Showing posts with label Italian Socialist Party. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Italian Socialist Party. Show all posts

14 April 2024

Randolfo Pacciardi – anti-Fascist and journalist

Valiant republican opposed Mussolini and served his country

Pacciardi had to flee Italy when Mussolini outlawed all opposition
Pacciardi had to flee Italy when
Mussolini outlawed all opposition
Ardent anti-Fascist Randolfo Pacciardi, who was Deputy Prime Minister and then Minister of Defence for the Italian Government between 1948 and 1953, died on this day in 1991 in Rome.

Pacciardi had to live abroad in exile for many years after the Fascists outlawed all opposition parties in 1926, but he was able to return to Italy in 1944 after the liberation of Rome.

He was born in 1899 in Giuncarico in the province of Grosseto in Tuscany. By the time he was 16 years old, Pacciardi had become a member of the Partito Repubblicano Italiano (PRI) the Italian Republican Party. 

He was a supporter of Italy’s participation in World War I and enrolled in the officers’ school of the Italian Army. He took part in the fighting and received two silver medals and a bronze medal for military valour, a British military cross and a French croix de guerre.

After receiving a law degree from the University of Siena in 1921, Pacciardi wrote for a local newspaper in the city.

In 1922 he went to live in Rome, where he became an opponent of the violent Fascist squads of the time, and he established Italia Libera, an anti-Fascist veterans’ organisation. They were one of the few groups to plan for armed opposition to Benito Mussolini after the assassination of the socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti. They were also one of the first groups to be banned by the Fascist Government in 1925.

When the Fascists outlawed all rival parties in 1926, Pacciardi was sentenced to five years of internal exile, but he was able to escape to Austria.

Luigi Einuadi was among Pacciardi's colleagues in postwar governmen
Luigi Einuadi was among Pacciardi's
colleagues in postwar government
Helped by Ernesta Battisti, the widow of patriot Cesare Battisti, he moved to live in Lugano in Switzerland.

He helped other anti-Fascists with logistical support, including a future president of Italy, Sandro Pertini, for whom he procured a counterfeit passport.

He helped organise troops during the Spanish Civil war in which he himself was wounded. Then he moved to Paris, where he founded a magazine, La Giovine Italia, which was named after the Young Italy movement launched by Giuseppe Mazzini in the 19th century.

The German invasion of France forced Pacciardi to flee to America with his wife, Luigia, and they managed to get to New York after travelling through South America on false documents. 

After Pacciardi’s return to Italy towards the end of the war, he became national secretary of the Partito Repubblicano Italiano and was elected to the constituent assembly of Italy in 1946. With the end of the monarchy in Italy, the Republican Party entered a coalition government for the first time.

He became a Deputy Prime Minister with Liberal Luigi Einaudi and Social Democrat Giuseppe Saragat. He was elected to Parliament in 1948 and served as defence minister until 1953, supporting Italian membership of NATO.

Pacciardi's tomb in the municipal cemetery at Grosseto after his death in 1991
Pacciardi's tomb in the municipal cemetery at
Grosseto after his death in 1991
In 1963, when Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro set up a cabinet that included Partito Socialista Italiano (PSI) ministers for the first time in 16 years, Pacciardi voted against it and he found himself excluded from his own party.

He founded a new party, the Democratic Union for the New Republic, but his party failed to attract many votes in the 1968 election. 

In 1974 he was accused of plotting an attempted coup against the government but the charges against him were later dropped. In 1979 he asked to be readmitted to the PRI and this was granted. In his final years he was a supporter of Prime Minister Bettino Craxi.

Pacciardi died from a stroke on 14 April 1991 at the age of 92. The President of Italy, Francesco Cossiga, granted him a state funeral and he was buried in the municipal cemetery of Grosseto.

During his long life, Pacciardi became a friend of Ernest Hemingway and he also advised Michael Curtiz on the making of Casablanca.

The polygonal Palazzo Aldobrandeschi is one of Grosseto's curiosities
The polygonal Palazzo Aldobrandeschi
is one of Grosseto's curiosities
Travel tip:

Grosseto is the largest town of the Maremma region of Tuscany, with approximately 65,000 inhabitants. Located in the alluvial plain of the Ombrone river, about 14km from the Tyrrhenian sea, the town grew in importance several centuries ago because of the trade in salt, that was obtained in salt pans in the now reclaimed lagoon that covered most of the area between Grosseto and the sea.  By 1328, the silting up of the lagoon robbed Grosseto of its salt revenues, after which is became largely depopulated, vulnerable to outbreaks of malaria caused by the mosquitos that thrived in the marshy areas surrounding the town. It began to expand again in the 19th century. Tourists today are drawn to visit by the walls begun by Francesco I de Medici in 1574, by the Romanesque cathedral, dedicated to St. Lawrence, and by the polygonal Palazzo Aldobrandeschi, on Piazza Dante, seat of the provincial government.

The well-preserved mediaeval village of Giuncarico in Tuscany has a hilltop location
The well-preserved mediaeval village of Giuncarico
in Tuscany has a hilltop location
Travel tip:

Giuncarico, where Pacciardi was born, is a charming and well-preserved mediaeval village, built on a hill overlooking the Bruna river. Founded in the eighth or ninth century, the village was once under the rule of the noble Albobrandeschi family and later became part of the Republic of Siena before joining the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in the 16th century.  It is known for its protective walls, built in the 1100s with two stone-arch gateways into the village, with historic palaces along Via Roma, dating back to the 1400s and 1500s. Despite its small size, with just 449 residents, the village offers a few shops, cafes, and restaurants. The Piazza del Popolo, halfway along Via Roma, offers a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. The area is also notable for several wineries, including the celebrated Rocca di Frassinello, which is approximately 15 minutes outside the village by road. Situated about 80km (50 miles) southwest of Siena, Giuncarico is some 25km (16 miles) north of Grosseto. 

Also on this day:

1488: The death of papal military leader Girolamo Riario

1609: The death of violin maker Gasparo da Salò

1907: The first Milan-Sanremo cycle race

1920: The birth of Olympic bobsleigh champion Lamberto Dalla Costa

1980: The death of children's author Gianni Rodari

(Picture credits: Pacciardi tomb by Sofocle77; Palazzo Aldobrandeschi by Sailko; Giuncarico skyline by LigaDue; via Wikimedia Commons)


1 May 2020

Ignazio Silone – politician and author

Socialist leader became famous for anti-Fascist novels

Ignazio Silone was a founding member of the Italian Communist Party in 1921
Ignazio Silone was a founding member of
the Italian Communist Party in 1921
Writer and political leader Ignazio Silone was born Secondino Tranquilli on this day in 1900 in Pescina dei Marsi in the region of Abruzzo.

Tranquilli became famous under the pseudonym, Ignazio Silone, during World War II for his powerful anti-Fascist novels and he was nominated for the Nobel prize for literature ten times.

Silone’s father, Paolo Tranquilli, died when he was 11 and he lost his mother, Marianna, and other members of his family four years later in the Avezzano earthquake of 1915.

Two years afterwards he joined the Young Socialist group of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), eventually becoming their leader and editor of their newspaper Avanguardia.

He was a founding member of the breakaway Italian Communist Party (PCI) party in 1921 and became one of its covert leaders during the Fascist regime, editing their newspaper in Trieste, Il Lavoratore.

His brother, Romolo Tranquilli, was arrested in 1928 for being a member of the PCI and died in prison in 1931 as a result of the severe beatings he had received from the Fascist police.

Silone went to live in Switzerland in 1930 where he declared his opposition to Joseph Stalin and was expelled from the PCI.

Silone's Abruzzo Trilogy won him acclaim as a novelist
Silone's Abruzzo Trilogy won
him acclaim as a novelist
He suffered from tuberculosis and clinical depression and spent nearly a year in Swiss clinics. While recovering, he began writing his first novel, Fontamara, under the pseudonym of Ignazio Silone, which was published in German in 1933.

After the English edition was published by Penguin Books in 1934, the Spanish Civil War and the events leading up to World War II increased the attention on the novel, which was about the exploitation of peasants in a southern Italian village and how they were brutally suppressed while they tried to obtain their rights. It became an international sensation and was published in 14 languages.

Silone’s later novels, Pane e vino (Bread and wine) and Il seme sotto la neve (The seed beneath the snow) portrayed socialist heroes who tried to help the peasants by sharing their sufferings in a Christian spirit.

The US army printed versions of Fontamara and Pane e vino and distributed them to the Italians during the liberation of Italy after 1943. Together with Il seme sotto la neve, they formed the Abruzzo Trilogy.

During World War II, Silone was the leader of a clandestine socialist organisation operating from Switzerland supporting resistance groups in German-occupied northern Italy. He also became an Office of Strategic Services agent.

A poster advertising the film made of Silone's book, Fontamara
A poster advertising the film made
of Silone's book, Fontamara
Silone returned to Italy in 1944 and was elected as a PSI member of the Italian parliament two years later.

In 1969 he was awarded the Jerusalem Prize, an award for writers who deal with the theme of individual freedom and society. In 1971 he received the Prix Mondial Cino del Duca, which recognises authors whose work sends out a message of modern humanism.

Silone wrote ten novels and six essays as well as plays and poetry. A film based on his novel, Fontamara, starring Michele Placido, was released in 1977.

Married to Irish journalist Darina Laracy, Silone died in Geneva in Switzerland in 1978.

In the 1990s, documents emerged that seemed to show Silone had acted as an informant for the Fascist police between 1919 and 1930, causing scholars and biographers to re-evaluate the writer’s political stands and literary work. It was believed he broke away from the police because of the torture they inflicted on his brother.

A plaque marks the birthplace of Ignazio Silone in the Abruzzo town of Pescina dei Marsi
A plaque marks the birthplace of Ignazio Silone in
the Abruzzo town of Pescina dei Marsi
Travel tip:

Pescina dei Marsi, where the writer Ignazio Silone was born, is in the province of L’Aquila in the region of Abruzzo in central Italy. Pescina was badly damaged in the earthquake of Avezzano in 1915 in which Silone’s mother was killed. There were 5,000 victims in Pescina out of a population of 6,000. The oldest part of the town, which was built in the 14th century, was almost destroyed, with only the bell tower of the old church of San Berardo and a few other buildings surviving.

The tomb of Ignazio Silone sits under the bell tower of San Berardo in Pescina dei Marsi
The tomb of Ignazio Silone sits under the bell tower of
San Berardo in Pescina dei Marsi
Travel tip:

Ignazio Silone used the old part of Pescina dei Marsi as the setting for his novel Fontamara. Today, visitors can go to the partially restored old town where Silone’s tomb lies below the medieval bell tower of San Berardo.  His birthplace, one of the few houses to survive the earthquake, is now a museum dedicated to the writer and has some of his manuscripts and original letters.

Also on this day:

1908: The birth of author Giovanni Guareschi 

1927: The birth of actress and jazz singer Laura Betti

1947: The Porto della Ginestra Massacre

1957: The birth of film director Uberto Pasolini


9 February 2020

Pietro Nenni - politician

Pietro Nenni led the Italian Socialist Party for 22 years in total
Pietro Nenni led the Italian Socialist
Party for 22 years in total

Orphan who became influential leader of Italian Socialist Party

The politician Pietro Sandro Nenni, who was a major figure of the Italian left for five decades, was born on this day in 1891 in Faenza in Emilia-Romagna.

Nenni was general secretary of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) on three occasions and rose to high office in the Italian government, twice serving as foreign affairs minister and several times as deputy prime minister, notably under the progressive Christian Democrat Aldo Moro in the centre-left coalitions of the 1960s.

He was a recipient of the Stalin Peace Prize in 1951 but returned the $25,000 that came with the honour in protest at the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.

Born into a peasant family, Nenni lost both his parents before he was five years old and grew up in an orphanage, having been placed there by the aristocratic landowners for whom his father had worked.

His experiences there seemed to stir in him a desire to rebel against authority.  He was only nine years old when, on learning of the assassination of King Umberto I by the anarchist Gaetano Bresci, he is said to have written ‘Viva Bresci’ on a wall in the orphanage.

Nenni volunteered to fight for his country in the First World War
Nenni volunteered to fight for his country
in the First World War
As soon as he was old enough to make his own way in the world he became involved in protest movements. By the age of 16 he was editing a Republican party newspaper in nearby Forlì, where the local Socialist newspaper was edited by Benito Mussolini.  He and Mussolini would become linked when both were arrested and briefly jailed after taking part in a strike against the Italo-Turkish War in Libya.

Both he and Mussolini supported Italy’s entry in the First World War, however. After the conflict, in which Nenni volunteered, was wounded, and returned to frontline service again, their paths diverged.

Both formed fascii - the Italian word in use at the time for political groups - but where Mussolini’s evolved into what would become the National Fascist Party, Nenni’s was soon dissolved. In the same year - 1921 - as Mussolini’s Fascists came into being, Nenni left the Italian Republican Party and joined the PSI, from which a breakaway group had recently left to form the Italian Communist Party (PCI).

Their opposition could not have been more clear when Mussolini was appointed prime minister in 1922 and Nenni, by now editor of the PSI newspaper Avanti!, attacked Mussolini’s ideology on a regular basis.

Mussolini looked for a way to silence Nenni, as he did with most of his political opponents, and he found one in 1925 when Nenni published a booklet whipping up anti-Fascist sentiment following the murder of Socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti.  Mussolini had Nenni arrested for anti-Fascist activity, and though he was soon released it was not long before Avanti!’s offices were damaged in an arson attack and a law brought in to ban its publication.

Nenni served as deputy prime minister in three governments led by the Christian Democrat Aldo Moro
Nenni served as deputy prime minister in three
governments led by the Christian Democrat Aldo Moro
Nenni fled the country and spent the next 17 years in exile, first in France and then Spain, where he fought on the republican side in the Spanish Civil War as co-founder of the Garibaldi Brigade.  He returned to France in 1943, by then under Nazi occupation, and was arrested by the Germans. He was held first in Vichy but then returned to Italy to continue his imprisonment on the island of Ponza.

After Italy was liberated later in 1943, he was able to resume his political career, his determination to bring about change hardening after learning of the death of his daughter, Vittoria, who had been taken prisoner by the Nazi regime earlier in the Second World War.

He became leader of the PSI and after the surrender of Italy to the Allies became a member of the National Liberation Committee, the political element of the Italian Partisans.  He was deputy prime minister in the interim government of Ferruccio Parri and the first government of Alcide De Gasperi. He became minister for foreign affairs in  the second De Gasperi government, the first administration after Italians voted to make their country a republic in 1946, for which Nenni had been a prominent campaigner.

For several years, the PSI worked closely with the Communists but Nenni broke with them again after Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary, which was an embarrassment to Nenni not only as a recipient of the Stalin Prize but also because he had returned from a meeting with the Russian leader before the invasion and proclaimed Stalin as a man of peace.

As a consequence, Nenni gradually shifted his party’s support away from the Soviet Union in favour of NATO, of which he advocated membership.

After the overwhelming victory of De Gaspari’s Christian Democrats in the divisive 1948 elections, it was not until the 1960s that Nenni’s Socialists were part of government again.  Now a veteran political figure in his 70s, he served as deputy leader under Aldo Moro in three centre-left coalitions that he had helped to broker.

Following poor results in the 1968 elections, Nenni began to release his grip on the PSI and resigned as leader the following year. He was made a senator for life in 1970 but his bid to become President of the Republic in 1971 was unsuccessful. He died in 1980, aged 88.

Faenza's cathedral still has a simple brick facade, and as  such is regarded as an unfinished project
Faenza's cathedral still has a simple brick facade, and as
such is regarded as an unfinished project
Travel tip:

Faenza is in the Emilia-Romagna region, about 50km (31 miles) southeast of Bologna and 35km (22 miles) southwest of Ravenna. The city is famous for the manufacture of a type of decorative majolica-ware known as faience. It is also home to the International Museum of Ceramics, which has examples of ceramics from ancient times, the Middle Ages and the 18th and 19th centuries as well as displaying work by important contemporary artists. The museum is in Viale Baccarini.  Although the origins of the city go back further, Faenza preserves traces of its Roman rectangular plan, surrounded by 15th-century walls. Notable landmarks include the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, where the city’s cathedral, begun in 1474 by Giuliano da Maiano, can be found. Construction finished in 1515 but was never completed, inasmuch as the front of the building is plain brick, with no stone or marble facade.

Faenza hotels by

A Linea A metro train crosses the Ponte Pietro Nenni, which carries trains over the River Tiber in Rome
A Linea A metro train crosses the Ponte Pietro Nenni,
which carries trains over the River Tiber in Rome
Travel tip:

Not all architecture in Rome is classical. One example is the Ponte Pietro Nenni, which spans the Tiber as a link between the Flaminio and Prati districts and is known by many as the Metro Bridge, on account of its primary purpose, which was to carry Linea A of the Rome metro from one side of the river to the other in the only section of the line that is above ground.  It carries vehicular traffic on both sides of the metro tracks. The bridge, a concrete cantilever structure with two supporting V-shaped piles, was designed by the architect Luigi Moretti and the engineer Silvano Zorzi and built between 1969 and 1972. It was inaugurated in 1980 and dedicated to Nenni, who died a month before the inauguration.

(Picture credits: Top portrait by; Faenza cathedral by Tecsis; metro train by Lucaf1; via Wikimedia Commons)

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)

19 September 2018

Giuseppe Saragat – fifth President of Italy

Socialist politician opposed Fascism and Communism

Giuseppe Saragat
Giuseppe Saragat, who was President of the Italian Republic from 1964 to 1971, was born on this day in 1898 in Turin.

As a Socialist politician, he was exiled from Italy by the Fascists in 1926.

When he returned to Italy in 1943 to join the partisans, he was arrested and imprisoned by the Nazi forces occupying Rome, but he managed to escape and resume clandestine activity within the Italian Socialist Party.

Saragat was born to Sardinian parents living in Turin and he graduated from the University of Turin in economics and commerce. He joined the Socialist party in 1922.

During his years in exile he did various jobs in Austria and France.  After returning to Italy, he was minister without portfolio in the first post-liberation cabinet of Ivanoe Bonomi in 1944.

He was sent as ambassador to Paris between 1945 and 1946 and was then elected president of the Constitutional Assembly that drafted postwar Italy’s new constitution.

At the Socialist Party Congress in 1947, Saragat opposed the idea of unity with the Communist Party and led those who walked out to form the Socialist Party of Italian Workers (PSLI).

In 1951, Saragat founded the Italian Democratic Socialist Party
In 1951, Saragat founded the Italian
Democratic Socialist Party
Saragat was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in April 1948. He became vice premier and minister of the merchant marine, but he resigned from his posts in 1949 to devote himself to his party.

It became the Italian Democratic Socialist Party (PSDI) in 1951 in an effort to reaffirm its independence from the Communists and the other left-wing groups.

Between 1954 and 1957 Saragat again served as vice-premier but resigned in opposition to the government’s position on NATO. He suggested the idea of ‘an opening to the left’ - a coalition government including left-wing socialists.

Saragat was minister of foreign affairs in the cabinet of Antonio Segni between 1959 and 1960 but then resigned causing the downfall of the government. In 1963 he campaigned against nuclear power stations in Italy saying they were an unnecessary extravagance.

He then became minister of foreign affairs under Aldo Moro and saw the opening to the left materialise as Moro formed Italy's first centre-left government He served until late 1964 when he succeeded Segni as President of Italy.

He stepped down from the presidency in 1971, becoming a Senator for Life.  In 1975 he became secretary of his old party, the PSDI.

Saragat died in June 1988 aged 89, leaving a son and a daughter.

An internal courtyard at the University of Turin
An internal courtyard at the University of Turin
Travel tip:

The University of Turin, where Saragat studied for his degree, is one of the oldest universities in Europe, founded in 1406 by Prince Ludovico di Savoia. It consistently ranks among the top five universities in Italy and is an important centre for research. The university departments are spread around 13 facilities, with the main university buildings in Via Giuseppe Verdi, close to Turin’s famous Mole Antonelliana.

The Palazzo Quirinale in Rome is the official residence  of the presidents of Italy
The Palazzo Quirinale in Rome is the official residence
of the presidents of Italy
Travel tip:

When Giuseppe Saragat was the President of Italy, he lived in Palazzo Quirinale in Rome at one end of Piazza del Quirinale. This was the summer palace of the popes until 1870 when it became the palace of the kings of the newly unified Italy. Following the abdication of the last king, it became the official residence of the President of the Republic in 1947.

More reading:

Why Antonio Segni was famous for tactical cunning

Ivanoe Bonomi - a major figure in the transition to peace

When the Red Brigades kidnapped Aldo Moro

Also on this day:

The Festival of San Gennaro

1941: The birth of controversial Lega Nord politician Umberto Bossi


10 September 2018

Giovanni Gronchi – Italy’s third president

Opponent of Mussolini became head of state in 1955

Giovanni Gronchi's politics saw him expelled from parliament by Mussolini's Fascists
Giovanni Gronchi's politics saw him expelled
from parliament by Mussolini's Fascists
Christian Democrat politician Giovanni Gronchi, who served as President of Italy from 1955 to 1962, was born on this day in 1887 at Pontedera in Tuscany.

He was elected to the Camera dei Deputati in 1919 and went on to become leader of a group of deputies opposed to Mussolini, but when the Fascist government suppressed this group he put his political career on hold.

Gronchi returned to politics towards the end of the Second World War and helped found the new Christian Democrat party. In 1955 he was chosen as the third President of the Republic of Italy, succeeding Luigi Einaudi.

His presidency was notable for his attempt to open a door into government for the Italian Socialist and Communist parties, which ultimately failed.

As a young man, Gronchi had obtained a degree in Literature and Philosophy at the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa and worked as a teacher of classics in Parma, Massa di Carrara, Bergamo and Monza.

He volunteered for military service during the First World War and afterwards became one of the founding members of the Catholic Italian Popular Party.

Gronchi was elected president in 1955 in succession to Luigi Einaudi
Gronchi was elected president in 1955
in succession to Luigi Einaudi
He was elected to represent Pisa in parliament and served in Mussolini’s first government as Under Secretary for Industry and Commerce.

By 1923 Gronchi’s party had decided to withdraw all their members from the government and so he went back to his previous role as a Catholic trade union leader, supporting members who were having to face violence every day from Mussolini’s Fascist squads.

Gronchi became leader of his party in 1924 and was re-elected to parliament. He joined the Aventine movement, the anti-Fascist opposition, and in 1926 he was expelled from parliament by the Government.

To avoid having to become a member of the Fascist party he had to resign from teaching and earned his living as a businessman, first as a salesman and then as an industrialist.

In 1941 he married Carla Bissatini and they had one son and one daughter.

He re-entered politics with the fall of Mussolini and, in 1943, after co-founding the new Christian Democrat party, he became a leader of its left-wing faction. He was also a member of the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale, the multi-party committee of the Italian resistance and in 1947 he opposed his party’s decision to expel the Italian Communist and Socialist parties from government.

Gronchi, second left, with Giulio Andreotti, left, his wife, Carla,
and Amintore Fanfani, right, at the 1960 Olympics in Rome
Between 1948 and 1955 he served as president of the Camera dei Deputati before being elected President of the Republic on April 29, 1955.

As president, one of his missions was to bring Socialists and Communists back into government but he faced stiff opposition.

He appointed Fernando Tambroni, a trusted member of his Catholic left-wing faction as prime minister, but Tambroni was able to survive in office thanks only to neo-fascist votes.

However, in 1960 there were riots in several towns in Italy and police fired on demonstrators, killing five people. The Tambroni government was forced to resign.

While he was president, Gronchi was also criticised for interfering in diplomacy. He made many state visits, including visiting the Soviet Union, despite church opposition.

In 1962 he attempted to get a second mandate, but Antonio Segni was elected as president instead. However, it was not long until the first centre-left coalition was formed by Aldo Moro in 1964.

Gronchi became a life senator by right according to the Italian constitution. He died in 1978 in Rome at the age of 91.

The Palazzo Pretorio in Corso Giacomo Matteotti in the centre of Pontedera, in the Arno valley
The Palazzo Pretorio in Corso Giacomo Matteotti in
the centre of Pontedera, in the Arno valley
Travel tip:

Pontedera, the birthplace of Giovanni Gronchi, is in the province of Pisa in Tuscany in the Arno valley. Nowadays it houses the Piaggio motor vehicle company, the Castellani wine company and the Amedei chocolate factory. It was the seat of some notable historical battles. In 1369, the Milanese army of Barnabo Visconti was defeated by Florentine troops and in 1554 an army representing the Republic of Siena defeated the Florentines.

The Palazzo Quirinale in Rome is the official residence of the President of the Republic
The Palazzo Quirinale in Rome is the official residence
of the President of the Republic
Travel tip:

As President of Italy, Gronchi lived in Palazzo Quirinale in Rome at one end of Piazza del Quirinale. This was the summer palace of the popes until 1870 when it became the palace of the kings of the newly unified Italy. Following the abdication of the last monarch, it became the official residence of the President of the Republic in 1947.

More reading:

Aldo Moro: a tragic end to a distinguished career in politics

Ludovico Einaudi - politician and winemaker

Amintore Fanfani and the 'third way'

Also on this day:

1890: The birth of fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli

1960: Abebe Bikila makes history at Rome Olympics


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


29 October 2017

King appoints Mussolini Prime Minister

Victor Emmanuel turned to Fascist leader after fearing civil war

Victor Emmanuel III
Victor Emmanuel III
Victor Emmanuel III, the king of Italy, invited Benito Mussolini to become Prime Minister on this day in 1922, ushering in the era of Fascist rule in Italy.

History has largely perceived the decision as a moment of weakness on the part of the king, a man of small physical stature who had never been particularly comfortable in his role.

Yet at the time, with violent clashes between socialist supporters and Mussolini’s Blackshirts occurring almost daily with both sides bent on revolution, Victor Emmanuel feared that Italy was on the brink of civil war.

The First World War had been financially crippling for Italy, even though they had emerged with a victory of sorts in that the Austro-Hungarians were finally pushed out of northern Italy.

In the poverty that followed, the country shifted sharply to the left and in the 1919 general election the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) gained 32 per cent of the vote, amounting to 156 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, the largest representation in their history.

But for all the support for the PSI, particularly among factory workers in urban areas, there were just as many Italians who felt uncomfortable about their advance, and not only those who belonged to the moneyed elite.  The PSI had aligned themselves with the Russian Bolsheviks and were determined to pursue a strong ultra-left agenda that included the overthrow of bourgeois capitalism, but also threatened, through state seizure of agricultural land, to deny rural workers any prospect of fulfilling their aspiration to own land themselves.

The king with Mussolini in Rome in 1923
The king with Mussolini in Rome in 1923
Ironically, Mussolini had been the leader of this Bolshevik faction of the PSI before the First World War, his own politics having been founded in socialist values.

But he was expelled from the party after going against their opposition to the war and moving towards national syndicalism, which embraced the principle of workers’ collectives owning the means of production but which favoured tight state control and only limited democracy, combined with military expansion to further national growth.

Many similarly displaced former PSI members joined Mussolini in forming the Fascist Revolutionary Party, which evolved into the National Fascist Party.  And though Mussolini’s party differed from the socialists in several areas, it still portrayed itself as being on the side of the people.

Both sides promised to take power away from the ruling classes and politicians by whom many ordinary Italians felt betrayed and though, as a character, he lacked decisiveness, Victor Emmanuel knew he could not allow the social unrest to continue and would have to come down on one side or the other if order were to be restored.

Matters came to a head when he became aware that Mussolini, who had already acquired a considerable following and effective control in parts of northern Italy, was planning an insurrection in which he would lead his Blackshirts in a symbolic March on Rome.  Luigi Facta, the Liberal prime minister, drafted a decree of martial law, having been advised by General Pietro Badoglio to tell Victor Emmanuel his troops could repel the uprising. But after initially indicating he would sign the decree, the king then changed his mind.

Victor Emmanuel overestimated the threat of the Fascists to Rome
Victor Emmanuel overestimated the
threat of the Fascists to Rome
This was partly because he overestimated the number of men likely to take part in the march and the degree to which they would be armed, and partly because he did not trust the army not to take the opportunity to stage a coup. Largely, though, it was because he considered allowing Italy to fall into the hands of the Marxists in the PSI to be unthinkable.

As it happens, having been told that the army would remain loyal to the king, and knowing that the 300,000-strong force he would later claim to have taken part actually amounted a the start to fewer than 10,000, Mussolini was on the point of abandoning the insurrection.

Instead, a few minutes before midnight on October 29, he received a telegram from the king inviting him to Palazzo del Quirinale, the official Rome residence of the monarch and the seat of power. 

By noon the following day, aged only 39, with no previous experience of office and only 35 Fascists deputies in the Chamber, he had been sworn in as President of the Council of Ministers – the Prime Minister.  Rather than marching into Rome to seize power, Mussolini actually travelled to the capital by train.  The march did take place, but as a celebration.

The decision allowed Mussolini to crush the opposition, his thugs continuing to employ the violent methods that had allowed him to dominate northern and central areas of the country before his accession to power to reinforce his rule across the whole of the country.

Mussolini joined the March on Rome, although by then his objective of taking power had been achieved
Mussolini joined the March on Rome, although by then
his objective of taking power had been achieved
Victor Emmanuel’s real crime was to stand aside while all this was taking place, failing to act even when Giacomo Matteotti, a socialist deputy who outspokenly claimed the 1923 election was rigged, was assassinated, with clear evidence that Fascists close to Mussolini were involved.

He allowed Mussolini free rein to abuse his power, to the extent that he had dropped all pretence of democracy within three years, passing a law that decreed that he was no longer answerable to parliament, only to the king.

By the time, in 1943, with Italy again sinking into civil war, Victor Emmanuel ordered Mussolini’s arrest following a Fascist Grand Council vote to remove him as leader, the Italian royal family by their association with Fascism were irreversibly discredited.

The Palazzo del Quirinale used to be the royal residence in Rome
The Palazzo del Quirinale used to be the royal residence in Rome
Travel tip:

The Palazzo del Quirinale, a vast complex 20 times larger than the White House and a seat of power in Italy since it was built in 1583, sits on the top of Quirinal Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome.  It has been the official residence of 30 popes – it was built originally as a summer residence for Pope Gregory XIII – four kings of Italy and 12 presidents of the Italian republic. It became a royal palace after the unification of Italy in 1871, although Victor Emmanuel III preferred to live elsewhere, in the Villa Savoia, a house set in parkland in the northern part of the city.

The church of San Sepolcro in the square of the same name in central Milan, where Mussolini launched his Fascist party
The church of San Sepolcro in the square of the same name
in central Milan, where Mussolini launched his Fascist party
Travel tip:

The roots of the Mussolini’s National Fascist Party can be traced back to a rally that took place in Milan’s Piazza San Sepolcro on March 23, 1919, when the expelled former official of the Italian Socialist Party launched a fascio – the word in use it Italy in the late 19th and early 20th century to describe any political group.  His Fasci Italiani di Combattimento (roughly translated: Italian League of Combatants) was initially meant to represent combatants from the First World War angered at the failure of the king and state to secure the appropriate rewards for Italy after the sacrifices made by Italian soldiers in achieving a victory.  The Piazza san Sepolcro is in the centre of Milan, a few streets away from the Duomo, just behind the Ambrosian Library.

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.