- Berlusconi, Silvio
born Sept. 29, 1936, Milan, ItalyItalian media tycoon and prime minister in 1994 and again from 2001.After graduating from the University of Milan, he became a real estate developer, amassing a considerable fortune by the 1970s. By the 1990s he owned more than 150 businesses, including three television networks and Italy's largest publishing house. In 1994 he founded Forza Italia, a conservative political party, and was elected prime minister. Faced with conflict of interest and other charges, he resigned in December 1994. He was later convicted of fraud and corruption, though he was acquitted of tax evasion. Despite the convictions and criticism of his control of much of the Italian media, he remained the leader of Forza Italia and again became prime minister in 2001.
* * *▪ 2002On June 11, 2001, Italian media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, a tycoon with an estimated fortune of over $10 billion, was sworn in as the country's new prime minister after his centre-right alliance, the House of Freedoms, scored a resounding victory in the May 13 general elections. His installation followed more than six years of leading the opposition. Though Berlusconi was an articulate and dynamic figure, controversy surrounded him; his numerous entanglements with the judiciary were coupled with the seeming incompatibility of his roles as both a leading politician and Italy's most powerful media magnate. Once in office, he pledged swift action to regulate such “potential conflicts of interest.” Following the September 11 attacks, he was quick to offer support to the U.S., but he courted controversy again when in a speech given in Berlin he asserted that Western civilization was superior to the Islamic world. He later said his remarks, which were denounced by European Union and Muslim leaders, were taken out of context.Berlusconi was born on Sept. 29, 1936, in Milan. As a youth he engaged in moneymaking ventures by putting on puppet shows and then by charging for “ghosting” homework assignments for his classmates. As a law student at the University of Milan, he paid for his tuition by selling vacuum cleaners and by crooning (backed by his own band) on summer cruises. After obtaining a loan from the bank that employed his father, he launched a successful real-estate-development concern in Milan, reportedly with the help of local socialist politicians. The bulk of his fortune, however, was made in television. In 1978 he circumvented a law that guaranteed the national monopoly of RAI, the state TV network, and set up rival TV stations. Then, aided by the socialist government (1983–87) of Bettino Craxi, a friend from university, Berlusconi acquired three national TV channels. They formed the foundation of an empire that soon spanned advertising; the print media; publishing; a supermarket chain; insurance; TV channels in France, Germany, and Spain; and an association football (soccer) team—AC Milan.Berlusconi launched into politics in 1993. Exploiting a gap left by a corruption scandal that wiped out the old political order, he founded the conservative populist Forza Italia (“Go, Italy”) movement to fight off a growing challenge from the left wing. After relinquishing his positions in the Fininvest Group, his giant holding company, Berlusconi led the right-wing Freedom Alliance, headed by Forza Italia, to a landslide election triumph in 1994. His government fell after seven months, however, when a vital coalition ally defected amid charges of corruption in Berlusconi's business empire. Since1994 Berlusconi had been involved in some nine court cases for financial misdeeds ranging from bribing judges to tax evasion. Though proceedings were dropped in four cases, near year's end five cases were still pending, one of them in Spain. Berlusconi, however, rejected all charges, claiming they sprang from a political conspiracy against him by the left wing.Derek Wilson▪ 1995Since the end of World War II, Italy had had more than 50 governments and more than its share of colourful and controversial politicians. In the elections of March 1994, the victory of the coalition led by the Forza Italia party introduced yet another player to the great game of Italian politics—Italy's new prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.A 58-year-old business tycoon and founder and leader of Forza Italia, Berlusconi brought to the political arena the same skills he had used in building a vast financial empire, portraying himself and his party as an efficient and businesslike alternative to the corruption and cronyism endemic in Italian politics. Many observers pointed out, however, that Berlusconi had benefited from the same system that he promised to reform and suggested that his web of business interests would conflict with his duties as prime minister.Berlusconi was born on Sept. 29, 1936, in Milan. After graduating from the University of Milan, he entered the property-development business, where he took advantage of the booming Milanese real estate market to amass a considerable fortune by the 1970s. Berlusconi soon decided to expand the scope of his business interests. In 1974 he created Telemilano, a cable television firm, and four years later he mounted the first direct challenge to the national television monopoly. By 1980 he had established Canale 5, the first commercial television network in Italy. He also steadily diversified his business holdings, acquiring department stores, movie theatres, publishing companies, and the AC Milan soccer team. He consolidated his empire under the umbrella of the Fininvest holding company, a vast conglomerate that grew to control more than 150 businesses.In January 1994 Berlusconi turned his talents to politics. Bribery and corruption scandals had devastated the ruling coalition of Christian Democrats and Socialists. Amid popular cries for reform, Berlusconi founded Forza Italia and announced his candidacy for the national legislature. Running on a platform of free enterprise and individual initiative, he inveighed against bureaucracy and governmental interference in private business. To this end he allied himself with the right-wing Northern League and the neo-Fascist National Alliance. In the March 28 elections, this coalition, known as the Freedom Alliance, won a majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies. As leader of the majority party of the ruling coalition, he was sworn in as prime minister on May 11.The new prime minister's honeymoon was short-lived, however. Opponents charged Berlusconi with conflicts of interest, and in December magistrates formally questioned him regarding past business practices. Faced with a no-confidence vote, Berlusconi resigned on December 22, although he remained at the head of a caretaker government. (JOHN H. MATHEWS)
* * *▪ Italian media magnate and prime ministerborn Sept. 29, 1936, Milan, ItalyItalian media tycoon who served three times as prime minister of Italy (1994; 2001–06; 2008– ).After graduating from the University of Milan with a degree in law, Berlusconi became a real-estate developer, amassing a considerable fortune by the 1970s. He created the cable television firm Telemilano in 1974 and four years later mounted the first direct challenge to the national television monopoly. In 1980 he established Canale 5, Italy's first commercial television network, and by the end of the decade Berlusconi-created stations dominated Italian airwaves. Berlusconi also diversified his business holdings, acquiring department stores, movie theatres, publishing companies, and the AC Milan football team. He consolidated his empire under the umbrella of the Finivest holding company, a vast conglomerate that grew to control more than 150 businesses.In 1994 Berlusconi founded Forza Italia (“Go, Italy!”), a conservative political party, and was elected prime minister. His tenure proved turbulent. Shortly after he took office in May 1994, officials launched a corruption investigation into his business empire, and disputes within the governing coalition culminated in the Lega Nord (Northern League) party's defection in December. Facing a no-confidence vote, Berlusconi announced his resignation on Dec. 22, 1994, but stayed on in a caretaker capacity until January 1995. He was later convicted of fraud and corruption, but the verdicts were eventually overturned. Despite these charges and criticism of his control of much of the Italian media, he remained the leader of Forza Italia. Promising tax cuts, more jobs, and higher pensions, he led a centre-right coalition to victory in the 2001 national parliamentary elections and again became prime minister.Once in office, Berlusconi faced a number of challenges. He supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq (Iraq War), and his decision to send troops became increasingly unpopular, especially after an Italian intelligence agent was killed by U.S. forces in 2005 (see Iraq War). Berlusconi also faced criticism as the country's economy continued to struggle. After his coalition fared poorly in regional elections in 2005, Berlusconi resigned and won a vote of confidence in parliament. He subsequently formed a new government. In April 2006 he ran for reelection, but his coalition was defeated by a centre-left bloc headed by Romano Prodi (Prodi, Romano). Berlusconi challenged the results, and an Italian court later upheld Prodi's victory. Berlusconi resigned in May. Less than two years later, however, Prodi stepped down after losing a confidence vote. In the national elections held in April 2008, Berlusconi—at the helm of a new party known as the People of Freedom (Popolo della Libertà; PdL)—won a third term as prime minister. He and his centre-right cabinet took office in May.
* * *