Showing posts with label Bettino Craxi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bettino Craxi. Show all posts

24 February 2019

Bettino Craxi - prime minister

The Socialist who broke the grip of the Christian Democrats

Bettino Craxi was the first socialist prime  minister of Italy in the modern era
Bettino Craxi was the first socialist prime
 minister of Italy in the modern era
Bettino Craxi, the politician who in 1983 became the first member of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) to be appointed prime minister, was born on this day in 1934 in Milan. 

He was not the first socialist to hold the office - Ivanoe Bonomi had been prime minister for six months in 1920 on an Italian Reformist Socialist Party ticket and succeeded Marshal Pietro Badoglio as leader of the war-torn nation’s post-Mussolini government in 1944. However, Craxi broke the hold of the Christian Democrats, who had been in power continuously since the first postwar elections in 1946.

Craxi was a moderniser who moved his party away from traditional forms of socialism in a way that was replicated elsewhere in Europe, such as in Britain under the New Labour prime minister Tony Blair. Craxi replaced the party’s hammer-and-sickle symbol with a red carnation.

His reputation was ultimately wrecked by a corruption scandal, but during his tenure as prime minister, Italy became the fifth largest industrial nation and gained entry into the G7 Group.

His fiscal policies saw him clash with the powerful trade unions over the abolition of the wage-price escalator under which workers’ wages rose automatically in line with inflation, scoring a major victory when a referendum on the issue called by the Italian Communist Party went in his favour.  However, as a result of Craxi’s overall spending policies, Italy’s national debt overtook its gross domestic product.

Craxi with the US president Ronald Reagan, with whom he clashed over the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship
Craxi with the US president Ronald Reagan, with whom he
clashed over the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship
Craxi demonstrated his strength again in a dispute with the United States following the hijacking off the Egyptian coast of the Achille Lauro cruise ship by members of the Palestine Liberation Army in 1983, during which an American citizen, Leon Klinghoffer, was killed. President Ronald Reagan wanted the four perpetrators to be extradited to the US but Italy wished to preserve its good diplomatic relations with the Arab world and avoid becoming a terrorist target, so Craxi refused, insisting that the hijackers should come under Italian jurisdiction. His firmness earned him a standing ovation in the Italian Senate, even from his Communist opponents.

Craxi, who formed a new coalition in 1986 after his 1983 government collapsed, resigned in early 1987. In 1993, following the mani puliti investigations, multiple charges of political corruption against him forced Craxi to quit as party leader.

He did not deny that he had solicited funding for the Socialist Party illegally but claimed that all the political parties did the same and that the PSI were being targeted for political reasons. Craxi fled to exile in Tunisia later that year, just before being convicted, and never returned. He died there in 2000.

Craxi opposed the mooted 'historic compromise'  with Enrico Berlinguer's Communists
Craxi opposed the 'historic compromise' with
 the Communists of Enrico Berlinguer (above)
Craxi - who was christened Benedetto - owed his political beliefs to his father, Vittorio, an anti-Fascist lawyer from Sicily, who became vice-prefect for Milan and then prefect for Como and stood in the 1948 national elections for the Popular Democratic Front, a political alliance between Socialists and Communists. Bettino campaigned for his father and later joined the Italian Socialist Party at the age of 17.

After being elected a town councillor in Sant'Angelo Lodigiano - his mother’s birthplace - in 1956, he became a member of the PSI’s central committee in 1957, won a seat on the city council of Milan in 1960 and was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1968.

In 1970 he was appointed the party’s deputy secretary. He was a strong supporter of the centre-left coalition between the Christian Democrats of Aldo Moro and Amintore Fanfani, the PSI, then led by Pietro Nenni, the Social Democrats the Republicans.

He was elevated to general secretary in 1976 following a poor election performance by PSI candidates and set about uniting the party’s squabbling factions, committed it to moderate social and economic policies, and tried to dissociate it from the much larger Italian Communist Party.

Craxi always opposed the mooted 'historic compromise' favoured by Moro and the Communist leader, Enrico Berlinguer, on the basis that a political alliance between the Christian Democrats and the Communists would marginalise the Socialists, yet when Moro was kidnapped by the Red Brigades in 1978, amid demands for the release of so-called political prisoners, Craxi was the only political leader to declare himself open to a "humanitarian solution" that would allow Moro to be freed.

Under Craxi’s leadership the Socialists were members in five of Italy’s six coalition governments from 1980 to 1983 before the 1983 elections gave him the opportunity to form a coalition government with the Christian Democrats and several small, moderate parties.

His tenure as prime minister lasted three years and seven months, the third longest in the republican era. Silvio Berlusconi, with whom he enjoyed a close friendship despite their political differences, is the only prime minister to enjoy longer unbroken spells in office.

The Castello di Sant'Angelo Lodigiano is now a museum set up in honour of the Bolognini family
The Castello di Sant'Angelo Lodigiano is now a museum
set up in honour of the Bolognini family
Travel tip:

The town of Sant’Angelo Lodigiano, where Bettino Craxi served as a councillor in the 1950s, is situated about 40km (25 miles) southeast of Milan, close to the city of Lodi in Lombardy. It is best known for the castle that was built there in the 13th century, standing guard over the river Lambro in a strategically favourable position for the control of river traffic to Milan. The castle was turned into a summer residence by Regina della Scala, wife of Bernabò Visconti. In 1452, with the passage of the power of the Duchy of Milan from the Visconti to the Sforza, the fiefdom and the castle were donated, by Francesco Sforza, to Michele Matteo Bolognini, who received the title of Count. It remained the property of the Bolognini family and became known as the Castello Bolognini until 1933, when the widow of the last descendant - Count Gian Giacomo Morando Bolognini -  created the Fondazione Morando Bolognini for agricultural research and turned the castle into a museum.

Hotels in Sant'Angelo Lodigiano by

Lodi's beautiful main square, the Piazza della Vittoria. looking towards the 12th century cathedral
Lodi's beautiful main square, the Piazza della Vittoria.
looking towards the 12th century cathedral
Travel tip:

The city of Lodi sits on the right bank of the River Adda. The main square, Piazza della Vittoria, has been listed by the Touring Club of Italy as among the most beautiful squares in Italy with its porticoes on all four sides. Its cathedral, the Basilica Cattedrale della Vergine Assunta, was founded on August 3, 1158, the day on which Lodi was refounded after its destruction by Milanese troops in 1111. The façade, built in Romanesque style with the exception of the large Gothic entrance portico supported by small columns with lion sculptures at the base, was completed in 1284.

(Picture credits: Castle Sant’Angelo Lodigiano by Paperkat; Piazza della Vittoria, Lodi by Gabriele Zuffetti; via Wikmedia Commons)

8 December 2018

Arnaldo Forlani - politician

Oldest surviving former prime minister

Arnaldo Forlani was prime minister of Italy for just eight months
Arnaldo Forlani was prime minister
of Italy for just eight months
Italy’s oldest surviving prime minister, Arnaldo Forlani, was born on this day in 1925 in Pesaro.

A Christian Democrat for the whole of his active political career, Forlani was President of the Council of Ministers - the official title of the Italian prime minister - for just over eight months, between October 1980 and June 1981.

He later served as deputy prime minister (1983-87) in a coalition led by the Italian Socialist Party leader Bettino Craxi, having previously been defence minister under Aldo Moro (1974-76) and foreign affairs minister under Giulio Andreotti (1976-79).

Forlani represented Ancona in the Chamber of Deputies from his election in 1958 until the party collapsed in 1994 in the wake of the mani pulite corruption investigations.

He was premier during a difficult period for Italy, which was still reeling from the terrorist attack on Bologna railway station and the decade or so of social and political turmoil known as the Years of Lead.

Barely a month into his term, Forlani was confronted with the devastation of the Irpinia earthquake in Campania, which left almost 2,500 people dead, a further 7,700 injured and 250,000 homeless.

Forlani had been in office only a month when he had to deal with the aftermath of the devastating Irpinia earthquake
Forlani had been in office only a month when he had to deal
with the aftermath of the devastating Irpinia earthquake
Forlani committed 59 trillion lire to reconstruction, with many millions contributed by other countries, notably West Germany and the United States, although in the event, as was uncovered more than a decade later, much of the money was siphoned off by corrupt officials, paid out in bribes, or ended up in the hands of the Camorra, the Neapolitan mafia.

His short-lived period in office ended when the publication of the names of the alleged members of the secret masonic lodge Propaganda Due prompted members of his coalition government to resign en masse. His minister of justice, Adolfo Sarti, was among those named, which included two other ministers among 44 members of parliament, as well as scores of bankers, industrialists, journalists, police, military officers and the heads of all three of Italy’s secret services.

It was alleged that P2, as it was usually known, was operating as “a state within a state” in trying to clandestinely control the running of the country. Forlani himself was not involved, although he was criticised for allegedly delaying the publication of the names.

Arnaldo Forlani pictured with his political ally, the  four-times prime minister Giulio Andreotti
Arnaldo Forlani pictured with his political ally, the
four-times prime minister Giulio Andreotti
Forlani, who graduated in law from the University of Urbino, became provincial secretary of Christian Democracy for Pesaro in 1948, joining the central committee of the party in 1954.

He twice served as the party’s national secretary, from 1969-73 and 1989-92 and continued to be an important politician after his period as prime minister, helping to forge closer ties between the Christian Democrats and the parties of the left and centre-left in the hope of ensuring that the Communists were never again as close to power as they had been during the turmoil of the 1970s.

Forlani was put forward as a candidate for President of the Republic in 1992, only six months before he was forced to resign as party secretary in the wake of the mani pulite scandal, in which he was charged with having received illegal funds.  He effectively retired from politics at that moment.

The Piazza del Popolo is a popular meeting place where friends gather in Pesaro
The Piazza del Popolo is a popular meeting place where
friends gather in Pesaro
Travel tip:

Pesaro, where Arnaldo Forlani was born, is a coastal city in Le Marche that has become known as ‘the city of music’ because the opera composer Gioachino Rossini was born there in 1792. The Rossini Opera Festival has taken place in Pesaro every summer since 1980 and the town is home to the Conservatorio Statale di Musica Gioachino Rossini, which was founded from a legacy left by the composer. Pesaro also has a 15th century Ducal Palace, commissioned by Alessandro Sforza.  It is popular with Italian holidaymakers for its sandy beaches, as well as its many cycle paths, because of which Pesaro is also known as the ‘city of bicycles.’

The coastal city of Ancona is home to about 120,000 people and has some interesting historical monuments
The coastal city of Ancona is home to about 120,000
people and has some interesting historical monuments
Travel tip:

The coastal city of Ancona, which Forlani represented in the Chamber of Deputies, is a bustling port of almost 102,000 inhabitants. Although the area around the port has an industrial feel, there are some notable beaches nearby and a good deal of history in the older part of the city, bearing witness to its Greek and Roman past. The 18m-high Arch of Trajan, built in honour of the emperor who built the city’s harbour, is regarded as one of the finest Roman monuments in the Marche region. In Ancona’s harbour, the Lazzaretto, the pentagonal building constructed on an artificial island in the 18th century, used to be a quarantine station designed to protect Ancona from diseases carried by infected travellers.

More reading:

The tragedy of Aldo Moro

What made Giulio Andreotti the great political survivor

Propaganda Due suspects revealed

Also on this day:

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

1685: The birth of perfumier Johann Maria Farina

1881: The birth of 'Fascist' architect Marcello Piacentini


13 May 2018

Giuliano Amato – politician

‘Doctor Subtle’ is still working at the age of 80

Giuliano Amato twice served as
Italy's prime minister
Giuliano Amato, who has twice served as prime minister of Italy, was born on this day in 1938 in Turin.

During his first period as prime minister, for 10 months between 1992 and 1993, a series of corruption scandals rocked Italy, sweeping away the careers of many leading politicians. Amato was never implicated, despite being close to Bettino Craxi, the leader of the Italian Socialist party, who was investigated by Milan judges in the probe into corruption that became known as Mani pulite, which literally means ‘clean hands’. Craxi was eventually convicted of corruption and the illicit financing of his party.

Amato has earned the nickname ‘dottor sottile’ the sobriquet of the medieval Scottish philosopher Jon Duns Scotus, which is a reference to his perceived political subtlety.

Born into a Sicilian family living in Turin at the time, Amato spent his early years growing up in Tuscany.

He attended the Collegio Medico Giuridico, which is today the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, part of Pisa University, and obtained a degree in law. He also received a Masters degree in comparative law from Columbia Law School.

Amato taught at the universities of Modena, Perugia and Florence and then became professor of Italian and Comparative Constitutional Law at La Sapienza, the University of Rome.

Amato had close ties with the disgraced former prime minister Bettino Craxi
Amato had close ties with the disgraced
former prime minister Bettino Craxi
A member of the Italian Socialist Party, Amato was elected to parliament in 1983. He later served as under secretary of state, deputy prime minister and minister of the treasury.

After becoming prime minister in 1992, Amato responded effectively to two devaluations of the lira in the wake of currency speculation that led to Italy being expelled from the European Monetary System. He cut the budget deficit drastically, taking the first steps towards Italy adopting the Euro.

His government was challenged when it moved the responsibility for anti-corruption investigations into the hands of the police. The police were controlled by the government so it was feared the investigations would not have been independent.

Italians protested in the streets and President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro refused to sign the decree. It was never decided whether Amato was blameless, or had been trying to save the corrupt system.

After his term as prime minister, Amato held a number of high offices before becoming prime minister again in 2000. He promoted economic competitiveness as well as social protection and instigated political and institutional reforms.

When his second term came to an end he was appointed to help draft the European constitution and later served in Romano Prodi’s centre left government.

Still working right up to his 80th birthday, Amato currently serves the Constitutional Court, leads advanced seminars in International Public Affairs and is honorary co-chair for the World Justice Project.

His wife, Diana, is professor of family law at the University of Rome and they have two children and five grandchildren.

The Palazzo alla Giornata, part of the University of Pisa
The Palazzo alla Giornata, part of the University of Pisa
Travel tip:

Pisa University, where Amato obtained a law degree, was founded in 1343 making it the 10th oldest in Italy and it houses Europe’s oldest academic botanical garden. The main university buildings are in and around Lungarno Antonio Pacinotti, overlooking the River Arno, a short walk from the city’s famous Leaning Tower.

The entrance to LUISS in Rome
The entrance to LUISS in Rome
Travel tip:

Amato currently leads seminars in International Public Affairs at The School of Government of Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali (LUISS) Guido Carli in Rome. The university focuses on business studies, economics, politics and law and is based in parkland in Viale Romania in the city, close to the Catacombs of Priscilla.

Also on this day:

1804: The birth of Venetian patriot and leader Daniele Manin

1909: The first Giro d'Italia cycle race begins in Milan


2 October 2017

Antonio Di Pietro – magistrate and politician

Former policeman who led Mani Pulite corruption investigations

Antonio di Pietro led his own political  party, called Italy of Values
Antonio Di Pietro led his own political
party, called Italy of Values
The politician and former magistrate Antonio Di Pietro, who uncovered wide-ranging corruption in the Italian government in a scandal that changed the landscape of Italian politics, was born on this day in 1950 in Molise.

Di Pietro was the lead prosecutor in the so-called Mani Pulite trials in the early 1990s, which led to many politicians and businessmen being indicted and to the collapse of the traditional Socialist and Christian Democratic parties.

The Christian Democrats had been the dominant force in Italian politics since the formation of the Italian Republic at the end of the Second World War but after several high-profile arrests and resignations and poor results in the 1992 general election and 1993 local elections the party was disbanded in 1994.

The Italian Socialist Party was dissolved in the same year following the resignation of party secretary and former prime minister Bettino Craxi, who was the most high-profile casualty in the corruption scandal. It was also known as Tangentopoli, which can be roughly translated as “Bribesville”.

Di Pietro was born into a poor rural family in Montenero di Bisaccia, a hill town in the province of Campobasso in the Molise region.

Ex-PM Bettino Craxi was the major  casualty of the Mani Pulite probe
Ex-PM Bettino Craxi was the major
casualty of the Mani Pulite probe
Eager to better himself, he travelled to Germany as a migrant worker after leaving school, working in a factory in the mornings and a sawmill in the afternoons so that he could save enough money to study law at night school in Italy.

He graduated in with a degree in 1978, becoming first a police officer before joining the judiciary as a prosecuting magistrate, a job in the Italian legal system that is part lawyer and part detective.

Di Pietro was one of a team set up to investigate corruption following the arrest in 1992 of Mario Chiesa, a Socialist politician and hospital administrator in Milan, after he was accused of accepting a bribe from a young entrepreneur in return for awarding his company a cleaning contract.

The three magistrates – Di Pietro, Gherardo Colombo and Pier Camillo Davigo – were dubbed Mani Pulite – “Clean Hands” by the media. Di Pietro soon became the most prominent of the trio. Chosen as the spokesman for the investigating team, he became an instantly recognisable for his strong regional accent and his evident passion for his work.

The investigation became a high-profile news item for a considerable time after Chiesa’s evidence implicated many others on both sides of the Italian political divide, yet critics say it ultimately achieved very little.

Antonio di Pietro became a famous face in the 1990s
Antonio Di Pietro became a famous face in the 1990s
More than half of the 3,000 politicians and businessmen arrested ultimately escaped punishment through legal technicalities. Some walked free after their trials were cancelled because they did not begin within a statutory time limit.

Corruption charges brought against former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi had to be dropped because the statutory time period elapsed.

And while the collapse of the Christian Democrats and Socialists was a seismic event in Italian politics, the individuals involved simply regrouped and rebranded themselves. Analysts say corruption is still rife today.

Di Pietro himself made many enemies, to the extent that he found it necessary to have a personal protection team after threats were made against his life.  Accusations of corruption began to be levelled against him and although none was proved his reputation suffered.

Although around 1,200 convictions resulted from the work of Di Pietro and his team, Mani Pulite eventually petered out and Di Pietro launched his own political career. Building on the experience he gained after the centre-left prime minister Romani Prodi made him Minister for Public Works in 1996, he was elected to the Senate.

He formed his own party, Italia dei Valori (“Italy of Values”) in 2000, standing against corruption, and served in government as Minister of Infrastructures when Prodi was elected again in 2006.

Di Pietro continued under the Italia dei Valori banner until 2014, since when he has been an independent. He was elected a member of the European Parliament in 1999.

Montenero is perched on a hill in Molise
Montenero is perched on a hill in Molise
Travel tip:

Montenero di Bissacia is a small town perched on top of a hill in Molise, which is probably the least well known of all Italy’s 20 regions, characterised by a narrow coastal plain – about 15km (9 miles) from Montenero – and a rugged and sparsely populated interior. Campobasso, with around 50,000 inhabitants and about 70km (43 miles) to the south, is the largest population centre in the region, worth visiting for the remains of the 15th century Castello Monforte and a number of interesting churches.  The coastal resort of Termoli, about 23km (14 miles) east of Montenero, has sandy beaches and a walled old town, yet is little known to foreign tourists.

The cathedral at Trivento
The cathedral at Trivento
Travel tip:

One town in Molise worth visiting for a glimpse of an Italy that no longer exists in many parts of the country is the well-preserved town of Trivento, which features a wide staircase – the Scalinata di San Nicola - of 365 steps linking the new town with the old.  The town is full of narrow alleyways, often decorated with pots of brightly coloured flowers, at the heart of which is the Chiesa di Santi Nazario, Celso e Vittore – Trivento Cathedral – built in the 11th century.

10 May 2017

Antonio Ghirelli - journalist

Neapolitan writer specialised in football and politics

Antonio Ghirelli
Antonio Ghirelli, a patriarch of Italian journalism, was born on this day in 1922 in Naples.

As passionate about football as he was about politics, Ghirelli was equally at home writing about both. At different times he edited the three principal Italian sports daily newspapers, La Gazzetta dello Sport, Tuttosport and Corriere dello Sport, but also wrote with distinction in the editorial and opinion pages of such respected titles as L'Unità, Paese Sera, Avanti!, Corriere della Sera, Il Mondo and Il Globo.

Sandro Pertini, who was President of Italy from 1978 to 1985, so respected his wisdom that he invited him to be head of the Quirinale press office. His politics were in line with those of the Socialist Pertini, as they were with Bettino Craxi, Italy’s first Socialist prime minister, for whom he was principal press officer during Craxi’s two spells in office.

Ghirelli’s first taste of politics came at university in Naples, when he wrote for a young Fascist journal.  Any sympathies he might have had with the Fascists soon disappeared, however, as Mussolini’s early socialist ideals became corrupted by his fervent nationalism and intolerance of political opponents.

Instead, Ghirelli joined the Italian Communist Party and fought against the Fascists in the Second World War as a member of the Italian Resistance. With sponsorship from the Americans, he became a voice of Radio Free Bologna.

Ghirelli worked for the president, Sandro Pertini, at the Quirinale
Ghirelli worked for the president,
Sandro Pertini, at the Quirinale
In turn he was driven away from communism, mainly by the events in Hungary in 1956, when a people’s uprising against the rigidity and anti-democratic nature of Hungarian government was ruthlessly put down by Soviet troops.

He signed up instead with the Italian Socialist Party, his association with whom would later bring him into contact with Pertini.

Ghirelli cut his teeth in journalism with L'Unità, Milano Sera and Paese Sera, the afternoon edition of the left-wing Rome daily Il Paese, before his love of football and in particular his team, Napoli, drew him away from politics and into sport as the Rome editor of La Gazzetta dello Sport.

A period as editor of Tuttosport followed before Corriere dello Sport offered him the chance to apply his skills to editing the whole newspaper, which he did with success from 1965 to 1972.

In a departure from what seemed to be a secure position, he accepted the chance to work for Pertini, another left-winger in the political context who shared his enthusiasm for football. The arrangement seemed perfect for Ghirelli, only to fail after only two years over a press release concerning prime minister Francesco Cossiga, and pressure for him to resign over his supposed involvement in helping the left-wing terrorist, Marco Donat-Cattin – son of a Christian Democrat minister – to escape Italy.  Ghirelli resigned, it is said, to protect the young colleague who wrote the press release.

Ghirelli pictured during the 1980s
Ghirelli pictured during the 1980s
It was not long, however, before he returned to a position of influence in Rome’s political circles, appointed by Craxi to head the prime minister’s press office.

Once Craxi’s two periods in office were over, Ghirelli returned to mainstream journalism, first in television as the editor of TG2, the news section of Rai Due, and then as editor of the socialist newspaper Avanti!

A prolific author, Ghirelli wrote numerous books, several with a political theme but also many about the history of his beloved home city, Naples, and a number about Italian football.

He died in Rome in 2012, a month short of his 90th birthday, having remained politically active – he had joined the reconstituted Italian Socialist Party in 2008 – almost to the end.  Since his death, the Italian Football Federation has awarded an annual prize for football writing, the Premio Antonio Ghirelli.

Travel tip:

The Palazzo del Quirinale (more often known simply as Il Quirinale) takes its name from its location on Quirinal Hill, the highest of the seven hills of Rome. Built originally in 1583 as a summer residence for Pope Gregory XIII, it has been the official home of the president of Italy since the republic was established in 1946. The current president, Sergio Mattarella, is the 12th in that office to occupy the living quarters. He follows 30 popes and four Kings of Italy, it having been the official royal residence from 1871. Covering an area of 110,500 square metres, it is the ninth-largest palace in the world, with 1,200 rooms. By comparison, the White House in Washington is one 20th of the size.

The Villa Rosebery overlooks the Bay of Naples
The Villa Rosebery overlooks the Bay of Naples
Travel tip: 

In his affection for Naples, Ghirelli would have enjoyed the times in which Sandro Pertini chose to leave Rome for the official presidential residence in Naples, the Villa Rosebery, which occupies a 6.6-hectare (16.3 acres) site in the Marechiaro district, a well-to-do area of the city overlooking the north side of the Bay of Naples, with views of Vesuvius and, from some vantage points, the island of Capri. It is so named because it was once owned by a British prime minister, The 5th Earl of Rosebery. Formerly a Bourbon residence, it fell within the territory that became part of the united Italy after the overthrow of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1860. Lord Rosebery bought it from a business associate, Gustavo Delahente, in 1897.