Andreotti (right) with Nixon in 1973. Image via the Wiki.
“The great winemakers,” said my client Silvano “die during harvest or during Vinitaly,” Italy’s annual trade gathering in Verona where we were meeting.
He was referring to the passing of Franco Biondi Santi, whose death — at 91 years — cast a long shadow over the fair when the news broke on the first day of the event.
And so is the case with Italian politics.
Today, Italy has new Pope, a new prime minister (elected last week), a new president (also recently elected), and Giulio Andreotti, the seven-time prime minister who defined politics in Italy and reshaped the country’s political and economic legacies in the twentieth century, has died at 94 years of age.
When I traveled to Italy for the second time, to spend the 1989-90 scholastic year at the university in Padua, Andreotti was in his last term as premier.
In every way, he represented everything that my leftist Italian counterparts and friends abhorred: he was the face of Italy’s right wing, considered by many a torch-bearer of fascism, a censor (who once repudiated De Sica for the fim Umberto D.), a mafia-tainted and wily politician who was implicated in the assassination of his friend and political rival, Aldo Moro, not to mention the murder of a journalist who had become a nuisance to him.
In 1993, during his mafia-association trials, authorities revealed that they had obtained a photograph of Andreotti shaking hands with mafioso Vincenzo Pernice at a private ceremony in a church in Rome. There was also an account that he had exchanged a kiss with Salvatore Riina, the boss of bosses at the time.
I’ll never forget how Professor Branca — one of my mentors and a staunch supporter of Andreotti’s Christian Democrats, a rightist in an academic world dominated by the left — finally conceded that Andreotti was as crooked as the figures with whom he’d been linked.
“Si è fatto fotografare con quel mafioso,” he said to me and my dissertation advisor, another one of his protégés. “He allowed himself to be photographed with that mafioso.”
There was no denying that Andreotti was a criminal, not even for Vittore Branca.
Italy’s current generation faces enormous challenges — economic, political, and cultural. Some would even go as far to say that the current financial crisis is one of the greatest crises Italians have faced in the history of the Italian republic (born after the second world war).
In the light of recent events, it’s as if Andreotti’s death were a congedo, a coda to his twentieth-century legacy. It’s as if he were saying, I don’t know where you’re going but don’t forget that I’m the one who got you here…