Italian History XII: Democracy at Last

The Modern nation of Italy

After the war, Italians narrowly voted to become a republic, and in 1946 a new republican constitution went into effect.

Various permutations of the center-right Christian Democrat party ruled in a succession of more than 50 governments until 1993, when the entire government dissolved in a flurry of corruption and graft. The country’s leaders were prosecuted (and many jailed) by what became known as the “Clean Hands” judges of Milan.

The two main parties, the Christian Democrats and the Communists, both splintered in the aftermath, giving rise to some 16 major political parties and countless minor ones.

The parties formed various coalitions, leading to such strange political bedfellows as the Forza Italia alliance, headed by media mogul Silvio Berlusconi, which filled the national power vacuum during 1994. It included both the nationalist Alleanza Nazionale party (the modern incarnation of the Fascist party) and the Lega del Nord, the separatist “Northern League,” which wanted to split Italy in half, making Milan capital of a new country in the north called “Padania” and leaving Rome to govern the poor south.

(The Lega has since changed its tune and now calls for more decentralized government, with more power going to individual regions.)

In 1994, the center-left Olive Tree coalition swept the national elections and Italy enjoyed a novelty: three years of stable rule under the government of Prime Minister Romano Prodi, replaced by a center-left government of Massimo D’Alema. Interestingly, given the stereotype among fellow Europeans of Italy as a nation prone to graft and political chaos, Prodi—an economist before becoming prime minister and the man who reigned in Italy’s debt to qualify the country for the European Union—was later named to head the European Commission. 

By 2001, right-wing billionaire Silvio Berlusconi (recently “cleared” of numerous corruption charges), took power once again and—save for a 2006–2008 interregnum under Prodi again—stayed in power until 2011.

A series of center-left Prime Ministers followed—Mario Monti, Enrico Letta, Matteo Renzi, Paolo Gentiloni—none serving for more than two years.

In 2018, Italy was swept up in the European and American lurch toward anti-immigrant right wing populism, with the chaotic populist Five Star Movement and re-branded Lega leading election results and forming a governing coalition headed by former law professor Giuseppe Conte as Prime Minsister.

Politically, though, some things never change in Italy. The same mistrust among factions continues. Cities are still paranoid about their individuality and their rights, and the division between north and south is as sharp as ever.

Organized crime (Sicilian Mafia, Neapolitan Camorra, Calabrese 'Ndrangheta) had by the late 19th century become a kind of shadow government in the south, and to this day controls a staggering number of politicians, national officials, and even judges, providing one scandal after another.

Economically, it’s a different story. The “economic miracle” of the north has worked around the political chaos (and often has even taken advantage of it) to make Italy the world’s fifth largest economy. Even the south, while continuing to lag behind, isn’t in the desperate straits it once was.

The outsider looks and wonders how the country keeps going amid the political chaos, Byzantine bureaucracy, and deep regional differences.

The Italian just shrugs and rolls his eyes. Italians have always excelled at getting by under difficult circumstances and making the most of any situation.

If nothing else, the Italians masters at survival


20th century in Italy

21st century in Italy

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Getting roped into World War II


After World War II


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