Bettino Craxi


Bettino Craxi

Infobox Prime Minister
name = Bettino Craxi


order = 66th
Prime Minister of Italy
president = Alessandro Pertini
Francesco Cossiga
deputy = Arnaldo Forlani
term_start = 4 August 1983
term_end = 17 April 1987
predecessor = Amintore Fanfani
successor = Amintore Fanfani
birth_date = birth date|1934|2|24|mf=y
nationality = Italian
death_date = death date and age|2000|1|19|1934|2|24|mf=y
birth_place = Milan, Italy
death_place = Hammamet, Tunisia
party = Italian Socialist Party

Benedetto (Bettino) Craxi (February 24, 1934January 19, 2000) was an Italian politician, head of the Italian Socialist Party from 1976 to 1993, the first socialist President of the Council of Ministers of Italy from 1983 to 1987.

Political ascension

He is the second longest-serving Prime Minister in Italy since 1945, after Silvio Berlusconi, and had strong influence in Italian politics throughout the eighties; for some time, he was a close ally of two key figures of Christian Democracy, Giulio Andreotti and Arnaldo Forlani, in a loose cross-party alliance often dubbed CAF. Craxi had a firm grasp on a party previously troubled by factionalism, and tried to distance it from the communists and to bring it closer to Christian Democrats and other parties; his objective was to create an Italian version of European reformist socialist parties, like the German SPD or the French Socialist Party. The Italian Socialist Party reached its apex when it increased its share of votes in the general election of 1987. However, the Italian Socialist Party never outgrew the much larger Italian Communist Party, whose highly charismatic leader, Enrico Berlinguer, was a fierce adversary of Craxi's policies throughout the years.

The main dynamic of Italian post-war politics was to find a way to keep the Italian Communist Party out of power. This led to the constant formation of political alliances between parties keen on keeping the Communists at bay. Things were further complicated by the fact that many parties had internal currents that would have welcomed the Communists in the government coalition; in particular, within Christian Democracy, the largest party in Italy from 1945 to end of the First Republic ("Prima Repubblica").

A native of Milan, Craxi was precocious and ascended to many levels public office at very early ages. In the international arena, he helped dissidents and Socialist Parties throughout the world organise and become independent. Notable recipients of his logistical help were the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) during Francisco Franco's dictatorship, and dramaturg Jiri Pelikan, in the then Czechoslovakia. A rare footage of Craxi trying to lay flowers at the tomb of Salvador Allende has been unearthed from RAI's (RAdiotelevisione Italiana) archives. There is also proof that part of Craxi's illegally earned money were given in secret to leftist political opposition in Uruguay during the military dictatorship, to Solidarity in the period of Jaruzelski rule in Poland, and to Yasser Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organization because of Craxi's sympathy for the Palestinian cause.

On July 16, 1976, Bettino Craxi was elected to the vacant secretary’s position, following years of factional fighting within his party. Ironically, the "old guard" saw him as short-lived leader, allowing each faction time to regroup. However, he was able to hold on to power and implement his policies. In particular, he sought and manage to distance his Party away from the communists bringing it closer to Christian Democracy and other centrist and centre-right parties.

During Craxi's tenure as prime minister Italy became the fifth largest industrial nation and gained entry into the G7 Group of most Industrialised nations. Inflation was however often in the two-digits, and this was dealt with eliminating a wage-price increase link known as "scala mobile" ("escalator"); under this system, wages were increased automatically depending on inflation. Abolishing the system did reduce inflation, but inevitably increased strikes in the long term, as workers had to barter for better salaries. In any case, the victory of the "No" front in the referendum called by the Italian Communist Party was also a major victory for Craxi.Italian national debt skyrocketed during the Craxi era, passing 100% of the gross national product. The level of the Italian national debt is still well over 100% of the GDP.

The Sigonella Incident

Internationally, Craxi is perhaps best remembered for an incident in October 1985, when he refused the request by US President Ronald Reagan to extradite the hijackers of the cruise ship Achille Lauro. The hijackers, after protracted negotiations, were given safe passage to Egypt by plane. Three United States Navy F-14's forced the plane down to the United States Naval Air Facility (NAF) of Sigonella. According the version of political circles in Washington, Craxi first gave the United States Forces permission to detain the terrorists, but he later reneged on the deal. He ordered Italian troops to surround the US Forces protecting the plane. This move was supposedly dictated both by security concerns about terrorists targeting Italy if the United States had had it their way, and by the Italian tradition of diplomacy with the Arab world. Craxi's decisive character may have been relevant in this resolution.Though the Americans demanded that the Italian authorities extradite Abu Abbas of the PLO, Craxi stood firm on the grounds that the Italian Government had jurisdiction over its own territory, even though it was a joint Italian-NATO base.Craxi rejected the US extradition order and let Abu Abbas - chief of the hijackers, present on the plane - flee to Yugoslavia; the four hijackers were later found guilty, and sentenced to prison terms (in USA supposed to be relatively light, above all for the juvenile offender present between them) for and murder of an American citizen, Leon Klinghoffer. Also Abbas was later convicted in Italy in absentia, and eventually died, officially from natural cause, shortly after being taken prisoner by American forces in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This episode earned Craxi an article in "The Economist" titled "Europe's strong man" and more tellingly, a standing ovation in the Senate, which included his communist opponents.

Mani pulite

The last main turning point of his career began taking place in the early 1990s. In February 1992, the Socialist Mario Chiesa got caught by the police while taking 7 million lira bribes from a cleaning service. Mario Chiesa sought Craxi's protection for nearly a month; but Craxi accused him of casting a shadow on the most honest party in Italy.

Feeling left out and denied compassion, Chiesa agreed to tell everything he knew. His declarations brought half of Milan (Socialists and Industrialists) under accusation. As a consequence, a team of Milanese judges began investigating the affairs of party financing; Milan was then stronghold of the Italian Socialist Party, and for some time Craxi's own brother-in-law, Paolo Pillitteri, the mayor of the city, was brought under accusation (although he had immunity as a member of Parliament).

In July 1992, Craxi finally recognized the situation and what it was leading to. He made an appeal in front of the Chamber of Deputies in which he told his fellow deputies that everyone knew of irreguralities in the public financing of the parties and accused them (the deputies) of hypocrisy and cowardice. However, his speech remained unheard. Although Craxi took 5 months to realize the dangerous situation, some important deputies and heads of parties took even longer and by the time they knew, everything was undone and they were wiped off the political map.

Even Craxi was to receive the first of many 'Avvisi Di Garanzia' in December 1992. Many more followed during January and February until the Court of Milan explicitly asked Parliament the authorisation to proceed with the investigations (In Italy, members of Parliament are immune to prosecution unless the Parliament gives its authorisation). The authorisation was denied on 29 April 1993 after Craxi gave an emotional speech. However, the day wasn't finished. He returned to his Roman residence at the Hotel Raphael where he isolated himself; on going out he was met by enormous crowd which chucked coins at him shouting "do you want these as well". This moment was remembered with agony, anger and scandal within the Italian political class.

The incident inevitably marked a turning point; nothing would be the same. In the regional elections of 1993 Lombardy passed to Northern League leadership after 16 years of socialist rule. In some regions, the PSI vote was under 4%. However, the disasters didn't stop there.

Facing the judges

In December 1993, after finally allowing himself to be investigated, Craxi was called to testify in front of Antonio Di Pietro, the magistrate who had provoked what Craxi defined as a "false Revolution". At his side sat the secretary of the DC (Democrazia Cristiana, Italy's biggest party), Arnaldo Forlani. Questions were asked about the maxi-bribe ENIMONT which PSI and DC had received. In answering, Arnaldo Forlani made the biggest mistake in his life, simply saying "what is a bribe?". On the other hand, Craxi defended himself in a curious way: ignoring the overall value of the rule of law, he accused himself, as well as many other parties, breaking the law on funding of political parties, defining the money taken in this way as "the cost of politics".

During the time of the ENIMONT affair, Craxi declared that in a country where justice always ran slow, his case was moving at extraordinary speed (which it in fact did). His answer to all charges concerning Tangentopoli (bribes) was that he had been singled out for illegalities which he wasn't the only one to commit.

In May 1994 he fled to Tunis to escape jail. His political career ended in less than 2 years; Italy's entire political class, incliding people like Andreotti and Forlani, was to follow suit.

Surprisingly, CAF (the Craxi-Andreotti-Forlani axis), which had made a pact to revive the Pentapartito of the 1980s and apply it to the 1990s, was doomed to be crushed by popular vote as well as by the judges. This initiative came to be called Mani pulite ("clean hands"). No party was spared, but in some parties corruption had become more common than elsewhere (either because of more opportunity or because of internal culture). To this day, some people (especially those who were close to Craxi) argue that some parties (such as the Italian Communist Party) were left untouched, while the leaders of then ruling coalition (and in particular Bettino Craxi) were wiped off the political map.

The judges in Milan were put under scrutiny several times by different governments (especially Silvio Berlusconi's first government in 1994), but no evidence of any misconduct was ever found. Furthermore, public opinion was much less concerned about foreign financing than about the misappropriation of "their" money by corrupt politicians.

In the end, the Socialist party fell from 14% of votes to virtual nonexistence. An ironic note was that the shattered remnants party were excluded from seats in Parliament by a minimum vote requirement of 4% on national basis, a rule that Bettino Craxi himself demanded when his party was well above that level; the quota was actually lowered from 5% to 4% at the Socialists' request, but this was not enough.

As mentioned before, during the "Mani pulite" period Craxi tried to use a daring defense tactic: he maintained that all parties needed and took money illegally, however they could get it, to finance their activities. His defense was therefore not to declare himself innocent, but everybody guilty. While there may have been some truth to this, most citizens distrusted politicians, and Craxi's "defense" met no sympathy by the public and may have served to enrage it even further.

"See also:" Tangentopoli "(Italian for "bribeville", used to indicate the corruption-based system that ruled Italy; Craxi is seen by many as its symbol)"

"Midgets and dancers"

Craxi's lifestyle was perceived to be inappropriate for the secretary of a party with so many alleged financial problems: he lived in the Raphael, an expensive Hotel in Rome's centre (Piazza Navona), and had a large villa in Hammamet, Tunisia. As the Mani Pulite investigations were to uncover in the nineties, personal corruption was endemic in Italian society; while many politicians, including Craxi, would justify corruption with the necessities of a democracy, political leaders at many levels enjoyed a lifestyle that should have been well out of their reach, while most parties continued having financial problems. Rino Formica, a prominent member of the Socialist Party in those years, wittily said that "the convent is poor, but the friars are rich".

Furthermore, Craxi's arrogant character won him many enemies; one of his most condemned actions was blaming corruption in the socialist party on treasurer Vincenzo Balzamo, just after the latter's death, in order to clear himself of any accusation. He also had controversial friends, such as Siad Barre, dictator of Somalia, Yasser Arafat, leader of PLO, and Ben Ali, dictator of Tunisia. The latter provided protection to Craxi when he escaped from Italy.

Craxi's entourage was sharply defined by a critic as a "court of midgets and dancers", indicating the often ludicrous and immoral traits of a system based on personal acquaintance rather than merit. Among the friends of Craxi's to receive smaller and larger favours, Silvio Berlusconi is perhaps the most known: he received many favours, especially regarding his media empire, and had a decree named after him ("Decreto Berlusconi") long before he entered politics. Other figures were Craxi's mistresses Anja Pieroni, who owned a TV station in the Rome area, and Sandra Milo, who had a skyrocketing career in the state TV conglomerate RAI.

Craxi was also known for never apologizing, as a matter of principle; whereas some did like this autocratic trait in his successful years, most Italians expected an apology after the corrupt system had been exposed. Craxi never apologized, stating he had done nothing that everybody else had not been doing, and that he was being unjustly singled out and persecuted.

Escape to Tunisia

All this resulted in him being considered the symbol of political corruption, and for a time he was probably Italy's most despised man. This was clearly visible when he, coming out of the roman Raphael hotel, where he lived, received a salvo of coins that students coming from a communist rally in Piazza Navona threw to him as sign of disgust. They started to jump and sing: <is!>>. Some of the students waved 1,000-lire bills, singing "Bettino, take these too!" to the tune of Guantanamera. Years later a similar 'joke' was reversed by the anti-communist Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi who, during his political rallies, incited his supporters to jump and sing: <is!>>.

Understanding that the risk of being jailed was growing very real, Craxi escaped to Hammamet in Tunisia in 1994, and remained there, protected by Ben Ali's government. He repeatedly declared himself innocent, but never returned to Italy where he had already been sentenced to years in jail because of corruption charges. He died on January 19, 2000, at the age of 65, from complications of diabetes. [cite news|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/610659.stm
accessdate=2008-09-04
title=Craxi: Fallen kingpin
section=EUROPE
work=BBC News
date=2000-01-20
]

Quotes by and about Bettino Craxi

:"Dentro Bettino, fuori il bottino" ("Bettino (Craxi) in (jail), out with the loot"); popular tag on Milan's walls from 1992 on.:"La Maxitangente fu solo una maxiballa" ("The maxibribe was just maxibullshit"); uttered in court, about a (then alleged) huge bribe paid to many parties and politicians by Raul Gardini. Craxi was later convicted.:"La mia libertà equivale alla mia vita" ("My freedom is my life"), epitaph on his tomb.:The Mail Service proposed to release a stamp with Bettino Craxi's profile on it; it was discarded "because people would spit on the wrong side" -- the first joke in a book by comedians Gino & Michele that became extremely famous in the late eighties and early nineties.

References

External links

* [http://www.fondazionecraxi.org Craxi Foundation] it

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