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Aldo Moro

State Security in Italy
The Historical & Political Context
of Nine Days in October

During the mid-1960s, disagreements between conservatives and leftwing elements resulted in serious problems for Italy. On March 4, 1965, however, the parties in the coalition government agreed to set aside their political differences in order to take unified action against an economic slump. This government was headed by Aldo Moro throughout 1965 and 1966.

The late 1960s brought social turmoil to Italy. The country experienced dramatic social, economic, political, and religious developments.

• In 1968 students demanding educational reforms clashed with police on university campuses in Rome and other cities.

Right: Ottone Rosai
Worker on the Cross

• Workers called general strikes to urge an overhaul of the social security system. They were also concerned with unemployment, inflation, and rising government deficits, all caused in part by the country’s huge oil import bills.

• Feminist issues also became more important, resulting ultimately in a divorce law adopted in 1973 and the legalization of abortion in 1978.

These three movements—of Students, Workers, and Women—were significant forces in the life of the country at the time.

Left: Christian Vote versus Divorce and Free Love


Enrico Berlinguer


Violence and lawlessness, which had plagued Italian society throughout the 1970s, took more virulent forms toward the end of the decade. As Italy's economic problems worsened, a wave of kidnappings and political violence swept the country.

Outraged by the Communists' decision, under Enrico Berlinguer, to ally themselves with the government, extreme leftwing terrorists began to attack politicians, police, journalists, and businessmen.

On March 16, 1978 former prime minister Aldo Moro was kidnapped by the Red Brigades, a leftwing terrorist group. The Red Brigades made Moro's release contingent on the freeing of other terrorists from Italian jails. The government refused to deal with Moro's captors, and two months later, on May 9, he was found murdered, with his body left in the trunk of a car parked halfway between the party headquarters of the DC (Christian Democrats) and PCI (Italian Communist Party).

Left: Aldo Moro, Via Caetani, Rome, May 9, 1978


Protest march for the victims of
Piazza Fontana, December,1969
(Piazza of Milan Cathedral)

In time, left-wing violence ("red") was matched by right-wing extremists ("black"), who took to bombing as a political tactic, often seeking to blame the tragedies on the left. This was an aspect of the so-called "Strategy of Tension," an effort by reactionary forces to turn the country toward the right.

Two major "black" terrorist bombings occurred in Milan and Bologna. In Piazza Fontana, a bomb exploded in the National Bank of Agriculture on December 12, 1969, killing 16 people and wounding 88. In Bologna, a bomb destroyed part of the Central Train Station on August 2, 1980. Eight-five people were killed and over 200 wounded. Initially, the government tried to blame the Brigate Rosse but in time several neofascist terrorists were implicated. Agents connected to the secret intelligence services, both civilian (Sisde) and military (Sismi), were accused of trying to throw the investigation off track.

Right: Stazione Centrale, Bologna


Masonic Emblem

Bettino Craxi

Achille Lauro

Abu Abbas

In May 1981, the Italian press exposed a secret Masonic lodge, the Propaganda Due (P2), whose members included a large number of prominent political and military figures. This crisis resulted in the Christian Democrats agreeing to serve for the first time in 35 years under a non-Christian Democrat prime minister. Giovanni Spadolini, a leader of the small Republican party, became the first post-World War II prime minister who was not a Christian Democrat.

Another series of cabinet crises in August 1983 led to the formation of a government under Bettino Craxi, Italy's first Socialist prime minister since the war. He served until March 1987, the longest tenure of any postwar leader. During his term, in 1984, Roman Catholicism lost its status as Italy's state religion, as the government signed a new concordat with the Vatican to replace the Lateran Treaty of 1929.

It was under Craxi’s administration that the Achille Lauro crisis occurred in 1985, when Italy refused to allow the U.S. military to arrest four Palestinian terrorists involved in the hijacking of the cruise ship.

The leader of the terrorists—Abu Abbas—was released by the Italians after negotiating an end to the hijacking. He was captured by U.S. Special Forces in the outskirts of Bagdad on April 15, 2003 and died in U.S. custody in March of 2004.

(Photo: Palermo 1986)

Another aspect of Craxi's term in office was the beginning of maxi-trials of mafiosi.


The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe precipitated changes in Italy too. In 1990 the Italian Communists renamed themselves the Party of the Democratic Left (Partito Democratico della Sinistra) [PDS], downplaying their former atheism and emphasis on class conflict in favor of such issues as the environment, feminism, and the nagging economic disparity between the industrial north and the poverty-ridden south.


The Socialist party, still led by Craxi, tried to unify the Left and renamed itself the Party of Socialist Unity.

Voters showed their lack of confidence in all established parties in the April 1992 elections. The voter backlash resulted from a combination of factors, including a poor economy, high unemployment, and the public revelation of widespread political corruption and high-level Mafia influence.

In the following two years, more than 6000 individuals, including hundreds of politicians as well as judicial and business leaders, were investigated or arrested on charges that included taking bribes and granting political and economic favors. This effort was called Mani Pulite (clean hands). Every single political party was implicated in soliciting and receiving bribes. The affair as a whole is often referred to as Tangentopoli (Bribesville).


Bettino Craxi

As a result of the scandal, Craxi was forced to resign his position as head of the Socialist Party in early 1993. Indicted on charges of corruption, he fled to Tunisia in May 1994. He was later convicted in absentia and sentenced to more than 26 years in prison. He died in "exile" (to use his term) on January 19, 2000.

A later prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, was tried for having paid bribes to Craxi's political party in order to facilitate business dealings. This was only one of several trials in which Berlusconi was accused of corruption.


Right: Silvio Berlusconi and Bettino Craxi

Car of Judge Giovanni Falcone
May 23, 1992

Salvatore Rina, the mafioso behind the assassination of Giovanni Falcone,
now serving a life sentence

Giulio Andreotti




From June 1992 to April 1993, under prime minister Giulio Amato, the war against the Mafia continued. Two key judges in the fight, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, along with their escorts, were both assassinated.

                 Giovanni Falcone          Paolo Borsellino (†July 19, 1992)

On March 29, 1993, the seven-times former prime minister Guilio Andreotti came under suspicion of association with the Mafia. His trial for corruption at the highest level of the state began in the Fall of 1995. More than a dozen other prominent Italians committed suicide rather than face trial on bribery charges. By January 1994, over a third of the members of parliament were under investigation.


During the mid-90s, in the face of widespread political scandal, Italy moved from a coalition system of politics in which a single party had long dominated to a more splintered system of powerful new parties and alliances.

In January 1994 the Christian Democratic party, a coalition member of 52 consecutive governments that had ruled Italy since 1948, was dissolved into two separate parties, the Popular party (Partito Populare Italiano [PPI]) and the Christian Democratic Centre party (Centro Democratico Cristiano [CDC]).



In the reorganization, the Forza Italia (or “Come on Italy!”) party, a creation of media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, emerged as a leading political party, along with the federalist Northern League (Lega Nord, formerly called the Lombard League), a party that had advocated dividing Italy up into three separate republics) and the neo-Fascist National Alliance (Alleanza Nazionale), with its most prominent leaders being Gianfranco Fini and Alessandra Mussolini.

These three parties made up the rightwing Freedom Alliance (or Polo della Libertà), which won the March 1994 election with 58% of the vote.

In the March 1994 elections, the leftwing coalition— Alleanza Progressiva—received 34 percent of the vote. This coalition, the second most popular, was formed from the Democratic Party of the Left, one of the largest Communist parties in Western Europe, along with the Refounded Communists (Rifondazione Comunista) (RC) and several smaller parties.

The once-dominant centrist parties drew only 7 percent in the March 1994 elections. In effect, this election signaled the end of what is now called the First Republic.

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