Berlusconi fans gather at hospital to mourn ‘immortal’ icon

A banner praising Italy’s ‘greatest prime minister’ outside Milan’s San Raffaele hospital – Copyright POOL/AFP Ian Vogler

Caroline BORDECQ

“He will always be with us,” said 75-year-old Carla Ballarini as fans of Silvio Berlusconi draped in the flags of Forza Italia and  AC Milan gathered on Monday outside the Milan hospital where he died.

“He is immortal,” said Ballarini, who rushed to the San Raffaele hospital when she heard of the death of the founder of the right-wing Forza Italia party and former owner of football giant AC Milan.

“My family and I always admired him — for his generosity, his kindness and everything he did for us,” she said of the controversial former prime minister and billionaire media mogul. 

Journalists, curious onlookers and fans stood in the hot sun outside the hospital, which was visited by Berlusconi’s brother and three daughters early in the day.

Some said they had come to pay their respects to a man who left an indelible mark on his country.

Others hoped to catch a glimpse of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, in case she decided to make the trip from Rome to the northern city.

Samuele Nebulioni, a 22-year-old student in international relations, arrived with a bouquet of flowers.

He said the leader of Forza Italia — a sometimes troublesome junior partner in Meloni’s hard-right coalition — was “the greatest liberal in Italian history”.

He recalled Berlusconi locking horns with former German chancellor Angela Merkel, two leaders with radically different styles.

“At least he got people talking about Italy,” Nebulioni said.

– ‘I stopped voting for him’ –

Berlusconi was repudiated by his critics for his arrogance, his sometimes obscene language, his chauvinism and his habit of blurring the lines between business and politics.

His admirers revelled in his off-beam sorties and saw in him a symbol of Italy’s economic golden age.

Few are indifferent to the man of contradictions — devoutly Christian and enthusiastically promiscuous, by turns provocative and charming, a workaholic who enjoyed life’s luxuries.

“I disagreed with him politically but I still think he left an indelible mark on Italian history — especially with his shock-tactic remarks,” said 19-year-old student Francesco Papale.

One woman said she had turned up at the hospital out of curiosity, to see the journalists in action.

Standing as she was among a crowd of “Cavaliere” fans, she preferred not to give her name.

“I admired him as a businessman but I stopped voting for him very early on because of all the scandals,” she confided.

“I was very disappointed by him as a politician.”

By contrast, firm fan Fernando waxed lyrical about Berlusconi’s virtues and said he would attend the late leader’s state funeral on Wednesday.

“He was a great entrepreneur. He built Italy. 

“And he was important to me. I got goose pimples when I saw on television that he had died,” the 71-year-old pensioner, who only gave one name, told AFP.

A passerby who overheard his praise muttered grimly, “He robbed Italy!”

Berlusconi fans gather at hospital to mourn ‘immortal’ icon
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