Giulio Andreotti

views updated May 23 2018

Giulio Andreotti

A long-time leader of Italy's Christian Democratic Party, Giulio Andreotti (born 1919) served his country in many important government positions.

Giulio Andreotti was born in Rome on January 14, 1919. He obtained a law degree with honors during Benito Mussolini's Fascist rule while beginning to participate in Catholic youth movements, especially as a journalist. He was the editor of the Catholic Azione Fucina, a weekly university magazine. He also collaborated with the Christian Democratic paper Il Popolo during its clandestine period.

When Italy was liberated in 1944 the young Andreotti became a member of the national council of Democrazia Cristiana (DC), the Catholic political party. In 1946 he was elected to the constituent assembly that was charged to draft the constitution of the new Italian Republic. In those same years Andreotti solidified his already prominent position by becoming one of the closest collaborators of Alcide De Gasperi, the Italian premier and indisputable leader of the DC in the post-World War II period. In this manner Andreotti reached the highest ranks within the DC and within the governmental apparatus at the same time, early in his political career.

Conservative Leader of His Party

At De Gasperi's death in 1954 Andreotti remained close to the centrist DC "old guard" leaders: he did not associate with younger Christian Democrats, such as Giuseppe Dossetti, who wanted to move the DC toward more liberal social and economic policies. In the 1960s Andreotti also resisted pressures within his party to form governmental coalitions with the Socialists. However, despite his opposition to the ideas of Christian Democratic left-wing leaders such as Aldo Moro, Andreotti always managed to maintain good relations with political adversaries within his party. In fact, he was a cabinet minister (Interior, Finance, Treasury, Defense, Industry) throughout the 1950s and 1960s under liberal DC premiers. This continued presence at the highest levels of Christian Democratic and governmental power can be attributed to Andreotti's noted skills in striking compromises with every group while never losing his political autonomy.

Throughout his long political career Andreotti built up a solid basis of personal support among voters within his electoral district in Rome. He was elected to Parliament continuously beginning with the first legislature. He was also noted as one of the Italian political personalities who received the highest number of personal preference votes written manually on the ballots.

In the 1970s Andreotti held the post of president of the Council of Ministers (premier) several times. Of particular note are the cabinets which he headed between July 1976 and early 1979. This was a most difficult time in Italian political life. In addition to a deep economic crisis, there were problems about left-and right-wing terrorism and about the continued growth of the DC's principal rival, the Italian Communist Party (PCI). In 1976 the PCI made consistent gains at the polls, following an extremely tense campaign where it was feared the DC would lose its position as the largest Italian party in favor of the PCI. While this sorpasso (overtaking) did not take place at that time, the strength of the Italian left made it extremely difficult for the DC to rule. It was then that Italy's moderate leaders turned to Andreotti and his political pragmatism.

Andreotti Takes Charge

From the point of view of Italian anti-Communist forces it could be said that Andreotti accomplished a political masterpiece with the cabinet he headed, in particular between March 1978 and January 1979. Andreotti managed to form a minority cabinet comprised of Christian Democrats only, but with the external support—in Parliament—of the PCI. In this manner the Communists stayed out of the government, but lent it their support, because they considered this as a first step toward a compromesso storico (historical compromise) which they advocated; that is, a nearly unprecedented alliance between the PCI and the DC to form a government together. Andreotti's government, however, simply reaped the benefits of Communist cooperation while avoiding a true compromesso storico.

At the end of this experience the losers were the Communists. The PCI lost the support of voters who disliked a cooperation with the Christian Democratic arch-enemy that did not result in a clear PCI influence on governmental programs and policies. The PCI then abandoned its attempts at compromesso storico and returned to the more traditional efforts of forming a left-wing government with the Socialists. One of Andreotti's many quips describes well the Communist situation at the time: asked whether power wears one down, Andreotti promptly replied that power wears down "those who do not have it." Prophetic words, as the PCI steadily lost ground in the 1980s. Andreotti's great achievement, in the eyes of Italian anti-Communists then, was to have helped keep the PCI at bay at the time of its greatest strength between 1976 and 1979. Andreotti's ability in striking an unlikely political compromise—the external support by the PCI—was at the core of this success.

In the 1980s Andreotti often held the post of minister of foreign affairs. In that post he was noted for his pro-Arab policies, generally in agreement with other leaders of the European Economic Community but in contrast with American diplomacy. In the summer of 1989 Andreotti became once again premier by pacifying bitter disputes between Socialist and Christian Democratic coalition leaders such as Bettino Craxi and Ciriaco De Mita. Andreotti was considered a leading candidate to become president of the Italian Republic after Francesco Cossiga.

Andreotti began a rapid descent from power in 1992. Two important events occurred during this time that led to his decline: the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the occurrence of the most important Mafia trial in history, in which many Mafia bosses were convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The United States had been particularly interested in protecting Andreotti during the cold war, since Italy was on the borderline between East and West, but after the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, his role was no longer as crucial.

In 1994, the Christian Democratic party collapsed under the weight of corruption investigations. Andreotti was accused of affiliation with the Sicilian Mafia, Cosa Nostra, and went on trial in September 1995. The complex trial was expected to last several years. He was also accused of the 1979 murder of a journalist, Mino Pecorelli, who supposedly had unflattering information about Andreotti that he planned to publish. Andreotti maintained his innocence and claimed the accusations were politically motivated. In reaction to his trial, Andreotti said, "Everything considered, I have been very fortunate in life. … I think that in order to merit the next life one must undergo a severe trial. I would rather have had a trial of a different nature. But I believe in the justice of the afterlife and not just on earth, and that gives me a lot of serenity" (NetNews, June 16, 1996).

Andreotti is the author of numerous books. Among them (all in Italian) are a biography of Alcide De Gasperi, De Gasperi e il suo tempo (1965), and three volumes of recollections and observations about world leaders whom Andreotti met in the course of his long political career: Visit da Vicino (1982); Visti da Vicino-Seconda Serie (1983); and Visit da Vicino-Terza Serie (1985).

Further Reading

Little has been written concerning Giulio Andreotti in English. One may find occasional references in newspapers, such as the New York Times and Washington Post. See also Who's Who in Italy (1986) and Who's Who in the World (1996). In the Italian language see Paolo Possenti, Storia della DC della origini al centrosinistra (Rome: 1978) and Giulio Andreotti, Diari, 1976-79: gli anni della solidarieta (Milan: 1981). See also Alexander Stille, Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic (1995), The Independent (September 24, 1995), and the New Republic (April 15, 1996). Web sites that contain information on Andreotti include NetNews, and Committee for a Safe Society, □