Articles by: Judith Harris

  • Facts & Stories

    Rome Turns Right

    ROME – Last Sunday and Monday 5.8 million Italians were asked to return to the polls for a second time this month for a run-off among candidates for mayor and administrators in 44 townships and five provinces. Rome was the toughest battleground, where the vote was being viewed as a litmus test of the relative strengths of the two main parties that slogged it out at the polls two weeks ago, Silvio Berlusconi’s victorious Popolo della Libertà, or People’s Liberty party (PDL), and Walter Veltroni’s moderately progressive Democratic party (PD). And in the end, Berlusconi's candidate won, by 53.7% to 46.3%.

    For the past fifteen years Rome has had a center-left government, headed alternately by Francesco Rutelli and Veltroni himself. Especially during the past three years the citizens’ tolerance has been sorely tried by Rom squatter camps, slow and jam-packed public transport, filthy and dangerous commuter train stations, immigrant hawkers and beggars blocking sidewalks, graffiti-sprayed buildings, drunken violence in the downtown historic center by night, and garbage-strewing hordes of tourists by day. Streets in the center are still hand swept daily; shopkeepers literally scrub sidewalks, and cleanup crews wash building walls, but old hands revisiting Rome are shocked at the sheer extent of  il degrado, the degradation of this unique and uniquely beautiful city with its heritage of history, religion and art.

    In addition, in past weeks an unaccustomed crescendo of violence attributed to untrammeled immigration—rapes, murders, drunk drivers who kill children and the elderly—has given the Rome campaign a raw edge, heightened by the success of the anti-immigrant Northern League two weeks ago.

    With this as the background, the PD candidate was the acting Culture Minister (and former mayor) Rutelli, who faced off against Gianni Alemanno, representing the Berlusconi alliance. Two weeks ago Rutelli won almost 46% of the vote in Rome as compared with Alemanno’s under 41%, but the positions were reversed when all the votes were counted in the runoff in what was considered an upset victory for the right.

    The Rome result was also a personal victory for Gianfranco Fini, the  former neo-fascist youth leader and head of the modernized "post-fascist" former Alleanza Nazionale (now merged with Berlusconi's PDL), who had turned out personally to campaign for Alemanno.

    Challenging immigrant hawkers in one of Rome’s outdoor markets this week, Fini asked to see their work permits. When those he questioned proved to have their papers in order, and chummily photographed him with their cell phones, Fini grumbled, “They probably bought their papers.”

    Fini himself has been a nudging hawker. On April 14-15 Umberto Bossi’s Northern League walked off with 8.4% of the vote and hence has more clout with Berlusconi than does Fini himself. Alemanno's victory in Rome bolsters the otherwise overshadowed Fini.

    Bossi and Fini  represent diametrically opposed constituencies. Bossi is usually described simplistically as “anti-immigrant,” but today his party has moved from its early rustic populism toward a more sophisticated brand of federalism, especially fiscal federalism, code words for keeping tax money in the regions where levied. If enacted, public funds would less likely flow from the full-employment North down to the troubled Italian South—but that South, and especially the Campania Region around Naples and the Puglie on the Eastern Coast of the peninsula, is just where Fini’s movement is strongest, and also where Fini also risks challenge by the vestiges of the far right associated with the otherwise lame group around Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of the Duce.

    Meanwhile, the right's victory in Rome has some quite fearful. Last night as we walked by the Capitoline Hill, where the mayor has offices and the city council meets, supporters of the Alleanza Nazionale faction of Berlusconi's outfit were feting their victory. Among them was a group of young thuggish far rightists raising arms in Fascist-style salutes and yelling, "Duce, Duce!" as the middle-class Berlusconi backers hushed them and said, "One mustn't do that, the TV cameras are watching." The mood among the losers here is apprehensive. There is also fear in the gay community that there will be bashings to come, fear among the law-abiding immigrants of a harsh clamp-down, and fear in the Jewish community that the Nazi deportation of a thousand Romans will be forgotten or worse. Sign of the new times: on Sunday night a plaque to Auschwitz victims was hacked out of a wall in an Eastern Rome suburb.


    This article is an abridged version of a longer piece that appeared on DIRELAND



  • Facts & Stories

    Italy's Shifting Political Balance

    ROME – The stunning losses of the far left, which ran three parties together as the Sinistra Arcobaleno, are being minutely analyzed. These three included the Verdi (the Green party) of Pecoraro Scannio, which achieved nothing but to “file themselves into the archives,” to borrow a friend’s phrase. Pollsters including Consortium, which works for both RAI and Sky, say that the Verdi dropped 75% of their previous electorate, or three out of four. The toxic waste dumps of Naples should have given them a hand, but that protest vote went elsewhere, and especially to Di Pietro’s Italia dei Valori.

    The second in the Arcobaleno trio was Oliviero Diliberto’s Partito dei Comunisti Italiani (PdCI), which lost eight out of ten who had voted for that party only two years ago. Finally, Fausto Bertinotti’s Rifondazione Comunista lost six out of the ten who voted for it in 2008. This decimation showing an out-of-touch and dated far left may be useful, for it paves the way for the growth of a unified moderate left, as commentators like Corrado Augias point out.

    Meantime, the winners are jockeying for position. Pierferdinando Casini’s Unione di Centro, with nearly 6%, is remaining for the moment outside the fray, promising “constructive” help to the government even as he is being actively courted by left, right and center. Although at the outset strong Catholic Church interference was predicted, in point of fact Casini’s  was the closest to a Catholic campaign save for the complete flop by the abortion list run by the ever polemical journalist Giovanni Ferrara. For a future government that 6% may be decisive, but otherwise it suggests that the specific Catholic vote is no longer a factor in Italian politics.

    In the city of Romeo and Juliet at least one out of four voters opted for “il Caroccio,” the Big Cart, as the Northern League is called by its aficionados. The strong showing by Umberto Bossi’s party (8.4% in the Chamber), which is expected to field four ministers, has made Verona its capital and the capital of a certain type of protest vote. This is full employment Italy—wealthy, tidy, hard working. But as a Verona workman who voted the Bossi ticket said, “There are too many foreigners in town who steal and don’t work.” The guessing then is that Bossi stole votes from both blue collar workers and from Berlusconi’s Popolo della Libertà. As a Berlusconi party official acknowledged, “We should have campaigned more like Bossi. The voters just don’t see us as representing them.”

    Among the various local governments holding elections, Rome’s will require a run-off later this month for mayor between the two front-running candidates, Franceso Rutelli of the new Democratic Party and Giovanni Alemanno of the Popolo della Libertà. At the moment his 45.8% of the vote puts Rutelli is handily in the lead over Alemanno, with 40.7%, but no one is taking victory for granted, and Rutelli, hoping for a second round as mayor, is planning on a door-to-door campaign.

    Rutelli, who served as Culture Minister in Romano Prodi’s two-year government, has won kudos for his successful prosecution of foreign museums and private collectors worldwide who had purchased looted Italian antiquities. Whoever wins in Rome will face a mountain of other problems, however, from the graffiti smeared on walls to toxic waste problems (Naples is not alone) and the resettlement and, one  might hope, integration of the thousands upon thousands of Rom living in desperate conditions in illegal camps.

    As a financial footnote addressed to those interested in the public financing of political parties, the eight which won more than one percent of  the vote will automatically receive a reimbursement for their election expenditures, to the tune of 407 million Euros, or over $600 million. All told there were 47,295,978 voters for the Chamber and 43,257,208 for the Senate.

  • Facts & Stories

    The End of Ideology?

    ROME – “This is the end of ideology,” was one editor’s rushed comment, in tones of both nostalgia and relief, as the results of Italian general elections came flooding in Monday night. In some ways he was right. This election was mostly about pragmatic issues and personalities, not ideas, and down at Remo’s coffee bar in Rome frequented by workmen, cops, the odd aristocrat, street people, artists and teachers, the line that drew the most applause this morning was, “Hanno detto di lui peste e corna, ma po’ l’hanno votato tutti.” (They said all they could about him, down to calling him cornuto, but then they all voted for him.) No need to explain the “him”—it was Berlusconi, the future premier.

    Walter Veltroni won kudos from the commentators by graciously phoning to concede victory to the man called “Berlusca nostra” (our Berlusca’). Less graciously, Berlusconi declared he’d always known he would win, “whatever the pollsters say” (a gratuitously nasty note since he owned most of the polling companies). He also boasted that his victory proves that he’d actually won in 2006, too, but that results were fiddled. Well, hang on for a rough ride with plenty of picturesque scenery.

    There being no quarrel about who won, that ride is expected to begin around the first of May. It will be all the rougher thanks to the virile 8.4% showing in the Chamber of Deputies of the Northern League. Headed by Umberto Bossi, the League’s anti-immigrant policies and federalist projects can hardly be ignored in the future by Berlusconi and his main ally and lockstep prop, Gianfranco Fini. Only days before the election Berlusconi and Bossi had tangled; the latter said he expected a cabinet slot, the former said not in my backyard. We shall see how that plays out.

    The first and most important statistic is the high turnout of 80.3%, just 3.5% below that of 2006. It is cause for justifiable pride. Few Italians relished being recalled to vote again after only 24 months, but they turned out dutifully, in election days marred by just three events. One man had a heart attack in a polling station, a woman felt sick in another, and in the confusion of being obliged to store their cell phones while voting, people walked away with the wrong mobile phone.

    A few other statistics, limited here to the Chamber of Deputies vote: together Berlusconi’s trio of parties (his own Popolo della Libertà, which combines his old Forza Italia action party with Fini’s post-Fascists); the Northern League; and the tiny faction MPA (1.1%), claimed 46.7% of the vote. This will give the Berlusconi triumvirate 340 deputies in the Chamber. Berlusconi and Fini together this time claimed 37.2%; two years ago the same two claimed 36%, meaning a real increase of over 1.2% of the electorate.

    Pier Ferdinando Casini’s U.D.C., a Catholic-oriented moderately conservative party, will be a player, since it claimed 5.6% of the vote, meaning 34 seats in Parliament.

    The results were a crushing blow for the ideological left of unborn, reborn and refried Communists. Even the popular Fausto Bertinotti bit the dust  and has announced his withdrawal from politics. The trade unionist’s party, Rifondazione Comunista, had claimed no less than 5.8% of the vote just two years ago, and he was elevated to the high profile job of president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, the third highest office in the land. This time his party, called the Sinistra Arcobalena, claimed just over 3% of the vote, but will not have a single member of Parliament.

    And indeed the results were more about the losers than the winners. The chatty fattie Giuliano Ferrara, who had campaigned against abortion, basically won no votes and was gloomily criticizing himself. The Socialist party revival flopped. Gone for the moment is any party involving gays; and with them women are put out to the same pasture as were the Greens.

    Another flop: the exit polls, which initially showed Walter Veltroni, leader of the new Partito Democratico, well ahead of Berlusconi’s formation.

    A bright spot was the positive showing on the left of the anti-Mafia, anti-crime political action party headed by former Palermo mayor Leoluca Orlando and by Antonio Di Pietra, the prosecutor who spearheaded the anti-corruption trials of the Nineties. Their 4.4% of the vote entitles them to 31 deputies, who are certain to be a thorn in Berlusconi’s side. Campaigning for them was the Neapolitan toxic rubbish scandal.

    That success is part of the larger picture, a fascinating snapshot of Italy today: The election results show a country tired of the old ways and eager for new, but uncertain. They show that some sectors of the country long to emulate Berlusconi’s business success but others are troubled by the obvious presence of crime in business. They show fatigue with the vieux jeu trade unions and Seventies rhetoric but at the same time concern over the hordes of immigrants, who include a criminal component.

    They also show, and perhaps this above all, fear of the future, with Berlusconi—tasteless wise cracks, hair dye, flirtatious ways and all—welcomed as a comforting, reassuring presence.

    The very best election comment came from the stock market in Milan. Cement company shares suddenly rocketed: Berlusconi has promised major public works projects, with all that implies. The road may be rocky, but at least it’s a road to build, or a bridge, and building means work and profits to be spread all around, without examining the beneficiaries too closely.



  • Facts & Stories

    Italy's Elections: Viagra for the Doldrums?

    ROME, April 4, 2008 – Unlike America’s, Italy’s national general election campaign is blissfully short, and so, called barely two months ago, the end approaches with the vote April 13-14. Otherwise, to borrow from our favorite cashmere Communist Fausto Bertinotti, this is the lousiest election campaign in memory.

    The front-runner remains the ultraconservative media magnate and aging roué Silvio Berlusconi (right), once and future premier, who has been on trial for corruption more frequently than most Mafiosi. Even his enemies figure that he will prevail, and this has meant during the campaign that his arrogance has expanded, both shocking and amusing even his most charitable admirers.

    A week ago he boasted that the influential Cardinal Camillo Ruini hopes no one will vote for the new Democratic party of Berlusconi’s opponent, former Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni. Truly or otherwise, the sometime political meddler cardinal primly retorted that the Church supported no one. Meantime, the rallies of the sassy fattie Giuliano Ferrara, who is running an anti-abortion list of candidates, are being broken up by police as feminists rally.

    Berlusconi’s allies and advisers, including xenophobic demagogue Umberto Bossi of the Northern League, who is much recovered from the stroke of a few years back, warned Berlusconi to stay off the subject of women, but he could not resist. Ever the feminist, Berlusconi told a group of women last week that they are the bosses “within the walls of the home”, that they are superior to men in having “instincts” (not in reasoning, mind), that he bows to his own women when he is safely near the hearth—and then he ardently hugged a lissome blond admirer, as is his wont.

    Earlier, Berlusconi had advised a young woman, who complained that she could not find a job, to get married, since she was cute, “maybe to one of my sons.” And in Palermo he has just reminded Mafiosi they are not to vote for him, “just as I said last time.” (He scored 58% in Sicily.)

    My favorite election cartoon was on the front cover of a L’Unità satirical insert, otherwise undistinguished. It depicts Berlusconi inside a drugstore handing the pharmacist a prescription: Pharmacist: The usual Viagra for you? Berlusconi: Not just for me – it’s for all of Italy.

    In the cartoonist’s imagination, the best the self-styled Freedom Party (Partito della Libertà, or PDL) can do is to offer, well, self-help for individual indulgence. Like politicians everywhere, Berlusconi tends to say the outrageous one day and explain the next that the media took his words out of context. In any case, what Berlusconi and, with him, the nation may need most in the post-election future will be not Viagra, but a headache powder. For a number of giant headaches are arriving thick and fast.

    The biggest is Alitalia, the debt-ridden flagship airline that is losing one million Euros daily (about $1.4 million). Berlusconi’s undermining of the Prodi government’s plan to have the semi-privatized Alitalia absorbed by Air France is mischievous, not to say downright evil. A condition for the takeover is the sacking of 2,100 employees, a project which the unions noisily oppose, even at risk of the company’s going bankrupt within days, with the loss of all jobs. Berlusconi, the economic libertarian, is playing to and with the unions, for once, and has proposed that a consortium of private businessmen, including his own two sons, just might take over Alitalia in order to save national pride. Shareholders objected, and last week Alitalia stock slumped by 37% in a day. Today, as the Air France takeover may fade, Alitalia stock is virtually worthless, even as air “hostesses”, as the Italian press still calls stewards, were demonstrating against the unions, who are demonstrating, with Berlusconi’s blessing, against the outgoing government of Romano Prodi.

    Should Berlusconi win the elections, he vows to boycott the Air France proposal. This suggests that the incoming government would have to help bail out Alitalia, before it can be sold at a handy discount (to wit, that worthless stock) to Berlusconi’s sons & co.

    So will he win? All the polls concur that Berlusconi remains well ahead, but even here there are problems. Many Italians decline to reply to pollsters, and those willing to answer questions on the phone tend to be older and female—those who already back Berlusconi, that is. This skewing of the polls is aggravated by the fact that pollsters here contact Gianfranco_fini almost only those who still have land line phones, and therefore ignore the youth vote, tipped to favor both Veltroni on the left and Berlusconi’s rival on the right and possible successor, the "post-fascist" Gianfranco Fin.

    Predictions therefore are that, when the real vote is counted in mid-April, Berlusconi will prevail in the Chamber, but face the same sort of narrow win in the Senate which became a stalement that worked against outgoing center-left Premier Prodi.

    Curiously, Berlusconi has similar troubles with his TV networks. On the face of it the Auditel measurements network audiences show he has a huge market share, but behind the TV sets and Fifties programming of men who put on fake boobs as entertainment there’s another story. Berlusconi’s trio of networks especially attract the elderly and intellectually challenged, and these “folks” living on minimal pensions do not buy the products advertised; in advertising terms this is a phony audience. Proof of the advertisers’ canny analysis of the needs of the elder-market, morning radio audiences for RAI, the national network, are treated to a veritable flush of ads offering cures for constipation and Bolshie bladders.

    The biggest headache of all may well be the newly revived Bossi, whose anti-immigration Northern League is likely to hold the parcel of votes crucial to Senate votes. And this just may mean a serious migraine headache for the entire nation. Given such a shortage of political Viagra, experts here are already predicting a frustrated and frustrating new legislature with a brief shelf life.


    (This article first appeared on DIRELAND)



  • Facts & Stories

    Mozzarella Politics, Naples (Italy)

    ROME – For the past month the water buffalo has been on its way to becoming Italy’s very own mad cow, and, with losses of  some $700,000 daily, a costly symbol of all that can go wrong on even the best-managed farm. These are the buffalo that produce the milk that makes the world’s best cheese, mozzarella di bufala, but evidence from tests of hay, milk and cheese samples showed beyond doubt that some herds are grazing on fields contaminated by dioxin that has seeped into the food chain as a result of the illegal dumping and burning of toxic waste. Total sales have dropped by from 40 to 60%, for total losses estimated at over $40 million.

    The resentment in the Campania areas affected, and especially around Caserta north of Naples, is understandably enormous. One sophisticated agribusiness woman, whose impeccable farm is home to 900 water buffalo near Paestum, furiously blamed the press for allegedly inflating the story. Alfonso Pagano, who is a partner in a cheese factory near Aversa, was quoted in the Naples daily Il Mattino Friday protesting, “No product is better controlled that mozzarella. All this talk has brought terrible damage and made us look ridiculous in the eyes of the world.”

    Today, the serious boycott threats from Asia and the European Union are being dropped, and it is a safe prediction that mozzarella di bufala will once again be welcome on dinner tables the world over.

    But the problem is neither the press nor ridicule. Testing is still going on extremely slowly, but the evidence is that some buffalo milk contains excessive traces of dioxin. Court orders have blocked milk sales from 83 farms and shut down 29 cheese factories in the Campania, many of them small. Eleven farms were cleared, but testing continues, and until it ends, the farmers, who have lost their income, must find a way to finance buying hay to feed the animals. Other farmers who are not yet under investigation fear putting their animals to range into the fields and are keeping them locked in barns.

    Since earliest times the Campania, with its mineral-rich volcanic soil and mild climate, has been an agricultural wonderland. In the years before Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD Pliny the Elder praised the bountiful land for its production of two crops a year of some grains. At some unspecified time during the Middle Ages sea voyagers from today’s Pakistan arrived in boats bringing their buffalo with them. The generosity of the land and the skills of the Neapolitan farmers makes the dioxin scare all the worse, for it compromises other Neapolitan farm products: the other cheeses like ricotta, the lemons in limoncello, the prized wines like Falanghina, the tender artichokes, and premium, hand-dried pastas.     

    But the source of the problem is not the farmer. It is illegal dumping by criminal bands who are in bed with predatory politicians, and this means that the problem is political. Months ago authorities ordered the testing of farms, but for mysterious reasons the tests were not carried out, and no one followed up, which is why the story was broken after dioxin was found after testing exported mozzarellas in Japan. Wealthy Japan was an important client, which began importing buffalo mozzarella only 15 or so years ago; working on a mozzarella story for an American magazine I actually met one enthusiastic early Japanese delegation, which had just joyfully discovered insalata caprese—mozzarella and sliced tomato. Since the Japanese did not normally eat cheese, the successful mozzarella penetration of the tofu market was a coup.

    All this was compromised by the men dumping toxic waste from not only Neapolitan, but North Italian and even North European factories, whose owners turned a blind eye to what was going on in order to rid themselves of an intractable problem.

    Besides clandestine dumps, some legal dumps are also problematic. Two examples: near Eboli a legal dump can be seen, or rather, its cover, an immense and flimsy dark green tarp. As a Neapolitan journalist explained, a rubbish dump permit was issued, and a new road built so that it could be accessed. So much rubbish was brought there daily so that the traffic to the new road was considerable. Within a year the dump was completely filled. It and its new road were abandoned, but still there.

    The second example is a volcanic crater near Pozzuoli. During the Fifties the Senga crater and a side crater on a wooded mountain were legally chosen for use as a rubbish dump even though on a slope inside the crater were vestiges of an ancient building with painted stucco walls dating back to the Roman Empire. Local farmers and residents protested, but the administration ignored them, and a road was built so that trucks could haul the rubbish there. As the years passed neighbors complained of the poisonous fumes emanating from this dump, but no one paid attention. Pigs fed upon the rubbish; the poorest of the poor collected what they could. But eventually the craters were full, and so nearby land ever closer to the famous and historical Campi Flegrei was also taken, until that too was filled, according to a report published in 1986 by the late naturalist Roberto Pane in the magazine Napoli nobilissimo.

    It is fervently to be hoped that something better will come of this than followed the protests of two decades ago—that irate citizens will refuse to elect those politicians who operated hand-in-knuckleduster with the crooks who made their money by selling out the Neapolitan farmers.  



    P.S. Naturally, ten minutes after I sent this in, the Chinese announced a total boycott of mozzarella (which they do not in fact import, but what the heck, you don't like our mercurial toys, we denounce your dioxin mozzarella). It doesn't change the situation: the Chinese - if they tested anything - may have been testing counterfeit mozzarella, a whole 'nother story.

  • Facts & Stories

    Of Emperors, Murders and the Ides of March: the Ghosts that Haunt Italy's Elections

    On the ancient Roman calendar the Ides of March fell on our March 15. On that day in 44 BC the political problems of the Roman Empire were neatly resolved with the brutal assassination of the man who considered himself not only godly but indeed a god, the emperor Julius Caesar. The Roman senate building had burned and the Senate was temporarily meeting in the vast stone theater which General Pompey had built near today's Campo de Fiori in Rome, and so the self-anointed emperor Caesar died in what we would call today the lobby, at the foot of Pompey's statue. His murderers were his disgruntled fellow Roman senators, which is to say his political friends as well as enemies, united in their fear and loathing of him.


    It is a bizarre coincidence that the kidnapping on a suburban Roman street of the most powerful Italian political leader of his era, the mildly progressive and astute Aldo Moro, fell nearly on the same day, March 16, just thirty years ago. Especially in Rome these days that kidnapping, with the professional-looking murder of Moro's five bodyguards, and Moro's own brutal murder fifty-five days later, are cause of serious reflection and commemorations, interesting if without any hint at a revival of investigations into whether among his disgruntled fellow Roman political aristocrats one may have had a hand in sponsoring the kidnapping.


    In an interview which ran in La RepubblicaMarch 23, 1978, Leonardo Sciascia, whose novel Todo Modo foreshadowed the self-destruction of the Christian Democratic party, was asked by Alberto Stabile how he interpreted the kidnapping. Sciascia's reply: "The Red Brigades can be a monad [in biology, a monocellular organism] without a window, made up of violence and ideological folly, but they can also have doors and windows. If they have them, the problem is to see with whom they communicate; that is, to raise the question that Italians asked some years ago but which now they don't seem to ask any more: who benefits from this?" In my own interview with Sciascia, ever skeptical of power, ever curious, he said something of the same.


    "Moro mattered to Italy. For twenty years he represented the democratic continuity of the Christian Democrats, " synthesizes Eugenio Scalfari. "With all his slow ways and the mistakes he made, Moro was the man who transferred the centrist party into its first alliance with the Socialists, and then made possible today's parliamentary majority which includes the Communist party" (by which Scalfari presumably meant the Rifondazione Comunista).


    The Moro kidnapping was carried out by a handful of Red Brigades fanatics, and it was preceded by what is now a forgotten Brigades kidnapping, that of the son of the late Socialist leader Franceso De Martino. At the time Professor De Martino was aligned with Moro in promoting some form of an opening to the Italian Communist party, dubbed the historic compromise, in order to end a decade-long, frustrating political stalemate in government.


    The legalistic and professorial Moro, notorious for both his subtle mind and the ambiguity of his political slogans, was a devout Catholic, but his party incorporated a strong Catholic farm worker and labor movement, with which Moro, who straddled the center, had some sympathy. His formula for suggesting discussions of an opening to the Communists was to counsel "parallel convergencies," a fuzzy phrase which puzzled and amused some observers at home, but absolutely terrified others outside Italy (read: Washington).


    De Martino, like Moro, was a distinguished law professor noted for his personal honesty, and his version of the historic compromise was to urge "more advanced equilibriums," a phrase every bit as fuzzy as Moro's, but again, as with Moro, perfectly clear to those who made politics their business. In 1971 De Martino was a candidate and indeed the front runner to become president of Italy. He had the backing of the Communist party and the Socialists, but to be elected would have required a two-thirds vote in Parliament; without the Christian Democratic vote, he could not have been elected. So what would the Christian Democrats do, when it came to a vote? Many wondered: the party's left wing might split with its right and vote with the Socialists and Communists in favor of a Socialist president who, like Moro, was already advocating "more advanced" political agreements that would bring the Communists a share in power.


    No one will ever know whether or not leftish parliamentarians within the Christian Democrats would have broken party ranks to vote with the Communist-led left, for it did not come to a vote. The Red Brigades kidnapped De Martino's son, who (like Moro later) was held for ransom. De Martino resisted for a time, but in the end he felt obliged to save his son's life by paying a ransom. Having little money of his own, he was offered and then accepted gifts of vast sums of cash from "friends." This obliged De Martino to withdraw his candidacy as president of Italy. Not long afterward he was replaced as General Secretary of the Italian Socialist party by leaders of another stripe, culminating in the corrupt Bettino Craxi and the demise of the party itself, just as the murder of Aldo Moro began the process of destroying the Christian Democratic party.


    It was subsequently revealed that De Martino's staff had included a number of junior members of the notorious renegade P2 Masonic Lodge, whose other members included 40 individuals of high rank in the Italian military and intelligence. In short, the 1970s were not noted for their limpid politics. And, in the end, both the Italian Socialist party and the Christian Democrats, forged out of the collapse of Italian Fascism and the desolation of war, can be said to have died with De Martino and Moro.


    What is the connection? Like most others who lived through the Italian "years of lead," I can only guess, but the fact is that guessing is not good enough. That said, to the historical record I wish to contribute two small items of evidence. The first is that De Martino whispered, just once, to a close colleague, "They took money out of one drawer and put it into another." Who "they" were he did not say, but by this he meant those "friends" who had given him the ransom money which then financed the Red Brigades future activities. My second small contribution to the record is that a source deeply involved in investigations into the terrorism of those years said purposefully after due thought, "The De Martino kidnapping was a trial run for the Moro kidnapping."

    Think about it.


    Unlike Professor De Martino, those in charge in both party and government determined that it was unacceptable to negotiate with the Red Brigades for Moro's life because doing so would give the terrorists recognition and authority. A minority thought otherwise: among those favoring negotiations was the Socialist leader Bettino Craxi. Most importantly, Pope Paul VI made an appeal to the Brigades, irritating many in the no-negotiations camp by addressing them as "Men of the Red Brigades," since to acknowledge them as " men" was seen by many as the pontiff's giving "monsters" (as a lot of people even on the left thought of the kidnappers) undue recognition of a common humanity. And perhaps some negotiations were afoot, or at least contacts, for a cache of copies of letters from Moro, which turned up mysteriously many years later in Milan, suggested that contacts with his family may have existed. If so, go-between therefore existed: who? Presumably a clergyman. But if one person could find Moro, so, it can be argued, could others.


    Not long before Moro was murdered I received a telephone call with an offer of an interview with a Brigatista. I replied that of course I was ready and willing, but that I would not come alone: I would come with half the Italian army. The phone went dead. So, of course, did Moro. Who was the "terrorist" I was to interview? I never knew.


    Not long afterward I was again contacted, this time by an America who occupied an official position. Could I kindly, he asked, "for a journalistic friend," arrange an interview with a Brigatista? Before I had time to think I snapped, "Sure. It will take place in my living room and I will wear a ski mask. It will cost $10,000. You get half." Again, the phone went dead.


    But elsewhere the voices were speaking: the voices of children in the park, playing the kidnapping of Aldo Moro. The voices of people frightened in the streets. To recall the collective fear of those long days still leaves me gasping. And the day in May when Moro's body was found in a car parked only a few blocks from my own home I knew what had happened immediately because a thousand sirens were screaming at once. Like others I ran as fast as I could, and, since I was only blocks away, I was there to see the end of his personal drama -- but not the end of Italy's, which is still recovering.


    And so to the present. Wreaths and conferences and press symposia on the significance of these three post-Moro decades have, yes, commemorated Moro, but above all have asked whither the Roman Catholic vote in the forthcoming elections, scheduled for April 13-14, to take place, shamefully, after less than two years since the last elections. Those of Spring 2006 were won, all too narrowly, by a helter-skelter, fractious coalition of leftists, including a miniscule if noisy Communist party plus Greens and Radicals and Social Democrats, all supposedly unified, but in fact increasingly at war among each other, under the leadership of two who in a way reflected the Moro dilemma: the devoutly Catholic Prime Minister Romano Prodi and Fausto Bertinotti, the head of the Rifondazione ComunistaItaly's situation, but other forces did their best to tear down whatever reforms were attempted. party. It simply did not work. The economists involved did their best and have improved Italy’s situation, but other forces did their best to tear down whatever reforms were attempted.


    So now what? The Italian Church appears to have been quarreling with the Vatican itself over the degree of interference to be tolerated, with the Vatican trying to calm over-excited local bishops. As for the Roman Catholic voters themselves, their vote is split. Walter Veltroni, until last month the Mayor of Rome and now the leader of the new Democratic Party (which supplants the Party of the Democratic Left), is working hard to forge a coalition that embraces ardent Catholics as well as libertarian feminists, among other unlikely bedfellows, resulting in a schizophrenic politics in which making abortions tougher to get is high on the agenda and any notion of gay rights is dropped.

    Will the new elections bring change? It is sad that the logos of twenty-seven parties will appear on the ballot, but some here believe that "eppur si muove," to synthesize in the words of Galileo. By this is meant that it is positive that Veltroni, a moderate progressive, and media emperor Silvio Berlusconi, the former conservative prime minister, are forcing creation of two strong parties to replace the thirty-some ever quarrelsome groupuscules of the outgoing Parliament. It is eagerly to be hoped that it will work.


    However, among the crucial elements missing from the programs of both these leaders is any proposal for an all-out battle against the ever more powerful forces of organized crime and its attendant political corruption. Since crime here still defines the political class (to wit., the garbage of Naples), this oversight, as we shall call it to be polite, is deadly serious--literally. Whatever the memorial wreaths symbolize, it does no honor to the memory of Aldo Moro or of De Martino either.



    This article appeared originally on DIRELAND and is re-published here with the permission of its editor Doug Ireland.


  • Facts & Stories

    Out of the archives: Vatican doubts over the Duce

    Little excites more savage controversy than debates over the behavior and policies of the Roman Catholic Church in the time of Italian Fascism. The record is ambiguous. John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope, published in 1999, based on privileged access to Vatican secret archives, was accusatory and persuasive, but five years and a flood of diatribes later the judicious Cornwell somewhat modified his criticism of Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pope Pius XII in 1939. In an interview with the Economist Dec. 9, 2004, Cornwell said, “I would now argue, in the light of the debates and evidence following Hitler's Pope, that Pius XII had so little scope of action that it is impossible to judge the motives for his silence during the war, while Rome was under the heel of Mussolini and later occupied by Germany.”

    Certainly Vatican policies toward Fascism appear less than clear. Pius XII did not intervene to stop Roman Jews from being deported to concentration camps, even as some Jews were being given refuge in Catholic institutions. Another example: following an appeal by a Jewish rabbi, a bishop near Pisa received authorization from Rome to help Jewish families escape capture and deportation; local nuns who normally printed prayer cards were drafted into printing forged documents for endangered Jews.

    But what was the view on high? To what extent had the signing of the Concordat in 1929, which gave priests salaries in schools and the Vatican formal recognition for the first time since unification of Italy, driven Vatican policies, and Pius XI, into the arms of the Duce? Did the experience of young Pacelli, during his decade as a young Vatican diplomat in Germany observing the rise of Hitler, make him subsequently soft on the Nazis and tolerant of Italian Fascism as well? Given Vatican secrecy, how would one know?

    Hence the welcome new access to archival documents of the Vatican, made available over the past year to researchers. Some of the new research delves as far back into the past as the Inquisition, the subject of a conference held in Rome in February under the auspices of the Accademia dei Lincei. Another of those taking benefit of the new access is historian Lucia Ceci, whose work sheds revealing light on the secret debates within the Vatican over its dealings with the Duce. The author of Il vessillo e la croce, Colonialismo, missioni cattoliche e Islam in Somalia (1903-1924), published by Carocci in 2007, Ceci is a researcher in contemporary history in the Department of Letters and Philosophy at the Tor Vergata Rome University. She has published scholarly articles on, inter alia, Liberation theology and politics in Latin America.

    Previews of her latest research on the Church and Fascism, to be published in the forthcoming issue of Rivista Storica Italiana, have already surfaced in Corriere della Sera in an article by Antonio Carioti on Oct. 23, 2007, and in Emma Fattorini’s Mar. 9, 2008, article in Il Sole-24 Ore, headed, “Pius XI’s failed attempt to stop the war in Ethiopia”, with the subhead,  “New documents prove that the Holy See opposed the aggression, but decided not to intervene.”

    Among Ceci’s key sources are hand-written notes of private meetings between Pius XI (Achille Ratti) and a former deputy chief of Azione Cattolica, Mons. Domenico Tardini (1888-1961, who had been serving as Undersecretary for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs since June 1929. The autumn of 1935 found Italy on the verge of invading Ethiopia. Tardini was disgusted: a note found by Ceci shows the following list (my translation, with an uncertainty or two indicated), in Tardini concludes by accusing the Duce of being “divinized” like an ancient emperor:

    Fascism has created confusion between the party, Italy and the Duce. Conclusion: a whim of the Duce is Italy’s ruin.

    “It has destroyed all freedom of action and discussion. Conclusion: the Italians are now a people of sheep, who run where the shepherd herds them with his stick.

    “It has educated generations into violence. Conclusion: everyone is a hero, ready to use his fists, certain that the others will be left only with…taking punches

    “It has followed foreign policies of improvised body blows (colpi di testa), rudeness, threats, blows. Conclusion: turned the entire world against Fascism.

    “It has forecast, premeditated and proclaimed an empire. Conclusion: it is conducting a harsh and costly colonial war, with just two aims: to waste money and to conquer inhospitable lands.

    “It has cried to the four winds the strength, the grandeur of Italy. Conclusion: today we are a people of beggars who put on per Sardanapalos [Ed.: Legendary warrior king in Mesopotamia], a feeble and backward people who act as if they were the greatest on earth.

    “It has divinized the Duce, making everyone bow before this god [Nume]. Conclusion: political life no longer exists, nor the possibility to forge new energies for the inevitable needs of tomorrow.

        --Note of Dec. 1, 1935, first published in Il Sole-24 Ore, Mar. 9, 2008


    Ten weeks before writing the above, this seriously anti-Fascist high official of the Vatican and papal confidant had hoped that the Vatican would halt the Italian  invasion of Ethiopia. Triggering the discussion was a speech the pope made in August to a group of Catholic nuns, in which he declared that “a war of conquest” would be “unjust.” International press agencies quoted his words, and the Italian Foreign Office—presumably Count Ciano himself—reacted bitterly. The Vatican backed off, with Osservatore Romano publishing a softened account. It happened that the Vatican’s foreign affairs minister, the future pope Pacelli, was away on vacation, and so Monsignor Tardini was tending foreign affairs in his place. Tardini obviously agreed with the original version, for he personally drafted two slightly differing letters opposing war and then offered them to the pope for approval. Both drafts, as discovered by Ceci and published by Corriere della Sera, show strong Vatican disapproval of the invasion, but with differing justifications:


    Draft letter 1: “ We ardently desire and with all our soul hope that Your Eminence [i.e., Mussolini]…will be able to reach the legitimately sought goals on the way toward justice and peace. That if to that most noble aim, it be necessary to sacrifice some understandable desire for more abundant and immediate successes, it would always be, for Your Eminence, not the last demonstration of true grandeur to have spared the Italian people the ruination, the pain, the mourning, that are inseparable from every war. and that are today all the more serious and greater for the tremendous power of the tools of death.”


    Draft letter 2: “We wish to think that it is not completely impossible that, through the authoritative intervention of some friendly power, and with the consensus of Abyssinia, one could give Italy, in that territory outside Italy’s own borders, an area established in such a way as not only to extend the said borders, but to make them more definite and secure. That if this should happen, the sense of moderation and desire for peace of which Italy would give evidence would be greatly appreciated throughout the world, and Italy itself could in future find in Abyssinia, as we fervently hope, a sure and grateful friend, rather than a hopelessly angered enemy [insanabilmente irritato].


    In Draft 1 then proposes that the Duce will show  “true grandeur” in the long run by sparing the Italians from war; in Draft 2, the appeal is to seek a rapprochement with Ethiopia that will bring worldwide approval of Italy.

    By September 20 the Vatican’s official Secretary of State, Pacelli, was back from his month-long vacation and met with Pius XI. On the agenda were the draft letters plus a letter the pontiff had received from the Archbishop of Westminster and Catholic primate of England Hinsley, asking the pope to intervene to halt war. Pacelli’s own notes reveal that the discussion centered not on lofty principles, but on the difficult logistics of invasion of Ethiopia, with its warring tribesmen, and on the negative consequences to Italy’s image if it were the aggressor.

    In the end, political pragmatism won the day: The risk, as both Pacelli and pope agreed, was that the Vatican might end up as mediator, overly involved in a pan-European conflict in which the League of Nations also played a part.  A disappointed Tardini confided to his diary that, “At the end of the day the Holy Father decides not to send any letter for now.”

    There was one last effort. On Sept. 29, just a week later, Jesuit priest Pietro Tacchi Venturi called on Mussolini to urge him if possible to avoid war “so as not to put Italy into a state of mortal sin.” Unmoved, the Duce replied that the democracies were determined to “inflict a mortal blow against fascism.”

    The invasion took place; Italian gunners fired upon sword-carrying Ethiopians on horseback; and on Dec. 3, 1935, Mons. Tardini wrote, in another note turned up by Lucia Ceci: “The ambition of one man is digging the grave for all of Italy.”

    Tardini was elevated to cardinal in 1958, the year of the election of Pope John XIII. Tardini then served as Secretary of State for the Vatican in 1958 until his death in 1961. Tardini is buried in Vetralla, near Viterbo.

    As an historical footnote, the late Pope John Paul opposed President George W. Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq. On Ash Wednesday in 2003 the pope’s former nuncio (ambassador) to the United States Cardinal Pio Laghi called on President Bush in Washington in a last-ditch effort to convince the President that the invasion of Iraq would be a fearful mistake.  George Bush accepted the visitor, but not the advice.

    For an abridged version of Cornwell’s book, see:




  • Facts & Stories

    Florence. A Streetcar Named Disaster?

    FLORENCE – Walking to an appointment in Florence on Thursday, we found ourselves in snarled and snarling traffic. A mini-Cooper had parked badly by Piazza della Repubblica, blocking a big city bus, unable to turn a corner. The bus had come to a stop, blocking the entire city center. Police arrived. People gathered. Tourists took photos. Meantime traffic fumes, hurtling scooters, honking cars, and frustrated Florentines all built into a crescendo of misery.

    Yes, it was just one of the usual urban messes, but with a difference: this is Florence, birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, one of the most elegant cities in the world, and currently one of the most troubled over traffic.

    On February 18 Florentines turned out to vote on a controversial referendum over construction of Line 2 of a light railway line improperly called a “tram.” This Line 2, which in some areas would require steel tubes 21 feet high, would bring the tram line along the road—visible in the photo taken before the street was given bus lanes and barriers—between the Baptistery and the Duomo building and the file of Renaissance buildings on the right.

    In an open letter to one of the most important Italian cultural websites,, Florentine citizen Niccolò Fani wrote:

    “Line 2 calls for the tram to cross right in front of the Baptistery and Duomo, two world-class masterpieces of art. The tracks would run within three feet of the Baptistery, which dates from before the year 1000, but is still standing nevertheless—at least up to now. Besides the aesthetic damage to Piazza Duomo (including the electric wires and bulky steel supports for the line), there are serious structural risks deriving from having a tram line so close to the buildings.”

    Among the arguments in favor of the so-called “tramvia” (and those in favor of it include labor unions, coop associations and some “greens”) is that it 2,000 buses a day already go by. It will reduce the smog that discolors the white marble of the Duomo; will reduce vibrations from the heavy buses; will reduce congestion and will, miraculously at the same time, also double the number (today 250,000) of people who presently come into downtown Florence every weekday, with the consequent economic advantages. Besides, the argument goes, many of those now opposing the light train favored it in the past and are doing an undignified about-face.

    Those opposing the light train argue that it has been presented as a tram, whereas it is not; that a mini-subway beneath Florence would accomplish the same goals without running tracks past Duomo and Baptistery; that an outlying stretch of the same larger plan for three connected lines has already had a gigantic cost over-run; and that it is as ugly as sin, in a city whose very essence is beauty.

    And so the two sides are lined up against each other. Mario Razzanelli, a local politician and successful businessman, has been battling against the tram project for nine years and was one of the chief promoters of the referendum. He does not intend to give up his campaign.

    “My battle against the tram in Florence began in 1999. This tram will not solve the problem—it will complicate the situation. It’s a battle between people who love Florence and those who would destroy it, a battle between reason and folly.” “All great cities have subways under their buildings,” one young man protested.

    Another opposing the construction is the distinguished Prof. Antonio Paolucci, the recently appointed director of the Vatican Museums. A native of Florence, Paolucci is former Minister of Culture for Italy and former superintendent of archaeology for Florence, and also the author of a book on the Baptistery. Paolucci has never been a conservative, but in opposing the construction of a train line through the heart of Florence, he alienated many on the left because the conservatives of Alleanza Nazionale, who include Razzanelli, also opposed construction.

    But then so did every single Florentine with whom I spoke, from travel agent to student, tobacconist, shop keeper—and the younger they were, the stronger their opposition. There is no doubt that the chaos and smog raise hackles, and feelings ran understandably high, to put it mildly. “Florence on the verge of a nervous breakdown over the tram,” went one headline.

    So, to the vote. The press agency Adnkronos gave the figures: those voters opposing construction were 53.84% while 48.3% were in favor. That seems clear enough: the citizens voted to block the tram. But it did not work that way, for less that 50% of those entitled to vote turned out at the polls, and so the supporters of construction claim they had won even though those voting demonstrated their desire to block it. Here too there are quarrels: the mayor insists that the referendum must respect national criteria, which set a 50% turnout treshold for a referendum to be valid; the opponents of the tram say that local referenda go by different rules and that hence they won.

    One element that has been ignored until now is that the tram would also alter the destiny of Florence’s tiny Victorian-era Protestant cemetery, in which many prominent English writers are buried, including Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Frances Trollope. The cemetery lies on a small knoll rising just outside the line where Florence’s city walls ran until demolished to make way for a broad avenue of heavy traffic. Until recently to reach it—and it is a favorite of tourists from all over the world—meant risking your life. Today zebra stripes make it at least possible, but the proposed tram would entirely cut off this romantic vestige of all those Florentine rooms with views.

  • Facts & Stories

    Abortion: Italian Women Speak for Themselves

    Rome – I am late writing this because, returning from an appointment, I couldn’t reach my home because of a demonstration—a special one. This time, and for the first time ever, women have blocked Piazza Venezia through Largo Argentina and on to the bridges to Trastevere. Their protest is over abortion—not to stop one, but to protect Law No. 194 which permits it. Similar demonstrations are still taking place this evening in Naples and Milan. Here’s why.

    Last week a 39-year-old Neapolitan woman who had long desired a child discovered that the baby she was expecting suffered from a disease that would have left the child with severe problems, physical and mental. “I had so wanted the baby, but after the tests I decided I had little choice but to abort.” On Tuesday she went to a hospital for the operation, only to wake up afterward from the anesthesia to find herself surrounded by police, seven in all. As she, and all of Italy, would learn, a local magistrate, claiming he had been alerted by an anonymous telephone call, sent the police to the hospital to investigate because, according to the caller, the abortion was against the law because two weeks over the maximum permissible time, 22 weeks.  (She claims she was 21 weeks pregnant.)

    Yesterday the woman’s face and private story were all over the papers. The magistrate defended himself saying that he had “no choice” but to initiate an investigation once he received the phone call. It is true that Italian law has an automatic quality following any formal complaint to police, but in this case the conscientious magistrate ignored, if nothing else, judicial secrecy. By law any investigation is covered by official secrecy for a certain period, but this proviso was conveniently overlooked.

    In these first days of a bitter contest for votes in the national elections scheduled for April 14, the Catholic vote matters, and some politicians are jockeying for position to claim it. At the moment the most prominent spokesman calling for the overturn of the law permitting abortion is chatty fattie Giuliano Ferrara, a born-again anti-abortionist whose latest proposal is to run a whole election ticket of people who agree with him. Silvio Berlusconi seemed to agree for a time, but is giving signs now of backing off.

    Despite today’s demonstrations, in some ways times have not changed: men like Ferrara and Berlusconi are still the ones most eager to talk against abortion, and at a recent population conference a sincere-looking  man, a tray of plastic foetuses strapped round his neck, stalked delegates. In Rome late last month directors of four university hospital obstetrics departments pleaded for ignoring parental views in view of late-term foetal survival, even at risk of handicap. As for induced abortion, overturning its legalization in Italy under Law No. 194 is already election rhetoric.

    The women concerned say surprisingly little, until asked, which is exactly what I did during the referendum debate that paved the way for Italy’s legalization in 1978 of that law which some would now overturn. At that time I interviewed a number of married women living in converted horse barns in Catania. Their two-room homes usually had a surprisingly tidy room with a stove in one corner, a big bed in another, and, behind a curtain, a tiny bedroom shared by all the youngsters. The Sicilian social worker accompanying me whispered that ten children were the rule, and this proved true, though I had not believed her. Abortion was common: “Every family has an old aunt who knows what to do, using parsley infusions or a coat hook.” Incest, she also whispered, was a cause. I spoke with one Sicilian woman with six children who had had eight abortions, all illegal.

    In Rome, I then spent an anguishing day in a not-very-clandestine abortion clinic, where I interviewed women before their abortions. The women’s voices were steeped in sorrow:

    “I have been diagnosed with breast cancer and am still nursing my first baby. I can’t handle another baby now.”

    “My husband and I have one child, but we are political refugees living on charity. We don’t know our future.”

    “We’re from Calabria, with three children. My mother-in-law came with me.”

    “I do housework, he works nights in a pub to support his mother, a widow. He has to graduate before raising a family.”

    And on, and on, and on. Not one woman with whom I spoke—and most were women, not young girls—confronted abortion with anything but sadness. Abortion was about pain: physical and spiritual.

    Nevertheless, it was clear that, legal or not, the women intended to have their abortion, no matter what the Church said, nor how illegal, nor how dangerous;  the back-room abortions by the notorious “mammone” practitioners were often botched jobs which killed some women and left others sterile.

    Since legalization, the number of induced abortions has fallen almost by half, from 228,737 in 1983 to 123,792 in 2002. At the same time, however, the number of live births has more or less stabilized; according to the August 2005 Journal of Modern Italian Studies, Italy had 562,600 lives births in  2004, comparable to the 575,000 in 1991. Every induced abortion therefore is matched by five live births, an improvement over the estimated one out of four of the 1970’s, but still a high ratio.

    Why should this be so? According to the New York priest who heads an international “pro life” organization, money-hungry pill manufacturers push women into taking the pill, which leads to promiscuity, which leads to abortion; ipso facto, the pill produces abortions. If true anywhere, it is certainly not true in Italy, however. A causal effect of pill/abortion does exist, but is exactly the opposite: the lack of birth control method has perpetuated the continuing incidence of induced abortions.

    A 2005 study published by the University of Padua shows that, following the birth of a second, third or fourth child, from 70-80% of Italian couples used coitus interruptus “with induced abortion as backup for contraceptive failures.”1

    “In the male chauvinist culture of Southern Italy, a man’s ‘respectability’ is partly determined by his capacity for self-control in ensuring that his family can limit its number of children.” Where self-control failed, abortion was the rule, “especially among the poorer classes.” As a result, during the decade before abortion was legalized, 150,000-200,000 abortions were induced, or “about one abortion for every four births.”2

    Those back in the 1970s who urged legalizing abortion in Italy did so in an effort not to be murderers, but to protect women. They also maintained that the way to avoid abortion was through education—a depressing number of girls had little understanding of their bodies—and birth control availability.

    First, contraceptive methods are still relatively unusual in Italy even as condoms are sold next to candy bars in tobacco shops and supermarkets. Although a survey of 350 couples in Milan showed that around 70% in that Northern city used the pill, condom, or IUD, elsewhere coitus interruptus remains the norm. According to gynecologist Emilio Arisi, interviewed by La Repubblica Feb. 7, only 18% of women of fertile age use the pill and other hormonal contraceptives as compared with 40% in Germany. “Long-term contraceptive skin implants are not even sold in Italy [since] no one  uses them.”

    Secondly, whereas the women I had interviewed in 1975 were mature, today 57% of Italian girls have sex, usually unprotected, before age 16. Together with the limited use of contraceptives, this early venture into sex means that induced abortions continue as the birth control “fallback”—a political football that is also a threat to the poor, the ignorant and the very young.

    1 G. Dalal Zuanna, A. De Rose, F. Racioppi, Journal of Population Research, Vol 22, No. 1, 2005, p. 23.
    2 Op. cit.

  • Facts & Stories

    The Unmaking of the Made Men of Sicily?

    Rome – Finally, a sincere word of praise for beleaguered Italy. As the Indian mystic in E.M.Forster’s Passage to India said to Dr. Aziz, on trial for molesting an English maiden but acquitted thanks to his accuser’s own, unexpected testimony, “Who’d have thought that your enemy would be the one to save you?” In this case the welcome words showing Italy at its best came from a cell in Palermo’s l’Ucciardone prison. The room was bugged, but last summer one of the bosses, recently returned from 20 years in the U.S., Francesco Inzirillo, had visitors, his sons Giovanni and Giuseppe. Francesco, the man nicknamed “ù truttaturi” (my guess is the name means Il Trittatore, The Chopper), let himself go with a lament that literally thrilled the eavesdropping police of Palermo. “They’ve got our names on their list, we’ve got to get out of Sicily, out of Italy, we gotta get out of Europe. You have to go to, oh, Central America, South America,” he said, “a long way from here…”

    Too late. On February 9 some 300 police made a sweep of Palermo, arresting 19 alleged Mafiosi (the New York Times gave the number as 23) while at the same time, albeit not strictly in conjunction with their U.S. allies, or so they say, the FBI indicted 80 in New York, reportedly including the entire Gambino family hierarchy. Many of those arrested on the U.S. side were connected to the trucking industry and heavy construction.

    The reaction in Italy has been justifiable pride and enthusiasm, with Sicilian police saying that the Cupola—that Mafia board of directors—has been wiped out. At the very least, an attempt to relaunch the particularly brutal Sicilian Mafia’s control over a huge portion of the international drug market has been nipped in the bud.

    The Sicilian Mafia has had several such historic moments, worth—I hope—reviewing quickly, so as to understand what may happen in the future.

    The prewar Sicilian Mafia was agrarian. The threat of violence mattered more than the number of haystacks burnt or men murdered. The Mafiosi, middlemen between town and countryside, dined on red wine and fellowship and sausages while meting out traditional justice.

    During World War II the contraband opportunities, thanks to the Allied occupation with its PX goodies, attracted country-bumpkin Mafiosi, who created newly sophisticated clandestine networks. The famine that swept Sicily in 1947 brought more of the unemployed and hungry to Palermo, easy prey.

    The postwar building boom of the 1950’s provided enormous opportunities which the Palermo city powers-that-be did not fail to exploit. It was mostly about building permits, but a Mafia firm had the first on-site lunchroom for construction workers; and when a Sicilian nobleman refused to sell his family home on Viale della Libertà to buyers planning a big apartment block, the house was simply blown to smithereens. Court acquittals were the rule when alleged Sicilian Mafiosi went on trial close to home. The Church, resisting Marxist atheism and an aggressive Communist party, fumbled into a virtual alliance with politicians working hand-in-hand with mobsters.

    In 1968 a huge, serious sweep headed by the then-General Carlo Alberto dalla Chiesa radically cut back Mafia power. Many, including Liggio, fled to North Italy, where they discovered kidnapping for profit and drug refining, which then bankrolled the mobsters’ return and the Sicilian Mafia’s taking over from Marseilles as capital of the drug traffic after 1978, following President Nixon’s “war on drugs,” which curbed the Marseilles-Istanbul connection, unleashing one much worse.

    Initially the heroin profits seemed so immense that a pax Mafiosa was in place. Everyone had fun. Forget the godfather: this was the New Mafia, all Champagne and amusing torture and high-stakes poker and fancy restaurants and acid baths for children and, for the first time, Kalashnikovs. A certain portion of the port of Palermo, notoriously filled with skeletons, was known as Mafia Cemetery. The French chemist who could convert 1 kg of opium base into 1 kg of heroin earned $1 million for every three-day stint in a heroin kitchen at Taormina or Cefalu.

    The so-called New Mafia’s murderous war over control of the heroin traffic to the U.S. peaked in 1982, when Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, once again in Sicily as its top police officer, was murdered. Two rival alliances had been formed, and nine members of the Buscetta family, including Tommaso’s  two sons, were killed in the heroin feud. Like the Buscettas, the Inzirillo clan was among those under assault from the rival  Corleonesi, headed by Luciano Liggio, with Bernardo Provenzano and Totò Riina as backups. To escape Corleone wrath, Francesco Inzirillo—that Francesco whose unwitting compliments to the Italian police were overheard in his cell—quietly disappeared from Italy into the safer wilds of New Jersey.

    Times must have grown tough there, too, however, for in 2003, just five years ago, Francesco and several of his fellow Inzirillo males on the make, nostalgic for those good old 1980’s days of really big money, began to slip back home. They made a show of being bold, moving right into their old home in Palermo’s Passo di Rigano, the modern quarter pitched on the lower slope of Monte Cuccio. Needless to say, everyone who counted knew the Inzirillos were back, to the point that Francesco himself eventually found himself in prison (one wonders which Palermo tribe led police to him). 

    During the two decades Francesco whiled his time away in New Jersey, radical changes took place affecting the economic, military and social subculture specific to the Mafia of Western Sicily. The age of easy acquittals and terrified juries was over. Introducing a shining new age for Sicily, the two-year-long “Maxi-trial,” whose 474 indictments were drawn up by the anti-Mafia pool of magistrates under Giovanni Falcone, had brought 360 convictions. Not all was wine and tarallucci: within three years of the Maxi-trial in Palermo only 60 of those convicted remained behind bars, but even so, the atmosphere had changed. Palermo had an anti-Mafia mayor, Leoluca Orlando. The Church had an outspoken anti-Mafia archbishop of Palermo, Salvatore Cardinal Pappalardo, who died in 2006 after 26 years of generous, devoted duty. Civic groups like the Comitato delle Lenzuola, which hangs white sheets from balconies to show their rejection of the concept of the Mafia, sprang up after the murder of Judge Falcone, and have battled on. Courageous police and magistrates have taken the places of those gunned down or, like Falcone, blown up. Successful prosecutions related to the maxi-trial took place in Paris and in New York.

    The battle against the Mafia was fought on the grass-roots level, including  in the schools. Students continue to make pilgrimages to the tree still growing in front of the fairly anonymous apartment building where Falcone lived. The youngsters attach letters to the tree, like this, signed “Selene,” one of many on line at

    Feb. 2, 2008. I’m a girl, age 12, and I find myself by chance writing to thank Giovanni Falcone for having donated his own life and not having given up to the dangers his work meant, for his passion and his desire to defeat Mafia crime. Words escape me. I’m from Catania and at school we are talking about the ‘Mafia problem’. Quite often at school I see kids laughing and joking about the Mafia, but for me this is unjust.

    This left the vestiges of the old guard in Sicily with little choice but to turn back to the customary but more modest urban pursuits, beginning with systematic extortion. They looked longingly at the prospects for gigantic public works which, in Catholic Church parlance, just might be occasions of sin (think: bridges). But even here there were problems, for in Sicily industrialists and businessmen began to organize to refuse to pay for protection. What was to be done?

     When the once-despised Inzirillos began to return to Sicily from New Jersey, the Mafia powers-that-be in Palermo were tolerant, even welcoming. As La Repubblica explained it: “The truth is that everyone—those who did not want them [the Inzirillo clan] back in Sicily and those who wanted them—sensed that, through them, and above all through their American cousins, new business prospects, new economic and financial opportunities would open up. It seemed an extraordinary opportunity for Cosa Nostra, which was suffering from a liquidity crisis, and out of the leadership of international crime for many years. The Sicilian bosses rediscovered America, and they sent their most trusted men to the US.”

    That rediscovery is at an end, everyone seems to agree, at least momentarily. The problems persist: new boys had muscled in on the drug trade—Albanians and Chinese and Russians—but some of the new crowd were Italians, including Camorristi families from Naples once allied to the Sicilians, but now operating, and wildly aggressively, on their own. The number of mob-related murders is showing a tendency to increase: today one out of every five violent deaths is mob-attributable. The traffic in mob-controlled human beings and in weapons continues, as do male, female and child prostitution, the recycling of money, illegal betting, usury and rackets, the manufacture of fakes of everything from handbags to machine tools, and the ecomafia, to name only a few. Any business, after all, can be mob business.

    A prophecy made in the late 1980’s by Tommaso Buscetta, who was accompanied from Brazil to testify in Palermo at the maxi-trial by that same Gianni De Gennaro now spearheading the effort to cure Naples of its mob-related, 15-year-long garbage disposal crisis, tells the rest of the story. “When Cosa Nostra loses its protection from the state, it will become a criminal organization just like any other, and its history will be at an end.” Is this happening?

    It is certainly evolving, but so is everyone else. Most recently, the ‘ndrangheta of Calabria—difficult to penetrate, still mysterious—seems to have taken over leadership in the Italian share of the drug trade. Grim statistics show relative stature: in 2005 eleven murders were attributed to the Sicilian Mafia, whereas in Calabria that same year saw twice that (23). The situation in Calabria is of sufficient concern that a magistrate has ordered viaducts and bridges to be inspected for safety because mob-connected builders may have used mushy, cheap cement instead of what the region paid for.

    In all Italy, garbage-strewn Naples is considered the city most vulnerable to organized crime activity, with Mafia-style association alleged for 220 individuals out of every 100,000. Reggio Calabria follows, and only then, in third place, Palermo, the city which Francesco Inzirillo said his own people should quit because no longer a suitable place for a good mobster to hang out. That, at least, is progress.