etc)….a situation which makes him a master of the airways and able to put out whatever version of the truth he wants the Italian people to hear. It also helps when he runs for elections, as he inundates the airways about the aweseomeness that is Silvio, while denying other candidates access altogether.  I guess it’s democracy, albeit Italian-style democracy. According to The Economist’s findings, Berlusconi, while Prime Minister of Italy, has actually retained effective control of 90% of all national television broadcasting. Ew again.

So after controlling the television industry, what would you do next? Why take over the country! Entering the political arena was a natural evolution for Silvio, as he had spent decades cultivating influence in the government already. Coming into politics with the Forza Italia party in 1993, he espouses conservative center-right doctrine of “freedom, the individual, family, enterprise, Italian tradition, Christian tradition and love for weaker people,”  (his words.) He now heads the newly founded People of Freedom party, essentially based on the same conservative principles….although putting the words “Berlusconi” and “principles” in the same sentence is borderline oxymoronic.

This man has a rap sheet that would make Tupac blush: affairs, payoffs, bribes, felony charges, just to name a few. There have been accusations of bribery of judges in 2001 while trying to delay the course of the other trials against him. Then there have been on-and-off trials for false accounting and corruption….many of which have been dropped because his office actually changed the law to prevent him being prosecuted. Yes, those are the most recent heinous acts of his administration: they are changing the laws so that he cannot be tried for anything, possibly ever. Triple ew.

But let’s get off all that legal stuff and media monopoly abuse and get to Berlusconi the fun-loving Prime Minister and prankster! Married and divorced multiple times, he has been busted paying escorts to hang out at state parties, and when openly accused of hiring hookers, the 70-year old Berlusconi responded that he would never, ever pay for sex, because to do so “would take the fun out of the hunt.” Wow. Think that’s offensive? Dig this: Silvio has also referred to US President Barack Obama as “a very tanned fellow, he has a very good tan” not once, but twice. He also has his personal paparazzi with him at every international event like the G-8 or G-20 meetings to get pictures taken of him with every world leader: he obsessively hams it up in front of cameras at every opportunity. His entire existence is one long PR event which feeds into his larger than life TV personality. It’s like he leads Italy as if he is starring in a reality TV show. Hmmm….maybe he should look into that: a combo of ‘Italy’s got Talent’ with ‘Italian Big Brother’ and ‘Cops’; the ratings would be insane.

So why the long diatribe about such a greasy go-getter? Well, Italy is an important country, and Silvio leads it! Italy is a top ten world economy, staunch ‘Team West’ player and US ally, is a NATO country (has troops in Afghanistan), G-8 and G-20 member, and major power within the EU. At the risk of offending my Italian friends, I must be honest with you here: Italy has really become a world-wide joke under the leadership of Berlusconi. Their economy is border-line collapsing (much like what just happened in Greece), corruption is rampant, they are politically divided internally, and the major world powers have all but completely given up on any hope of Italy being a serious force for leadership on the international stage. When you have a leader whose primary goal at a G-8 meeting is getting a photo op with Obama, you really can’t be taken too seriously.

Combine his international clown-prince aura, with his administration changing laws which make Berlusconi immune to the laws of his own country, along with his awesome media empire which makes for a fantastic propaganda machine, and you have the makings of an Italian Prime Minister like no other…one that outsiders hope Italy can survive.  But don’t let me suggest that the Italians themselves feel the same way as I do. Momma mia!, he is so over the top Italian, that they love him! At least half of them do anyway….the half that keeps putting him back in office despite the flailing economy, despite the scandals and felony charges, despite the country’s loss of credibility on the world stage.

I guess when all is said and done, Berlusconi is to Italy what George W. Bush was to the US: fanatically supported by half of his fellow countrymen, but roundly condemned by the vast majority of the rest of the planet. And like Bush in the US, the world seems flabbergasted that the Italians keep putting the dude back in office. I just like to also point out that one not necessarily always equate poor leadership, megalomania, and corruption only to poor African countries….because Italy has got it too, and is entrenched right there in the middle of the rich world! Que bella! Not!

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