Magazine article Insight on the News

Communism's Downfall Frees Italy to Fight Mafia

Magazine article Insight on the News

Communism's Downfall Frees Italy to Fight Mafia

Article excerpt

Two short years ago, Raul Gardini, an industrialist accused in a scheme to bribe politicians, thrilled Italy with his yacht Il Moro di Venezia in its race for the America's Cup. On July 23, in his luxurious pied-a-terre in Milan, he shot himself, apparently to avoid prison.

At least one-third of Italy's politicians are under investigation in connection with corruption, collusion with the Mafia and other crimes. Bombs are exploding throughout the country, recreating a climate of terror reminiscent of the 1970s and revealing at the same time the fear and rage of those who will do anything to keep their political, economic or criminal power.

The scope of these transformations and the vacuum of power they have created is unimaginable to Americans. The pillars of a political system that has functioned for more than 40 years are collapsing one after another: The "clean hands investigation" led by Judge Antonio Di Pietro of Milan has come to present a desire for justice and the eradication of the old Italian system.

The explanation for these developments is not found in the stereotypical notion of a peculiar Italian propensity for corruption. Nor can it simply be the emergence of an honest judge who neither fears nor respects corrupt officials. Italy has had judges like Di Pietro before; some have died, others have grown silent with time.

Rather, this new situation must be understood as a consequence of the revolution of 1989 -- the collapse of communism in Europe. In Germany the collapsed of communism brought a joyful event, the fall of the Berlin Wall, long the symbol of national division. In Italy, the wall was not so concrete and well-defined as in Germany; it divided regions, cities, towns, families and friends.

The threat of a Communist Party takeover has entrenched Italian democracy for 40 years, transforming Italian politics into a true internal siege. It is astonishing that in such a condition, Italy was able to avoid civil war, both after World II and in the late 1970s during the era of the Red Brigades terrorist group.

Even more astonishing was the creation and maintenance of a strong, competitive economy. If the Communist alternative, even disguised as an alternative to the left, had triumphed in Italy, the door to self-defeat would have been opened for Europe's other democracies. Italy was the Eurocommunists' beachhead for a parliamentary attack on the Continent.

The Mafia proved instrumental in keeping Italy in the Western world. While the Communists in the North used their powerful political organization to bring dying people to elections, the feudal Mafia in Sicily managed to collect votes from the dead. …

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