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Europe

Andreotti, the ‘Beelzebub’ of Italian politics, dies at 94

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-05-06

Italy's former seven-time prime minister Guilio Andreotti died on Monday, at the age of 94. A highly controversial figure, Andreotti helped shape post-World War II Italy over the course of his nearly 70-year-long career.

Giulio Andreotti, who served as prime minister of Italy seven times, died at the age of 94 in his home in central Rome on Monday after a nearly 70-year-long career marked by his tenacity, political cunning and perseverance.

A fixture in the highest echelons of Italian politics since the end of World War II, Andreotti was described in the media as everything from “Mr. Italy,” because of the many offices he held, to Beelzebub, over his suspected ties to the Mafia. In the years before his death, Andreotti suffered from respiratory problems and was hospitalised several times.

He now leaves behind a complex legacy which highlights the scandal and backroom dealings that have often tainted of Italian politics.

Andreotti’s early years

Andreotti, who was married with four children, was first introduced to politics when he went to the Vatican library and asked for an obscure book on the military power of the Vatican in the 19th century.

“Have you nothing better to do?” grumbled the librarian, Alcide De Gasperi, who would later become leader of Italy’s powerful Christian Democrat party as well as prime minister. The two men eventually struck up a relationship, with Andreotti working as De Gasperi’s personal assistant.

At the young age of 27, he got his first taste of power in 1946 when he was elected to Italy’s Constitutional Assembly, where he would help draft Italy’s post-World War II constitution. He then assumed his first cabinet post, as interior minister, in 1954.

A controversial figure

Andreotti steadily rose to prominence as a leading figure of the now-defunct Christian Democrat party, which dominated the country for almost fifty years. A Machiavellian politician, Andreotti served as a lawmaker in every Italian parliament since 1945 before he was made a senator for life in 1991.

Although a deeply religious man who took communion from popes, Andreotti was accused, convicted and acquitted both of being a member of the mafia and of ordering the murder of a muck-raking journalist.

His supporters said he served his country like few others, helping transform Italy from a war-devastated agricultural backwater to a leading industrial power in the space of a generation.

But many Italians believed he was the quintessential back-room wheeler-dealer, overseeing a political system riddled with cronyism and corruption.

He held nearly every political post in Italy short of the presidency. His leadership of seven post-war governments was beaten only by his mentor, De Gaspari, who led eight.

At the end of a sensational trial and two appeals, Andreotti was cleared in 2004 of charges that he had been a member of the mafia and had protected the mob in the corridors of power. However, Italy’s highest court said he had ties until 1980 with mafia figures, which were covered by the statute of limitations.

The most shocking allegation was that he once exchanged a kiss of respect with “boss of bosses” Salvatore “Toto” Riina, then Italy’s most wanted man and now in jail.

Andreotti denied the accusations, based on testimony from mafia turncoats, and in the end, the courts ruled in his favour.

He embodied Italy’s so-called first republic, which was dominated by his Christian Democrat party, and a bewildering string of “revolving door” governments.

The Christian Democrats longstanding political rivalry with the Communist Party, the largest in the West at that time, was sharpened by the Cold War and US fears of a communist takeover, which fuelled fierce political conflict between right and left.

The so-called years of lead in the 1970s culminated in the far-left Red Brigades kidnap and murder of Christian Democrat president Aldo Moro when Andreotti was prime minister in 1978.

The end of ‘eternal Giulio’

After years at the head of the government, the Christian Democrat party, together with much of the old order, was ruined following a massive bribery scandal in 1992. But by that time Andreotti had already been named senator for life.

As one of the most influential figures in recent Italian history, Andreotti was sometimes called “the eternal Giulio,” because of his political longevity and guile. Despite the fact that he was the subject of more than 20 parliamentary investigations into under-the-counter dealings, Andreotti was never definitively convicted.

“Apart from the Punic Wars, for which I was too young, I have been blamed for everything,” he once said in one of his famous, cutting quips.

He said his appetite for work was helped by insomnia but detractors said it stemmed from a lust for power.

“Power wears out those who don’t have it,” he once said in a famous retort aimed at his communist rivals.

As a life senator Andreotti attended parliament regularly until recently when his health failed.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-05-06

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