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The death of Giulio Andreotti, the political giant who went to Mass every day, marks a milestone in European history

Andreotti, who has died aged 94, was nicknamed the ‘Eternal One’ of Italian politics. He was the opposite of bunga-bunga loving Berlusconi

By on Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Giulio Andreotti, right, would 'never tell you what he was thinking' (Photo: PA)

Giulio Andreotti, right, would 'never tell you what he was thinking' (Photo: PA)

The death of Giulio Andreotti, at the age of 94, marks a milestone in Italian, indeed European, history. Andreotti dominated Italian politics for decades, and was nicknamed l’eterno, the “Eternal One”. With its plethora of parties and its endless revolving door governments, Italy’s first republic seemed terribly unstable, but this was all smoke and mirrors: every one of those governments, up until 1992, contained Andreotti, either as Prime Minister (a post he held seven times) or in some senior position, or else several members of il corrente Andreottiano, his faction of the Christian Democrat party, which was nicknamed the gens Julia, the Julian clan. By happy coincidence, Andreotti’s wife was called Livia, a name all fans of Robert Graves will be familiar with.

Andreotti’s domestic life was totally blameless. I once saw Donna Livia, as she was called, in church, and she was an unremarkable lady. Her photo rarely appeared in the newspapers, and Italians, to their immense credit, are not really interested in politicians’ wives. Her profile was low. So, funnily enough was Andreotti’s; he would appear in the Holy Communion queue at early morning Mass, but you would only be aware it was him at the last minute. He was always accompanied by la scorta, a plain-clothes police guard, but despite this, Andreotti was so unassuming that you would be hard pressed to spot him in even a small crowd.

I once got into conversation with one of the scorta. “I suppose you spend a lot of your time in church,” I said sympathetically. “Eh, si,” he replied, with a gloomy sigh.

Andreotti would go to a different church every morning, and always leave as soon as Mass was over. He would never leave the house without a dozen or more envelopes, in each of which was a 10,000 lira note. These would be dispensed to the beggars that stand at every church door in Rome, or to any who approached him in the street. He often wore a green Loden coat, the preferred dress of the European integrationist, along with deliberately unfashionable spectacles.

Andreotti was one of those men, who though married, was of deeply clerical appearance and demeanour. He was quite the opposite of the bunga-bunga loving Silvio Berlusconi. He represented a different strain in the political tradition, one best exemplified by his mentor de Gasperi, and of course the great Konrad Adenauer in Germany. The era of Christian Democracy seems like a different age now; then Church and Sate worked together, and the result was the European Social Model, which was great – while it lasted.

I once asked another Christian Democrat politician, the late Francesco Cossiga, what Andreotti was really like. Cossiga was an indiscreet man in many ways, so what he said was bound to be true. He admired Thatcher (“era bravissima… molto ben preparata…”) and remarked on the way that the Lady had not liked Andreotti. Of Andreotti he said this: “He’s very reserved. He will never tell you what he is thinking. He never puts his arm around you or shows any enthusiasm about anything. You never feel you are his friend.” Thatcher, of course, always told us what she was thinking, so no wonder they did not get on. As for il divo Giulio (the divine Julius, as Julius Caesar became), he takes his secrets with him. And what secrets they must have been!

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    A witty, and well-crafted piece of writing. Thank you.

  • James M

    “The era of Christian Democracy seems like a different age now; then Church and Sate worked together, and the result was the European Social Model, which was great – while it lasted.”

    ## IOW, he built on sand. He sounds like just another smart operator who was canny enough to get on the right side of his fellow politicians in the Vatican. Why should he be given any more consideration than any other chancer of his kind ? As Christian politicians go, a man like W. E. Gladstone is a far better model.

    “Andreotti’s domestic life was totally blameless.”

    ## So is that of many criminals. Henry VIII – like many who are not admired in Catholic circles – also “went to Mass every day”. So what ? What does going to Mass every day prove about a man’s inward dispositions ? Absolutely nothing. Read Isaiah 1 for more details :( Of course he went to Mass every day – what better way for a politician to look good in a “Catholic” culture ? Machiavelli would have approved. Not a word in that article is evidence that Andreotti was anything but a crook.

    Andreotti was very likely mixed up with the Mafia (which the Church, that never-failing maintainer of the purest Christian morality, didn’t bother to condemn until the 1990s.). Nothing is said of his suspected connections with them – why not ? No wonder he did so well. How “fortunate” for him that Aldo Moro was kidnapped). If Italian politics is as rotten as it is, the Italian Church has to take the blame, for presiding over, blessing and giving support to a rotten culture. It’s good to know that Mrs Thatcher had more sense than the “hollow men” in mitres whom he so assiduously cultivated.

  • andHarry

    The only one I can empathize with is the scorta guy; Andreotti betrayed little feeling it seems.

  • Frank

    A very interesting and informative article. A pity there’s such a lack of gravitas in politics these days.

  • $24570317

    I read today (Telegraph probably) that Margaret Thatcher (in her memoirs) describes this man as being totally without principles and that he took the view that a man of principles would eventually be exposed as a person of fun.

  • $24570317

    Jimmy Savile attended daily Mass.

  • $24570317

    Do you think there ever was any gravitas in Italian politics?

  • Odd question questioner

    Didn’t Frank just say he thinks there isn’t gravitas?

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    Her principles were Protestant and worldly.

  • Ustashe Homer

    Giulio Andreotti was not a godly man. He was associated with the Mafia, he was always in power in Italy whether as Prime Minister or Minister of “something”. Under his rule, the Red Brigades “flourished”, lately discovered to be (the Gladio scandal) “State Terrorism” orchestrated by Mr Andreotti and others. There were other men in Italian politics who attended Church and had serious and consistent moral integrity who had been “excluded” and “outsted” by Andreotti. No, the fact that a man “attends” mass and he is able to associate himself with bosses of the like of Rina, Badalamenti and Greco who were responsible for many murders in Sicily alone and operate a massive drug operation between Turkey-Sicily-UK-USA is not a good excuse to “beatify” the man.

  • $24570317

    Thanks. Sentence reconstructed.

  • andHarry

    Very interesting indeed. I knew nothing about him, although I generally hear a dismissal of Italian politics as being extremely corrupt. The Last Judgment, for those who will be judged then, will be quite an enlightening event.

  • andHarry

    Compared to when Andreotti was in and ‘out’ of power?

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    I generally hear a dismissal of Italian politics as being extremely corrupt

    Good old clichés, why bother with fact when you can just spout them out and have everyone applaud ?

  • andHarry

    ‘Good old clichés, why bother with fact when you can just spout them out and have everyone applaud ?’

    I hear them; others hear them. Some will applaud; some will jump up and down; some will check them out. Another thing about the report which interested me, and perhaps betrayed the writer’s subliminal awareness (a Freudian slip?) was his remark ‘ “I suppose you spend a lot of your time in church,” I said sympathetically’. ‘Sympathy’? Sympathy for a man whose work incorporated the ineffable spiritual benefits and joyous experience of attending Mass daily? Hmm..

  • teigitur

    Perhaps you should try.

  • Neil Ashley

    He was one of the biggest crooks in Europe and like many mafiosi affected a superficial piety. The European social model is mired in debt and can no longer be afforded by ageing populations.

  • http://twitter.com/Tomahawk2154 JRE

    Andreotti allied with the Mafia, CIA, Vatican an unholy aliiance, or was it?

  • Cincinnatus

    Signor Andreotti was responsible for the effective demise of Italian neo-realism as a sustainable film movement. A view was taken that it showed 1940s/50s Italy in a bad light and governmental support was, in consequence, withdrawn.

  • vitto

    A Cosa Nostra guy in the Government.