The Old Fox finally goes to ground


Giulio Andreotti, politician

January 14, 1919 – May 6, 2013

A man of ascetic tastes and sphinx-like demeanour, but known also for his astringent remarks and sardonic sense of humour, Giulio Andreotti was a consummate politician, a masterly survivor in the chaotic and treacherous world of Italian politics. ‘Aside from the Punic Wars, for which I was too young, I have been blamed for everything else,” he said.

He entered Parliament in 1947, immediately became a cabinet under-secretary and was then rarely out of a cabinet post until 1992. He served as prime minister seven times between 1972 and 1992, and held the foreign minister’s portfolio through six successive governments from 1983 to 1989.

An instinctive anti-Communist, the lodestars of his political firmament were the Vatican and the North Atlantic alliance with the United States. But Andreotti was above all a pragmatist, and when forced in 1976 to reach an accommodation with the Communist Party in order to maintain a minority government, he did not flinch. The prospect of relinquishing his hold on the levers of power was sufficiently alarming: ‘Power weighs too heavily only upon those who do not have it,’ was one of his most oft-quoted aphorisms.

He was a devout Catholic who attended a daily mass at six in the morning throughout his life, and was on close terms with six successive pontiffs, earning him the sobriquet ‘Julius VI’ and even ‘Julius the God’ among his followers. As a young man he was once a chief altar-boy at Segni, near Rome, and went on to study Canon Law, completing a thesis on The Personality of the Criminal in Church Law.

For his austere and somewhat pious nature, Andreotti’s detractors dubbed him ‘the sacristan’ and referred to him as ‘Jesuitical’. The Socialist leader Bettino Craxi once damned him as ‘Beelzebub’, but Andreotti was unruffled and in due course the insult rebounded when Craxi was forced to flee into exile in Tunisia to avoid prosecution for corruption.

Andreotti himself survived several setbacks. In 1990 his position was damaged by his admission, after years of denial,  that a clandestine network of anti-Communist paramilitaries, known as Operation Gladio, had been set up in 1958 to combat the threat of Communist subversion and invasion and had never been disbanded.

The suspicion, allayed at the time by denials from Andreotti of its very existence, was that members of Gladio had been involved in the ‘Strategy of Tension’, the violent campaign of destabilisation orchestrated by the far-Right in the 1970s and early 1980s. Andreotti’s escape from this tight corner did indeed owe much to his Jesuitical skills.

Rumours of shady dealings were almost an occupational hazard for so enduring a figure in Italian political life, but Andreotti was assumed to be untouchable, even by the Milan magistrates whose ‘Clean Hands’ investigations into corruption brought down Craxi and so many others.

When asked once about his relations with the crooked financier Michele Sindona, who was poisoned in prison (possibly by his own hand), and the fraudulent head of Banco Ambrosiano, Roberto Calvi, who was found hanged beneath Blackfriars Bridge, Andreotti smiled enigmatically: ‘I must say that I met Mother Teresa much more often then I met Sindona or Calvi.’

But as the scope of the corruption investigations grew and prosecutors were able to draw increasingly on the evidence of pentiti, former Mafia members turned State witnesses, evidence came to light of Andreotti’s association with Salvatore ‘Toto’ Riina, the supposed capo di capi (‘boss of bosses’) of Sicily’s Cosa Nostra.

In 1993 Andreotti’s senatorial immunity was lifted — a measure for which he, with characteristic insouciance, voted — so that he could be examined by magistrates and answer charges. According to the evidence of Tommaso Buscetta and Balduccio di Maggio, Andreotti had been seen meeting Riina in 1987 and greeting him with a kiss; he was the Mafia’s top political contact, it was said, the man the Cosa Nostra knew as ‘Zio (uncle) Giulio’.

Andreotti was unfazed. In July 1994 he was watching Italy play Nigeria in the World Cup when a friend telephoned to give him the news of the decision by Palermo magistrates to indict him. ‘Don’t you think it might be better,’ he replied, ‘if we were to finish watching the game?’

Full obituary:

Obituary on the BBC:

Obituary in The Financial Times:

Wikipedia on Giulio Andreotti:

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