Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

When Italy Can't Tell Its Left from Right Conservative Mafia-Fighter Runs under Red Flag against a Red Journalist

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

When Italy Can't Tell Its Left from Right Conservative Mafia-Fighter Runs under Red Flag against a Red Journalist

Article excerpt

In Italy, it's the political matchup of the decade. Call it Kojak versus The Clean Hand.

In what the press here has gleefully defined a "clash between titans," two hugely popular Italian public figures - neither of them career politicians - will run against each other for a seat in the Senate in coming elections. Anticorruption crusader Antonio Di Pietro is expected to take on controversial journalist and opinion-maker Sandro Curzi in elections in Tuscany next month.

Neither of the two has any connection to the region, and both have candidly admitted to never having set foot there. In even more of a paradox, Mr. Di Pietro, a self-described conservative, is backed by Italy's main leftist party. "My heart beats to the right," Di Pietro confessed several years ago. A former policeman, Di Pietro built his reputation as a blunt, hard-nosed magistrate who remodeled Italy's political landscape by spearheading the "Clean Hands" probe into government corruption. During the 1993 investigation, almost an entire political class was wiped out and more than 2,000 business executives were briefly incarcerated and forced to resign from their firms. Mr. Curzi made a name for himself as a hard-line communist reporter in Prague in the early days of the cold war. Nicknamed "Kojak" for his shiny bald head, he evolved into a famously intractable TV personality whose campaigns for Italy's poor earned him a special place in the hearts and minds of leftists. The pair of unlikely opponents will scamper for votes in Il Mugello, a Tuscan region directly north of Florence. Di Pietro's candidacy in a leftist stronghold is seen as an aberration even in the unpredictable terrain of Italian politics. The fact that it was engineered by the head of Italy's main leftist party, Massimo D'Alema, only adds to the confusion. Mr. D'Alema has bared himself and his Partito Democratico delle Sinistre to searing criticism from party loyalists who argue that this time he may have gone too far, sacrificing the party's ideals for political convenience. …

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