Monday, November 18, 2002

"To think badly is sinful...

... but you're often right" is probably the most famous of the celebrated witty utterances of Giulio Andreotti, sith times Prime Minister of the Italian Republic, affectionately known by friends and enemies together as "The Devil", sentenced yesterday to 24 years for commissioning a murder.

I was driving towards a cinema yesterday (to see the absolutely crappy K-19, a grievious disappointment) when my mobile rang to the tune of The Simpson - my partner Emiliano calling. I stopped and answered.

"They found Andreotti guilty!" he screamed at me.
"They what?"
"He was found guilty of murdering Pecorelli!"
"You kidding?"
"No!"
"You know... " I said after a brief pause, "I was almost coming to think he was really innocent."


Yes. Giulio Andreotti, the wilyest Italian politician, one of the few with a sense of humor, one of the few of total personal honesty - he never got rich - one of the many utterly devoid of a sense of public morality. Is he really guilty?

Who knows. People who know him swear on his personal integrity. A lot of them also admit to his certain political responsability for a lot of the ills that befell Italy in the last fifty years, including the Mafia. He may have ordered to have Pecorelli killed. He may simply have expressed a wish, knowing that the wish would have been met. Or he may be guilty simply because being an intelligent and anything but naive man, he should have anticipated the consequences of voicing a wish in the wrong ear.

I won't go into the convoluted an tormented history of his two trials (another one is at the appeal stage in Palermo - for Association with the Mafia). Believe it or not, I will praise the man.

Andreotti benefited from the Mafia. He did not create it and may not have used it. But he let it be. He knew - or should have known - that his men in Sicily were in connection or part of the Mafia families. He knew - or should have known - that the Mafia voted and had people vote for his party. He was a man of few scruples and probably believed it was for the ultimate good - defined by him, of course. But credit where it is due: when push came to shove and he could not ignore any longer what was going on, he fought it. That was why his good friend Salvo Lima was killed, because the Mafia felt betrayed by Andreotti.

And when he was brought to trial, he submitted to it. He did not stall. He did not cry that he was the victim of political persecution. He did not try to pass legislation that might get him off the hook. He went to his trial. He testified. Even horrified by the latest sentence, he has just said that he still has a deep respect for the Judiciary, and that the country needs such respect.

You'd think this is normal, obvious? It isn't. It takes guts. Everybody else is screaming that a politically motivated and insane judiciary must be brought to heel and subjected to the rule of the executive power. It would be easy for him to join in. He doesn't. Like Adriano Sofri, serving a 22-years sentence for a murder he most probably did not committ, he played fairly and accepted his sentence.

Maybe it's because he knows that no matter what, at 83 he cannot legally be actually sent behind bars. Maybe he does not care for exculpation on such tricky grounds.

Maybe in his old age he grew what we all would have denied he ever could possess: a public morality.

I don't know and I don't care if he was a murderer. As many have already said, in the eyes of history, politics and morality he certainly was guilty of even worse crimes. But for playing by the rules, I salute the man.

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