He did this with a televised message conveyed to all the national newspapers and TV channels. This was deemed an obvious choice for a media mogul and publisher who was only too aware of the potential of mass communication and the influence it could exercise.
“Italy is the land that I love,” the magnate declared, before announcing that he was to scendere in campo (take the field), a sports-related term which became emblematic of Berlusconi and his political battle. “I want to devote myself to public service because I do not want to live in an illiberal country governed by immature forces and by men bound to a past which proved to be a political and economic failure."
In the aftermath of Mani Pulite (a nationwide judicial investigation into political corruption), Berlusconi wanted to epitomise the man with a new approach. He would bring on change by abandoning old-style politics. The ambitious entrepreneur already bore the title of Cavaliere del lavoro (bestowed on those who have distinguished themselves in their work) and he was proud to hail from the “productive class” of the country. The man left “orphaned” after Tangentopoli (corruption scandal involving government ministers, industrialists and businessmen) and bereft of friendly political parties and cronies who could serve his interests, pledged to “create a new Italian miracle”.
The billionaire’s image as a modern, self-made man and the massive campaign launched on his own television networks were among the factors which would bring Forza Italia to victory in the May 1994 elections. Berlusconi had formed alliances with Umberto Bossi’s Lega Nord (Northern League), Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance), the centrally-positioned heirs of the DC (Christian Democracy) and the extreme right wing MSI (Italian Socialist Movement), which had never been in government before.
Berlusconi would become prime minister a further three times: twice consecutively between 2001 and 2005, and 2005 and 2006, and the last time between 2008 and 2011.
The longest-serving prime minister, with almost twenty years’ continuous presence in Parliament, remained in the Senate until 2013 when he was removed from office following a conviction for tax fraud during the Processo Mediaset (Mediaset trial).
These twenty years, fraught with judicial enquiries, scandals and controversy, had however, markedly affected Italian politics and society. The impact was so great that it resulted in the formation of a political neologism: Berlusconismo.
But who exactly was Silvio Berlusconi at that point in time when he decided to enter politics? The enterprising young Silvio began his career selling vacuum cleaners and built a quite a reputation as a crooner, first in nightclubs and subsequently on cruise ships.
He had then embarked on construction projects, creating amongst other things, the residential precinct of Segrate, called Milano 2. By putting pressure on Rome, he even managed to shift the flight paths of Linate Airport which passed over the “model suburb”. Milano 2, where television was transmitted via cable to the installation of unsightly antennas, was also home to the fledgling Telemilanocavo, which became Telemilano 58, and later evolved into Canale 5, part of Mediaset. Mediaset was the first company to challenge the monopoly of Italy's state-owned broadcaster, RAI.
By the time Berlusconi “took to the political field” at the age of 58, he was a tycoon. He was president of the Fininvest and Mondadori companies and moved within various sectors of the business world, dealing with substantial amounts of money and mingling with very influential people.
When, in 1984, a magistrate ruled that Berlusconi's three national television networks were broadcasting illegally, the then prime minister - and close friend - Bettino Craxi rushed through a decree to get them back on air again.
Silvio Berlusconi also owned the A.C. Milan Football Club. After stripping De Benedetti of his position at Mondadori, apparently by way of a bribe offered to a magistrate, the shrewd businessman became the biggest publisher in Italy.
Berlusconi remains a powerful man, with powerful friends. Today he is Italy’s fifth wealthiest man according to the Forbes Rich List (2016).
But the Italian media tycoon and politician has also been embroiled in over 20 court cases, some involving tax fraud, corruption, collusion with the Mafia, balance sheet fraud, embezzlement and underage prostitution.
Silvio Berlusconi has been barred from holding public office but remains the head of the Forza Italia party. We may not have seen the last of him yet...