|45th Prime Minister of Italy|
4 August 1983 – 17 April 1987
|Preceded by||Amintore Fanfani|
|Succeeded by||Amintore Fanfani|
|Secretary of the Italian Socialist Party|
15 July 1976 – 11 February 1993
|Preceded by||Francesco De Martino|
|Succeeded by||Giorgio Benvenuto|
|Chair of the Socialist Group in the Chamber of Deputies|
5 July 1976 – 16 December 1976
|Preceded by||Luigi Mariotti|
|Succeeded by||Vincenzo Balzamo|
24 February 1934
Milan, Lombardy, Italy
|Died||19 January 2000
|Political party||Italian Socialist Party|
|Alma mater||University of Milan|
Benedetto "Bettino" Craxi (Italian: [betˈtiːno ˈkraksi]; 24 February 1934 – 19 January 2000) was an Italian politician, leader of the Italian Socialist Party from 1976 to 1993 and Prime Minister of Italy from 1983 to 1987. He was the first member of the PSI to hold the office and the third Prime Minister from a socialist party.
Craxi was involved in investigations conducted by Mani Pulite judges in Milan, eventually being convicted for corruption and illicit financing of the Socialist Party. He always rejected the charges of corruption, while admitting to the illegal funding which permitted costly political activity, the PSI being less financially powerful than the two larger parties, Christian Democracy and the Communists. Craxi's govermment and party were also supported by future Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a media magnate and personal friend of Craxi.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Early political career
- 3 Prime Minister of Italy
- 4 Involvement in "Tangentopoli" scandal
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
- 7 External links
Bettino Craxi was born in Milan on 24 February 1934. His father, Vittorio Craxi, was a Sicilian lawyer and anti-fascist who was persecuted by the regime of Benito Mussolini; his mother, Maria Ferrari, was a housewife from Sant'Angelo Lodigiano.
During the Second World War, the young Craxi was sent to the Catholic college Edmondo De Amicis due to his unruly character and to protect him from fascist violence in retaliation for the anti-fascist activities of his father.
After the war, Vittorio Craxi stood in the 1948 general election for the Popular Democratic Front, a political alliance between Socialists and Communists. Bettino campaigned for his father and later joined the Italian Socialist Party at the age of 17.
Early political career
A native of Milan, Craxi was precocious and ascended to many levels of public office at an early age. In 1976, he was elected to the vacant position of chairman of the party, ending years of factional fighting within the PSI. Ironically, the "old guard" saw him as short-lived leader, allowing each faction time to regroup. However, he was able to consolidate power and implement his policies. In particular, he sought and managed to distance the party from the Communists, bringing it into an alliance with Christian Democracy and other centrist parties, while maintaining a leftist and reformist profile.
Prime Minister of Italy
Craxi led the second longest-lived government of Italy during the republican era (after the 2nd Silvio Berlusconi ministry) and had strong influence in Italian politics throughout the 1980s; for a time, he was a close ally of two key figures of Christian Democracy, Giulio Andreotti and Arnaldo Forlani, in a loose cross-party alliance often dubbed CAF (from the first letter of the surname Craxi-Andreotti-Forlani). Craxi had a firm grasp on a party previously troubled by factionalism, and tried to distance it from the Communists and to bring it closer to Christian Democrats and other parties; his objective was to create an Italian version of European reformist socialist parties, like the German SPD or the French Socialist Party. The Italian Socialist Party reached its post-war apex when it increased its share of votes in the general election of 1987. However, the Italian Socialist Party never outgrew the much larger Italian Communist Party, whose highly charismatic leader, Enrico Berlinguer, was a fierce adversary of Craxi's policies through the years.
The main dynamic of Italian post-war politics was to find a way to keep the Italian Communist Party out of power. This led to the constant formation of political alliances between parties keen on keeping the Communists at bay. Things were further complicated by the fact that many parties had internal currents that would have welcomed the Communists in the governing coalition, in particular, within Christian Democracy, the largest party in Italy from 1945 until the end of the First Republic.
During Craxi's tenure as Prime Minister, Italy became the fifth largest industrial nation and gained entry into the G7 Group of most industrialised nations. However, inflation was often in the double digits. Against trade union resistance, the Craxi government reacted by abolishing wage-price indexation (a mechanism known as scala mobile or "escalator"), under which wages had been increased automatically in line with inflation. Abolishing the escalator system did help reduce inflation, which was also falling in other major countries, but in the long term it inevitably increased industrial action as workers had to bargain for better salaries. In any event, the victory of the "No" campaign in the referendum called by the Italian Communist Party was a major victory for Craxi.
In domestic policy, a number of reforms were initiated during Craxi's time in office. In 1984, solidarity contracts (work-sharing arrangements to avoid redundancies) were introduced, while restrictions on part-time employment were relaxed. In the field of family welfare, legislation was enacted in 1984 and 1986 that changed the family allowance system “so that people most in need received larger amounts and coverage was progressively reduced to the point of termination once certain income levels were exceeded.”
As a result of his spending policies, the Italian national debt skyrocketed during the Craxi era, passing 100% of gross national product. The level of public debt remains in excess of 100% of GDP today.
In the international arena, he helped dissidents and Socialist parties throughout the world to organise and become independent. Notable recipients of his logistical help were the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) during Francisco Franco's dictatorship and dramatist Jiři Pelikan, in the former Czechoslovakia. Rare footage of Craxi trying to lay flowers at the tomb of Salvador Allende has been unearthed from RAI's (Radiotelevisione Italiana) archives. There is also evidence that part of Craxi's illegally earned money was given in secret to leftist political opposition in Uruguay during the military dictatorship, to Solidarity in the period of Jaruzelski rule in Poland and to Yasser Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organization because of Craxi's sympathy for the Palestinian cause. He also played a role in the 1987 seizure of power in Tunisia by Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.
The Sigonella crisis
Internationally, Craxi is perhaps best remembered for an incident in October 1985, when he refused the request of US President Ronald Reagan to extradite the hijackers of the cruise ship Achille Lauro. After protracted negotiations, the hijackers were given safe passage to Egypt by plane. Three United States Navy F-14's forced the plane down to the United States Naval Air Facility (NAF) of Sigonella. According to the version of political circles in Washington, Craxi first gave the United States Forces permission to detain the terrorists, but he later reneged on the deal. He ordered Italian troops to surround the US Forces protecting the plane. This move was supposedly dictated both by security concerns about terrorists targeting Italy if the United States had had it their way and by the Italian tradition of diplomacy with the Arab world. Craxi's decisive character may have been relevant in this resolution. Though the Americans demanded that the Italian authorities extradite Abu Abbas of the PLO, Craxi stood firm on the grounds that the crime had been perpetrated on Italian soil, over which the Italian Republic had sole jurisdiction. Craxi rejected the US extradition order and let Abu Abbas – chief of the hijackers, present on the plane – flee to Yugoslavia; the four hijackers were later found guilty, and sentenced to prison terms for hijacking and the murder of a Jewish American citizen, Leon Klinghoffer. Abbas was later also convicted in Italy in absentia and eventually died of "natural causes", shortly after being taken prisoner by American forces in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This episode earned Craxi an article in The Economist titled "Europe's strong man" and a standing ovation in the Senate of the Republic, which included his Communist opponents.
US attack on Libya
According to Giulio Andreotti, Italy's foreign minister at the time (and 42nd Prime Minister of Italy) and Abdel Rahman Shalgham (Libya's Foreign Minister from 2000 until 2009), Craxi was the person who telephoned Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi to warn him of the impending American Operation El Dorado Canyon retaliatory air-strikes against Libya on 15 April 1986. This permitted Gaddafi and his family to evacuate their residence in the Bab al-Azizia compound moments before the bombs dropped. Shalgham's statement was also confirmed by Margherita Boniver, foreign affairs chief of Craxi's Socialist Party at the time.
For the Libyan attack, Craxi's government denied the United States any rights of military overflight, as did France and Spain. For the United States, this precluded the use of European continental bases, forcing the US Air Force component to be flown around France and Spain, over Portugal and through the Straits of Gibraltar, adding 1,300 miles (2,100 km) each way and requiring multiple aerial refuelings.
Involvement in "Tangentopoli" scandal
The last main turning point of Craxi's career began in February 1992, when Socialist MP Mario Chiesa was arrested by police while taking a 7 million lira bribe from a cleaning service firm. Chiesa sought Craxi's protection for nearly a month; but Craxi accused him of casting a shadow on the "most honest party in Italy." Feeling marginalised and unjustly singled-out, Chiesa divulged everything he knew to the prosecutors. His revelations brought half of Milan Socialists and Industrialists under investigation; even Paolo Pillitteri, Craxi's own brother-in-law and mayor of Milan, was investigated despite his parliamentary immunity. As a consequence, a team of Milanese judges began investigating specifically the party's financing system.
In July 1992, Craxi finally realised the situation was serious and that he himself was going to be hit by the unfolding scandal. He made an appeal before the Chamber of Deputies in which he claimed that everyone knew of the widespread irreguralities in the public financing of Italian parties, accused the deputies of hypocrisy and cowardice, and called for all MPs to protect the Socialists from prosecution as a show of solidarity. However, his call was ignored.
Craxi received his first prosecution notice in December 1992. More followed in January and February, at which point the Court of Milan explicitly asked Parliament to authorise Craxi's prosecution for bribery and corruption (at the time, Italian MPs were immune from prosecution unless authorised by Parliament). The authorisation was denied on 29 April 1993 after Craxi gave an emotional speech. However, upon returning to his Roman residence at the Raphael Hotel, he was met by a large crowd of protestors who pelted him with coins. The protestors intoned: "Bettino! Do you want even these?!".
Facing the judges
In December 1993, after his prosecution was finally authorised, Craxi was called to testify alongside Democrazia Cristiana party secretary Arnaldo Forlani before Justice Antonio Di Pietro. Questions were asked about the so-called ENIMONT 'super-bribe' which the PSI and DC had jointly received and democratically shared. Forlani evasively asked what a bribe was while Craxi, after admitting to the charges brought against himself and other parties, stated that the bribes were "the cost of politics." Craxi, noting that the legal process had accelerated in his case, claimed that his prosecution was politically motivated.
In May 1994 he fled to Tunis in order to escape jail. His political career ended in less than two years. Italy's entire political class, including people like Andreotti and Forlani, was to follow suit soon.
The CAF (the Craxi-Andreotti-Forlani axis), which had made a pact to revive the Pentapartito (an alliance of five parties: DC, PSI, Italian Republican Party, Italian Liberal Party, Italian Democratic Socialist Party) of the 1980s and apply it to the 1990s, was doomed to be crushed by the popular vote as well as by the judges.
The set of anti-corruption investigations carried out by the Milan judges came to be collectively called Mani pulite (clean hands). No party was spared, but in some parties corruption had become more endemic than elsewhere (either because of more opportunity or internal ethics). To this day, some people (especially those who were close to Craxi) argue that some parties (such as the Italian Communist Party) were left untouched, while the leaders of then ruling coalition (and in particular Bettino Craxi) were wiped off the political map.
The judges in Milan were put under scrutiny several times by different governments (especially Silvio Berlusconi's first government in 1994), but no evidence of any misconduct was ever found. Furthermore, public opinion was much less concerned about foreign financing than about the misappropriation of their money by corrupt politicians.
In the end, the Socialist party went from 14% of the vote to a virtual nil. An ironic note was that the disgraced remnant of the party was excluded from Parliament by the minimum 4% threshold introduced by Bettino Craxi himself during one of his previous governments.
As mentioned before, during the "Mani pulite" period Craxi tried to use a daring defence tactic: he maintained that all parties needed and took money illegally, however they could get it, to finance their activities. His defence was therefore not to declare himself innocent, but everybody guilty. While this was basically the truth, most citizens distrusted politicians, and Craxi's defence got no sympathy by the citizens and may have even served to enrage them further. It should be noted, besides, that some bribes didn't go to the parties at all. They went to the personal wallets of the politician who happened to take them.
In 2012, Di Pietro admitted that Craxi was right when during the process Enimont he accused Italian Communist Party to have received illegal funding from the Soviet Union. Craxi's sentences seemed to him "criminally relevant", but Di Pietro omitted to investigate that crime.
See also: Tangentopoli (Italian for bribeville, used to indicate the corruption-based system that ruled Italy)
"Midgets and dancers"
Craxi's lifestyle was perceived to be inappropriate for the secretary of a party with so many alleged financial problems: he lived in the Raphael, an expensive hotel in Rome's centre, and had a large villa in Hammamet, Tunisia. As the Mani Pulite investigations were to uncover in the 1990s, personal corruption was endemic in Italian society; while many politicians, including Craxi, would justify corruption with the necessities of a democracy, political leaders at many levels enjoyed a lifestyle that should have been well out of their reach, while most parties continued having financial problems. Rino Formica, a prominent member of the Socialist Party in those years, wittily said that "the convent is poor, but the friars are rich".
Furthermore, Craxi's arrogant character won him many enemies; one of his most condemned actions was blaming corruption in the socialist party on treasurer Vincenzo Balzamo, just after the latter's death, in order to clear himself of any accusation. He also had controversial friends, such as Siad Barre, dictator of Somalia, Yasser Arafat, leader of PLO, and Ben Ali, dictator of Tunisia. The latter provided protection to Craxi when he escaped from Italy.
Craxi's entourage was sharply defined by a critic as a "court of midgets and dancers", indicating the often ludicrous and immoral traits of a system based on personal acquaintance rather than merit. Among the friends of Craxi's to receive smaller and larger favours, Silvio Berlusconi is perhaps the most known: he received many favours, especially regarding his media empire, and had a decree named after him ("Decreto Berlusconi") long before he entered politics. Other figures were Craxi's mistresses Ania Pieroni, who owned a TV station in the Rome area, and Sandra Milo, who had a skyrocketing career in the state-owned TV channels RAI.
Craxi was also known for never apologising, as a matter of principle; most Italians expected an apology after the corrupt system had been exposed. Craxi never apologised, stating he had done nothing that everybody else had not been doing, and that he was being unjustly singled out and persecuted.
Escape to Tunisia
All this resulted in him being considered the symbol of political corruption. This was clearly visible when he, coming out of the Roman Raphael Hotel, where he lived, received a salvo of coins that students coming from a PDS (left party) rally in Piazza Navona threw to him as a sign of their disgust. They started to jump and sing: "He, who does not jump... SOCIALIST is!" (from a traditional stadium chant). Some of the students waved 1,000-lire bills, singing Bettino, do you want these too? (Bettino, vuoi pure queste?) to the tune of Guantanamera.
Craxi escaped the laws he had once contributed to make, by fleeing to Hammamet, Tunisia, in 1994, and remained a fugitive there, protected by Ben Ali's government. He repeatedly declared himself innocent, but never returned to Italy where he had been sentenced to 27 years in jail because of his corruption crimes (of these, 9 years and 8 months were upheld on appeal). He died on 19 January 2000, at the age of 65, from complications of diabetes.
Judgements of European Court of human rights
All three appeals by Craxi to Strasbourg Court complained that his defense was not able to refute in court the accusations made by various defendants of related crimes, in violation of the adversarial principle proclaimed in article 6 paragraph 3 letter d of the European Convention of Human Rights. By the way, just once the European Court ruled in his favour, in a case of wiretapped conversations illegally made public.
- Craxi, tutti i processi e le condanne
- Craxi, González y Soares coinciden en que la incorporación de España y Portugal supone un nuevo impulso para la CEE
- Jessup, John E. (1998). An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Conflict and Conflict Resolution, 1945-1996. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 140. – via Questia (subscription required)
- European Observatory On Family Policies: National Family Polices In EC-Countries In 1990 by Wilfred Dumon in collaboration with Françoise Bartiaux, Tanja Nuelant, and experts from each of the member states
- "Italy helped "save" Gaddafi by warning of US air raid". Monsters and Critics (Rome). 30 October 2008. Retrieved 25 February 2011.
- Italy Warned Libya of Bombing, Saved Qaddafi's Life (Update3)Bloomberg.com – Retrieved 4 November 2008
- Corriereweb. "Su Napolitano aveva ragione Craxi" (in Italian).
- Il Giornale. "Di Pietro ora dà ragione a Craxi" (in Italian).
-  The video of the mob against Craxi on Youtube
- "Craxi: Fallen kingpin". BBC News. 20 January 2000. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
- Buonomo, Giampiero (2001). "Commento alla decisione della Corte europea dei diritti dell'uomo dell'11 ottobre 2001". Diritto&Giustizia edizione online. – via Questia (subscription required)
- Wilsford, David, ed. Political leaders of contemporary Western Europe: a biographical dictionary (Greenwood, 1995) pp 31-44,
- Craxi Foundation website (Italian)
|Prime Minister of Italy
|Italian Chamber of Deputies|
Title jointly held
|Member of Parliament for Milan (1968–1983)
and for Naples (1983–1992).
Legislatures: V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI
Title jointly held
None, Parliament established
|Member of European Parliament for Northwest Italy
Legislatures: I, III
1979 – 1983
1989 – 1992
Title jointly held
|Party political offices|
Francesco De Martino
|Secretary of the Italian Socialist Party
|Chair of the Socialist Group in the Chamber of Deputies
|Chair of the G7
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bettino Craxi.|