Friday, April 28, 2006

Journalists, both Italian and foreign, have written for decades about the problems of Italian democracy and corruption in the bel paese. It is difficult to approach the subject without lapsing into accounts that seem plagarized from a supermarket paperback thriller. To illustrate how deeply disturbing the present political situation is, let me present some of the facts about the man who may decide the fate of the incoming government: Giulio Andreotti.

Andreotti is currently a senator for life, a seven-time prime minister, a career politician who has held a number of parliamentary and ministerial positions since 1944. In the early 1990’s, when a series of corruption trials brought down his Christian Democratic party, he was implicated in ties between the Mafia and the party. In 1990, he admitted to the Italian parliament that since WWII there had been a secret NATO and CIA-backed paramilitary force, the Gladio, involved in clandestine anti-communist operations and implicated in terrorist actions in the so-called anni di piombo, the years of lead of the 1970’s and 80’s when Italy was rocked by bombings, assassinations and an attempted military coup – none of which have never been conclusively explained nor the perpetrators punished. He justified his knowledge of and previous silence about this organization under his rule as necessary to block the Italian communists from being elected to executive power.

In 2002, Andreotti was convicted and sentenced to 24 years in prison for the 1979 murder of Mino Pecorelli, a journalist who had written about his ties to the Mafia. The following year he was acquitted in a retrial marred by thefts of evidence from the prosecutor’s office and dismissal of testimonies by Mafia witnesses who were later allowed to give related testimony in other convictions. Subsequently tried for “mafia association”, he was acquitted on the technicalities that a) such a crime did not exist prior to 1982 and b) the statute of limitations had passed for his criminal associations. The court noted however, that Andreotti had shown a “genuine, lasting and friendly disposition towards mafiosi”*.

Andreotti is now running for the position of President of the Republic, a move that would, if he wins, destabilize Prodi’s center-left coalition and open the way for either political chaos and deadlock or new elections. This is, of course what Berlusconi has in mind. He continues to deny that Prodi won the elections, that they were rigged.

An underreported tidbit on Berlusconi and election rigging – it was his legislation that decriminalized election fraud in Italy. I wish I were making this up. As Tobias Jones, author of The Dark Heart of Italy writes, “When a government issues laws that decriminalize the forgery of election signatures (guilt now brings a small fine instead of a maximum four years in prison), there’s something very wrong afoot.” (p 262).

Unfortunately, these are not isolated examples of evasions of justice by Italy’s most powerful men. This, as Tobias Jones has well argued, is a part of an extensive pattern of incomplete investigations, unsolved murders and unpunished terrorism, of conspiracies and criminal organizations tied to politicians and of the dirtiest of corruption legislated down to minor infractions.

I’m anxiously waiting, hoping to see the transfer of power to Prodi’s government run as smoothly as possible, not because I am enamored of Prodi (though I do admit my political sympathies are with the left) but because the negation of the election results by non-elected forces would mean Italian “democracy” is not worthy of the name.

UPDATE: Franco Marini, running against Andreotti, just came up 2 votes short in the Parliamentary elections for President, Andreotti trailed not far behind but not close enough to take the position. This means there will be another round of voting, in which Marini will most likely win. The xenophobic Lega Nord deputies, in Berlusconi's right-wing coalition, are not voting for Andreotti because he represents everything they objected to in the corrupt Christian Democrats (the Lega came onto the scene in the wake of the 1990's collapse of traditional parties, see my post Strange bedfellows)

*Quoted by Tony Barber, “Andreotti brought back from the Political Graveyard”. The Financial Times: April 24, 2006


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