Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Death of a Godfather

For many Italians, Giulio Andreotti, who died yesterday aged 94, was simply “Mr Italy”. His political power and influence stretched from the immediate postwar period until the day of his death.

Along with his mentor, Alcide De Gaspari, he resurrected the Christian Democratic Party which had been destroyed by Fascism. He became prime minister seven times, despite (or perhaps because of) his involvement with some of the darkest forces in Italian politics.

He was known in his country as “Giulio il Divo” (the divine Julius after Julius Caesar) and even Beelzebub the devil. In Godfather III, a character modelled on him whispers a famous quote from the man: “Power wears out those who don’t have it”.

A cartoon joke summed him up. Asked to attend the funeral of the assassinated anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone, a friend pleads: “The state must give an answer to the Mafia and you are one of the top authorities in it!” Andreotti’s bemused response is: “Which one do you mean?”

A devout Roman Catholic with close links to the Vatican, he enabled Italy’s ruling classes to cling on to power.

Andreotti early on revealed an uncanny ability to straddle opposing political forces, being involved with both fascist and anti-fascist newspapers during World War II. He became Christian Democratic party secretary in 1948, holding key ministerial posts. His “strategy of the two ovens”, allowed him to wheeler-deal between the right and left wings of the party, accepting “loaves” from each side.

During the 1960s, as defence minister, he was notoriously associated with the secret Masonic lodge, Propaganda Due, at the time when neo-fascists in the army leadership were planning a coup.

But it was during the 1970s and 1980s that his ability to exploit the craven opportunism of Italy’s Communist Party (PCI) came into its own. In the 1976 elections the PCI won 12.6 million votes to the Christian Democrats’ 14.2, far out-pacing the remaining parties. When PCI leader Enrico Berlinguer proposed a “historic compromise” Andreotti won the distinction of being the first Italian prime minister prepared to find accommodation to the PCI.

The PCI promptly repaid for its distant glimpse of power by helping Andreotti railroad through anti-working class austerity measures against the opposition of the 2-million strong party’s rank and file.

In the midst of this tense political situation, fellow Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro was kidnapped by the Red Brigades terrorist group. Andreotti refused to negotiate and Moro was killed in May 1978.

Andreotti had no qualms about serving in Socialist Party leader Bettino Craxi’s Cabinet during the period of political corruption and cronyism known as Tangentopoli.

In 1992 anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone was assassinated in a massive car bombing in Sicily. Charges of Mafia links now multiplied, including that Andreotti had conspired in the murder of investigative journalist, Carmine Pecorelli. Finally stripped of his parliamentary immunity in 1993 (but not before being appointed Senator for life by Christian Democrat crony Francesco Cossiga), he was brought to trial in Palermo and Perugia.

After a three-year trial, he was acquitted by the Perugia court in 1999, but in Palermo only escaped conviction on grounds of insufficient evidence. Italy's highest court established he had ties until 1980 with mafia gangsters, which were covered by the statute of limitations.

Andreotti’s connivance with media magnate Silvio Berlusconi further divided the Christian Democrats during the early 1990s. By 1994, the party had disappeared and Andreotti joined first the Italian People’s Party and then La Margherita. If the Andreotti epoch was a tragedy in Italian politics, that of Berlusconi, the second Mr Teflon, has most certainly been a cruel and ugly farce.

The corrupt Italian state is kept in power today by an unholy alliance between ancient Stalinists like president Giorgio Napolitano and Democratic Party leader (and Berlusconi relative) Enrico Letta, overseen by IMF-EU-ECB enforcer Mario Monti. 

The recent electoral success of the Grillo 5-Star movement illustrates the contempt which millions have for the undemocratic and unrepresentative political system. The Divo is dead, but his political legacy remains to be overturned.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

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