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from issue no. 01/02 - 2005

Slapdash politics

Giulio Andreotti

The “Day of the remembrance” was troubled by some politicking obviously aimed more at current tactics than at remembering the terrible events concerned. I’m certainly not surprised...
The “Day of the remembrance” was troubled by some politicking obviously aimed more at current tactics than at remembering the terrible events concerned. I’m certainly not surprised that many people – all gripped in the coils of the bipolar antagonism at work – should try to seek grounds for brawling by re-evoking the ’forties and ’fifties, when democratic Italy had to pay the bill for the politics of the twenty non-democratic years of Fascism.
I would not have intervened if President De Gasperi had not been drawn in.
In his speech in September 1946, at the Victory Conference that dictated peace conditions (after rigorously imposing unconditional surrender), De Gasperi pointed to the isolation of us losers. Visible proof of it was the consequence given by the international press to the only gesture of cordiality that our president received: a handshake from the American Secretary of State Byrnes (who, for that matter, resigned a few days later). With slight variants amonst them, but all with strongly punitive dispositions, the victors had decided on penalizing Italy in its borders. The French claim of Briga and Tenda was bearable; objectively finite but conceptually very dangerous were instead the Austrian demands, backed by the British; the Yugoslavian pretensions were quite shocking, backed, with solid and ruthless toughness, by the “companions” from Moscow. The Italian communists could do nothing to soften it. Eugenio Reale, who was part of our delegation, felt a certain uneasiness, but nothing more. A few years later he clamorously abandoned the Communist Party and rightly reconstructed those tormented weeks.
Also in virtue of his knowledge of the German-speaking world, De Gasperi was able to block the mutilation of the Brenner. It was not objectively important (either from an economic or military point of view) to lose a couple of square miles or some valley. But the widows, the orphans and the cripples from the 1915-18 war would have reacted, also morally, to this “punishment” and stirred reactions which, above all, the foes of the democratic order would have manipulated. Hence the Agreement with Gruber, the Foreign Minister of Vienna, on the basis of our precise commitment to assure the safekeeping of the German (and Ladino) speaking populations by means of a special regional Statute. A specious internal argument about having internationalized the problem occurred; but only in that way was it rescued from the diktat of the eighteen Lords of the victory. For the rest, what was to later become an internationally recognized right-duty was anticipated. It should also be said that reparation was due to the minority who had been subjected to particular harshness (with the Hitler-Mussolini agreements and the rest).
It is speciously asked why it had not been possible to save the north-east border. The blocking of the actuation of the Free Territory of Trieste, imposed by the Treaty was a result of clever politics; managing in 1954 (Atlantic Alliance, etc.) to gain the restitution, with a small but painful territorial exception. For zone B it was possible to do nothing.
Here we come to the current arguments. It seems as though some people have forgotten that Marshal Tito was among the war victors, ideologically extremely close to the Soviet companions, but, in that moment, in active relations also with London and Washington. For that matter, the original idea of the Marshall Plan foresaw aid to the whole of Europe. And it was Stalin who rejected that notion, giving rise to the diversification.

De Gasperi speaking at the Peace Conference 
in Paris in 1946

De Gasperi speaking at the Peace Conference in Paris in 1946

The exodus of the Italian population (I remember Pola particularly) was heartrending. Not least because the exhausted conditions of the country made it impossible there and then to make ready a welcome that would ease the exiles’ distress. As soon as it was possible a program was set up that had its outlets in the Giuliano Village in Rome and in the Sardinian zone of Fertilia.
To criminalize the behavior of Tito’s men during the war came the discovery of the massacre at Basovizza, with an enormous number of people thrown into the foibas, the swallow-holes. It is one of the key points of the debate now taking place. The atrocity is weighed differently from the Nazi extermination camps. For the latter, for that matter, the post-war governments accepted no responsibility. Indeed I remember that men like Strauss were extremely tough in setting themselves at a total distance from Hitler’s Germans. Tito was always there; and with neighbors it’s always a good rule to avoid quarrels.
Some people would like to make us believe in a De Gasperi weak in his reaction to communism and silent about the foibas so as not to make enemies of the Italian communists (who, for that matter, had no responsibility for the foibas). They forget that it was De Gasperi, getting over the hesitations of his own party, who in May 1947 expelled the communists and Nenni’s socialists from the government. Tito, furthermore, after the period of total fraternity with the Soviet companions (he had raged with them against Togliatti and company for having let themselves be excluded from “power”), began the slow process of unhooking himself, giving some real consistence to the Non-Aligned Movement on the international level. We (also as Atlantic Alliance) had every interest in that distinction. I can add that as the Soviet committed their wrongdoings in Czechoslovakia and Hungary, Tito deepened the separation. Indeed he had contacts with Italy in order to be able to strengthen the defenses of Yugoslavia in an exclusively eastern direction. The break, also a formal break, with Khrushchev was important and significant.
But there is another reason for rejecting the anti-De Gasperi judgments that are being put about. Trieste and Venezia Giulia had been put through a dreadful ordeal by the Nazi-fascists during the last phase of the war, with devastating butchery of which the prototype was that of the Risiera San Sabba. Condemning all that for the purpose of opposing the right-wing movements could have been useful propaganda; but to sum together the two indictments (the foibas and the Risiera) not only was not a compensatory scheme, but was in global contrast from the détente that in prospect was being wisely aimed at.
For the rest, the superiority that I would describe as spiritual of President De Gasperi is visible in all his doings. Let me cite a significant episode in this regard. A civil servant in the former Ministry of Popular Culture one day came across the massive ledger of monthly subsidies which intellectuals had enjoyed up to 25 July 1943. He thought he’d pulled off a great coup, not least because none of them were then close to us, while some very well-known ones were grim left-wing militants. The president froze him by saying that publication would be harmful to the prestige of Italian culture in the world. For me also it was a deep lesson in life.
That is also the reason why I find offensive the self-righteous anti-De Gasperi conjectures mentioned. And at present too many “neos” are hailing down: neo-anticommunists and neo-antifascists.

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