Henry Kissinger, the US elder statesman, as soon as informed Giorgio Napolitano he was his “favorite communist”. With a broad smile, the tall, stooping Italian politician replied: “Your favorite former communist.”
Napolitano, who has died on the age of 98, was Italy’s longest-serving head of state within the nation’s post-second world warfare democratic period — and the primary with a communist background.
Amongst a political class typically held in disdain by the general public for incompetence, corruption and selfishness, Napolitano stood out for his integrity, his robust sense of public service and his capacity to bridge Italy’s sharp postwar ideological divide between Christian Democracy and communism, the correct and the left.
Throughout his 9 years as president between 2006 and 2015, Napolitano performed an indispensable position in stabilising Italian politics at a time when it appeared that the eurozone’s sovereign debt and banking sector crises may overwhelm the nation and pressure its exit from Europe’s financial union.
Some critics felt that Napolitano had overstepped the constitutional limits imposed on presidential energy when he helped to orchestrate the departure from workplace in 2011 of Silvio Berlusconi, the then-prime minister. Nevertheless, most Italians — in addition to Italy’s European allies — have been grateful to Napolitano for having averted catastrophe.
Napolitano’s contribution to public life prolonged properly past his position within the eurozone emergency. From the Nineteen Sixties to the Eighties, he was one of many main figures behind the transformation of the Italian communist get together (PCI), as soon as the most important in western Europe, from a motion blinded by subservience to the Soviet Union into a celebration that embraced liberal democracy and accepted Italy’s membership of Nato and the EU, the west’s premier establishments.
For these actions, Napolitano gained the respect not solely of Kissinger however of quite a few different American politicians and overseas coverage specialists. When he visited the White Home in 2013, the then president Barack Obama praised him as a “visionary chief” who “has helped to information and steer Europe in direction of better unification, however all the time with a powerful transatlantic relationship in thoughts”.
It was telling that in 1978 Napolitano grew to become the primary Italian communist to be granted a visa to journey to the US. In his memoirs, “Mission Italy”, Richard Gardner, the US ambassador to Rome within the late Nineteen Seventies, recalled that he had opened secret channels of communication with communist leaders at a time of acute political tensions in Italy. “For the primary of those conferences I selected Giorgio Napolitano, who had a popularity for being very smart, pragmatic and sincerely dedicated to shifting the PCI in direction of western-style social democracy . . . Finally we grew to become good pals,” Gardner wrote.
Born in Naples on June 29 1925 right into a liberal-minded lawyer’s household, Napolitano despised Benito Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship and joined the resistance as a college scholar. He grew to become a PCI member in 1945 and was elected to parliament in 1953.
Like all his comrades, Napolitano defended the Kremlin’s violent suppression of the 1956 Hungarian rebellion. Over the following 10 years he got here to see it as a severe misjudgment. On the PCI’s eleventh congress in 1966, when the get together’s hardline left clashed with the reformist proper, Napolitano and his colleague Giorgio Amendola have been the main voices calling for extra democratisation and independence from Moscow.
Napolitano spent greater than 30 years as a member of parliament’s decrease chamber earlier than being chosen as speaker of the home in 1992 and serving in Romano Prodi’s 1996-1998 authorities as inside minister — the primary former communist to carry this delicate submit. Together with his fluent command of English and immense data of the Italian structure and trendy historical past, Napolitano generously helped many Rome-based overseas correspondents to navigate their manner by means of the complexities of Italian politics.
When he took over as president in 2006, he was, at 80, the oldest of the 11 males to have served as head of state since Italy grew to become a republic in 1946. Though the presidency is far much less highly effective below the structure than within the US or France, its incumbent is influential as a result of he (there has by no means been a girl president) embodies nationwide unity, appoints the prime minister, dissolves parliament, calls elections and might briefly block laws.
It was these powers which Napolitano used to immense impact when the eurozone disaster threatened to engulf Italy in 2011.
Germany, France, the European Central Financial institution and lots of Italian policymakers shared Napolitano’s concern that Berlusconi’s authorities was proving incapable of adopting the fiscal and financial reforms required to save lots of Italy from disaster.
Berlusconi resigned after shedding his majority in parliament, however Napolitano performed an important half within the drama by guaranteeing that the brand new prime minister was Mario Monti, a revered former EU commissioner.
It was a measure of the excessive regard for Napolitano that, regardless of his want to serve a single seven-year presidential time period, he was prevailed upon to just accept re-election in 2013.
All through the turbulent political occasions that formed his profession, Napolitano cultivated a relaxed, considerate picture — he used to joke that he was “ataraxic”, or not susceptible to emotional disturbance. His marriage to Clio Maria Bittoni, a lawyer who survives him, produced two sons, Giovanni and Giulio.
In an official assertion, Sergio Mattarella, his successor as president, paid tribute to Napolitano as a person who fought for the “peace and progress of Italy and Europe”.