ROME — The death of Silvio Berlusconi has brought Italy to a standstill.
The government declared a day of national mourning on Wednesday, when a state funeral will be held for the former prime minister at Milan’s Duomo cathedral. Parliamentary votes are on hold for a week, an unprecedentedly long suspension.
The Piazza del Duomo, surrounding the ornate cathedral, was prepared with maxi-screens to host a crowd of 20,000 during the funeral. Inside the Duomo, some 2,000 mourners will gather, including national and party leaders past and present from across the political spectrum.
Most of the current government is expected to attend, as well as a roll-call of former premiers and several international dignitaries, including the Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán. The president of the EPP, Manfred Weber, and the European Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni, are predicted to represent European institutions.
Political life in Italy has come to a halt since Monday’s announcement of the death of Berlusconi, who served as prime minister during three stints in office. The current head of Italy’s government, Giorgia Meloni, and leader of the right-wing League party Matteo Salvini, cancelled their engagements and were due to visit Berlusconi where he is lying in repose at his home in Arcore near Milan on Tuesday night. Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani cut short a visit to the U.S.
Italian daily La Repubblica compared the national fanfare to the scenes in the U.K. last year following the death of the Queen Elizabeth II.
The conspicuous mourning has attracted criticism from some opposition politicians, who claimed it was a political decision. In part, criticism is inevitable for a such a polarizing figure.
Former Minister Rosy Bindi, of the leftist Democrats, said Berlusconi “marked the history of Italy in a negative way” and was responsible for many of the country’s problems. “National mourning for a divisive person like him is in my opinion not an appropriate choice.”
Democratic Party MEP Alessandra Moretti said: “With all due respect … it seems to me very over-the-top to freeze parliamentary work for seven days. I think Italians find it hard to understand this decision, especially given that there are numerous dossiers awaiting urgent responses, first of all the Recovery Plan.”
Brando Benifei leader of the Democrats in Europe said: “For Berlusconi, a state funeral is a duty, but the proclamation of national mourning appears instead to be a political choice.”