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Giulio Andreotti was a creature of the Italian post-war scene, with its astonishing volatility and kaleidoscopic deals. Unlike his opponents, he proved astonishingly versatile. He seemingly occupied every notable position in Italian cabinets he could before his death at the age of 94. He was elected to parliament in 1946, and proved to be a masterful if ruthless architect in shaping Alcide de Gasperi’s Christian Democracy Party. During the Second World War, he proved busy cultivating the contacts among the Catholic establishment that would prove crucial in subsequent decades.
The odd feature of this behaviour was that he always seemed to exert influence from the shadows, a dealmaker who would, so went the popular depiction, been welcomed by the devil. He was prime minister seven times. He was minister of the interior, defense and foreign minister at stages. He was always stepping into the limelight.
Andreotti professionalised politics, making its pursuit inseparable from him as a being. He gravitated to power in the manner of lustful desire, a creature of heat who seemingly operated in the manner of that Italian expression that it is far better to have power than shag. (These are hardly mutually exclusive, but governing can have its distractions.)
Andreotti took the discussion of power to even greater limits than his contemporary, the former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who often remarked about its aphrodisiacal qualities. “Power is a disease one has no desire to be cured of.” It was a disease he laboured under continuously. From his vantage point as life senator, which he became in 1991, he used his votes to scupper governments and support others in the chess piece nightmare of Italian politics.
Ill Divo, an appellation taken from Julius Caesar (Divo Giulio), had something of a deadly aura about him. He evaded the net of anti-corruption officials with an eel-like disposition. Magistrates were frustrated no less than 27 times in their efforts to investigate him. He was central to the Tangentopoli affair of the 1990s that saw the fall of the Christian Democratic Party along with four to others. But catching a divinity off his guard is a tall order.
There were also accusations – no less than from mafia strongmen themselves – that the political colossus was very much involved with the Cosa Nostra. A Palermo court accepted that claim. As always, nothing proved simple with the suggestion, given his efforts against the group during the 1990s.
He had been convicted for the killing in 1979 of Carmine Pecorelli, a journalist and editor who specialised in muck racking with a purportedly strong link to the security services. His claim was that the CIA and Andreotti were connected in a web of intrigue that had resulted in the death of former prime minister Aldo Moro at the hands of the Red Brigades. For twenty years, the case hovered over Andreotti like a dark hue. When it came, the sentence of 24 years was pure theatre – he was cleared by an appeals court in 2003. Such activity prompted the remark that he was “being blamed for everything, except the Punic Wars because I was too young then.”
He was also prominent at a time when his country proved viciously fractious. In an article published in the Political Science Quarterly (Summer, 1994), he noted the precarious nature of the Italian state, whose unification “was only achieved a hundred and thirty years ago, after the country had been split for more than four centuries into many separate States”. But never modest, he would claim that diplomacy in its modern form was an Italian staple, the Westphalian system a creature of Italian origin ushered in by the work of Cardinals Giulio Mazarino and Giulio Alberoni. It was such men, along with the future Pope Alexander VII, that “introduced Italy’s diplomatic customs regarding neutrality, precedence, privileges, immunities, the diplomatic pouch, and diplomatic couriers”.
His views on foreign policy certainly took form during the era of Bettino Craxi, during which he was foreign minister. While President Ronald Reagan was huffing and puffing against the huts of the Communist world promising star wars and arms races, Andreotti was attempting to engage the bloc and build bridges to the Arab World. The Reagan administration was none too impressed by the fact that he (or his officials) warned Libya about the U.S. attack of April 1986.
Such was the character of the man that he seemed a simulacrum while being a substantive political character. It was always hard to actually decipher what his inner world. Enigma was his fulcrum. But his dissimulation, his mystery, his secrecy and ultimately, his callousness, are the political qualities that have made the Italian political scene a jungle of colour and conspiracy.
Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org