By Gonzalo Sanchez
Milan, Italy, Jun 14 (EFE).- Few people in Italy have been as controversial as former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who died on Monday at age 86, however today his countrymen bade farewell to him with honors at a state funeral at the Milan Cathedral, a ceremony that brought together the top authorities in the country, his large family and many of his vast number of supporters.
It had seemed that this would never happen, since Berlusconi has been an integral part of Italian politics for the last three decades, a period during which he weathered all sorts of controversies and entered Italian homes virtually every day via television.
His family held a strictly private wake for him at his villa in the town of Arcore, on the outskirts of Milan, but three days after his death a state funeral was held for him with the highest honors, as he would have wanted.
On Wednesday afternoon, his casket was transported across the city by hearse to the cathedral, where his five childen – Marina, Pier Silvio, Barbara, Eleonora and Luigi – were waiting, along with his most recent girlfriend, 33-year-old lawmaker Marta Fascina, who wept inconsolably.
The casket was accorded full military honors and the flags on the plaza – and across Italy – flew at half staff.
In the street, which was closed off with metal gates, thousands of Berlusconi’s supporters had been waiting since early in the day despite the heat, and they burst into cheers as soon as the hearse drove up.
“One president, there’s only one president,” hundreds of his soccer fans chanted, grateful for the dozens of trophies in the sport that Berlusconi – the former owner of the AC Milan soccer club and current owner of Monza – garnered over the years.
Inside the gothic cathedral, more than 2,000 people were waiting, among them politicians – both allies and adversaries – businessmen, government officials from Italy and other European nations, well-known personalities from all walks of life, as well as Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella.
The casket was placed before the altar amid white and red flowers, their green leaves adding the third color of the Italian flag, and with an official photo of Berlusconi prominently on display.
A short distance away, in the front pew along with family members was Fascina, who was with Berlusconi during his recent health difficulties and right up until the end.
Next to her were the billionaire’s five children, with his eldest daughter Marina, the president of the family holding company Fininvest, caressing the overwrought Fascina on the shoulder.
Pier Silvio, the head of the Mediaset mass media company, Italy’s largest commercial broadcaster, and the product of Berlusconi’s first marriage to Carla Dall’Oglio, along with the three more discreet offspring, Barbara, Eleonora and Luigi, the children of the politician and actress Veronica Lario, sat in the second row keeping an eye on his 15 grandchildren.
In the vicinity was Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, supported by a coalition of rightist parties including the one founded by Berlusconi, Forza italia, and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, an ally of both the deceased and the current PM.
Among the others attending the funeral service was European economic commissioner and former Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and Hungarian PM Viktor Orban.
Monsignor Mario Delpini delivered the funeral homily, recalling the futility of human existence, stripping away the transitory importance of success and popularity.
“Certainly, Berlusconi was a politician, a businessman, a notorious character, but at this moment of farewell and prayer, what can we say about him? That he was a man. (He had) a desire for life, love and joy. This is what we can say about him, that he was a man who will now meet God,” Delpini declared.
The state funeral, broadcast live on Italian public TV, closes the “Era of Berlusconi,” a charismatic politician who emerged on the national scene in 1994 after the collapse of the Second Republic, the postwar political system that had been hollowed out by corruption.
But the end of the era is also the beginning of an uncertain period for the magnate’s business and political empire.
In the first place, the future of his huge business empire worth more than 6 billion euros ($6.5 billion) – including the Fininvest companies, Mediaset and the Monza soccer club, along with numerous properties and villas throughout Italy – must still be clarified.
But Berlusconi’s long shadow will continue to influence national politics, with nobody knowing at this stage what will happen with Forza Italia, for which 8 percent of Italians cast their votes last year – down from 14 percent in 2018 – and which is currently leaderless.
Although the party is going through hard times at present, having lost great influence, it is still important to Meloni’s conservative coalition.
That may be why, as soon as Berlusconi’s death became known, the premier quickly promised that her government would survive and that she would continue to work to achieve the goals she had set for herself with Berlusconi, who was always focused on how to achieve and exercise political power.
Reportedly, Berlusconi’s body will be cremated and his ashes interred in the family mausoleum on the grounds of his villa in Arcore.