Italy's Giulio Andreotti died this week at the age of 94. His handling of the abduction of fellow politician Aldo Moro tells us much about the seven-time prime minister.
ROME - The terrible letter that informed the Italian government, and in particular the Christian Democratic Party (DC), that the Moro family would refuse a state funeral and ban anyone else from taking part in the private funeral of their slain relative concluded with a powerful sentence. A sentence that remains engraved in many people’s memories: “On the life and death of Aldo Moro, history will be the judge.”
Former prime minister Aldo Moro was kidnapped in March 1978 by the Red Brigades, and the leftist terrorist group demanded an exchange of prisoners for his return. At the head of the government at the time was Giulio Andreotti, a longtime friend and political rival of Moro’s, who refused to negotiate with the terrorists.
Fifty-five excruciating days after his abduction, Moro was found dead, a national tragedy on the scale of the John F. Kennedy assassination in the United States -- and much of the blame landed on Andreotti. Conspiracies, trials, and controversies would forever surround the seven-time prime minister, who died earlier this week at the age of 94.
Both before and during the time Moro was held hostage, Andreotti always took an unwaveringly hard line against the Red Brigades, even in the face of heartbreaking letters sent by his abducted colleague.
In his letters to Andreotti, it’s clear that Moro knew two particular aspects that defined the prime minister’s personality: a unique kind of Roman indifference, as well as a singular familiarity with values -- and the knowledge of their limits -- that only Catholics involved in politics can have.
The combination of these two things is what allowed Andreotti to form or join coalition governments, even allowing a return of the Communist party to the government -- which is what had motivated the kidnapping of Moro.
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Aldo Moro during his detention by Red Brigades - Photo: public domain
It is these same aspects that will require some time for the dust to settle so history can be the judge now that Andreotti's long life has ended.
Beyond his many governmental roles, Andreotti was essentially two things. Firstly, the de facto Foreign Minister of the Vatican, or if you prefer, the head of Italian diplomacy at the service of the Vatican. It was an era when, despite a secular distinction between the Church and the State, the Catholic hierarchy was able to weigh in much more baldly on the public life of Italy than it can today.
Aside from its well-known stance toward the Soviet Union, the foreign policy desired by the Vatican was largely pro-Arab -- a fundamental friendship that was a continual cause of friction with the U.S.; Henry Kissinger’s memoirs shows Washington's general distrust of Andreotti.
The Americans didn’t understand Andreotti's complex way of thinking, and the fact that at the time nobody in the Italian government spoke English -- and translators were always needed -- made things even more complicated.
The dark side of Italy
The second is on a much more personal note: Andreotti was a great exponent of the Italian noir. The “trial of the century” saw accusations rain down on him that he was involved with the Mafia, specifically with head of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, Salvatore “Totò” Riina.
The apotheosis of a double life, thanks to various publications, brought Il Divo (also the perfectly titled paradoxical film by Paolo Sorrentino) to continuously fall to the ashes, and rise up again.
He was accused of instigating the murder of journalist Carmine Percorelli, who was investigating his alleged ties to the mob, after the Moro incident. Andreotti was acquitted after a long trial. Twenty years later, an appeal trial found him guilty and sentenced him to 24 years of prison; but he in turn appealed that decision and was, again, acquitted.
There was doubt over his involvement with the secret services, as well as with almost every Italian mystery of the post-War era. Andreotti-Beelzebub, with his humped back and sharp eyes, had some of the most preposterous climbing companions -- especially mafia-friendly politician Vittorio “The Shark” Sbardella.
Even if he came out of all cases clean, or quasi, in every trial in which he was involved, or testified, in, during the course of almost three-quarters of a century in politics, it is quite a record of accusations that only Silvio Berlusconi could top.
There is no doubt (not currently, at least) that Andreotti wound up at the fatal crossroads of Italian public duplicity: he was probably convinced that there was no other way to do things in a country like Italy at that moment in its history. If someone had to do the dirty work it was better that it was him, because he would have done it better than the others.
In this sense, history will indeed have a lot more to say about Andreotti, even more than has already been said about him in life. It will be discovered, in other words, that Andreotti -- even when he dipped his hands into the Italian noir, in some way did it in the interest of Italy and the State as a whole: an Italy and a State where this noir was -- and unfortunately remains -- at the very core.