ROME – The death of Silvio Berlusconi has stopped Italy.
The government has declared Wednesday a day of national mourning, when the state funeral of the former prime minister will be held at the Milan Cathedral. Parliamentary voting is suspended for a week, an unprecedented suspension.
The Piazza del Duomo, which surrounds the ornate cathedral, was set up with giant screens to accommodate a crowd of 20,000 during the funeral. Some 2,000 mourners will gather inside the Duomo, including past and present national and party leaders from across the political spectrum.
Most of the current government is expected to attend, as well as an appeal from former prime ministers and several international dignitaries, including Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán. The president of the EPP, Manfred Weber, and the European commissioner Paolo Gentiloni, should represent the European institutions.
Political life in Italy came to a halt after Monday’s announcement of the death of Berlusconi, who served as prime minister for three terms. Italy’s current head of government, Giorgia Meloni, and right-wing Lega party leader Matteo Salvini have canceled their engagements and were due to visit Berlusconi where he lies at rest at his home in Arcore, near Milan, on Tuesday night. Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani has interrupted a visit to the United States
The Italian newspaper La Repubblica likened the national fanfare to the scenes in the UK last year following the death of the Queen Elizabeth II.
The massive mourning drew criticism from some opposition politicians, who argued that it was a political decision. In part, criticism is inevitable for such a polarizing figure.
Former minister Rosy Bindi, of the left-wing Democrats, said Berlusconi « marked Italy’s history in a negative way » and was responsible for many of the country’s problems. « National mourning for a divisive person like him is not, in my opinion, an appropriate choice. »
Democratic Party MEP Alessandra Moretti said: “With all due respect… it seems to me very exaggerated to block parliamentary work for seven days. I think Italians are having a hard time understanding this decision, especially given that there are numerous dossiers awaiting urgent answers, first of all the Recovery Plan ».
Brando Benifei, leader of the Democrats in Europe, declared: « For Berlusconi, state funerals are a duty, but the proclamation of national mourning appears instead to be a political choice ».