Running on a clean-up ticket
Domenico Pacitti talks to Antonio Di Pietro
the eve of Italy's general election, Antonio Di Pietro, senator,
law professor and founder-leader of the Italy of Values party, is
urging the electorate to change the face of Italian politics by
voting out the old guard.
media indoctrination and the rising number of established
politicians with conflicting political and commercial interests
are seriously impeding Italian democracy, Di Pietro says.
a few years ago, as a prosecuting magistrate in Milan, he brought
about an upheaval in the 53-year history of the Italian republic
when his investigations - later dubbed Operation Clean Hands -
revealed that Italy's political parties were illegally obtaining
financial support from industry on a vast scale.
claims it caused "a major revolution that resulted in the
near total replacement of our ruling political class".
Pietro, now 50, became widely recognised as a symbol marking the
end of an old political era. His central role in raising 2,565
accusations of corruption, extortion and tax fraud against
politicians and business administrators led to his being
proclaimed a national hero.
in May 1995, less than four years after the inquiry was launched,
amid death threats and 27 criminal accusations raised against him
- which later proved unfounded - Di Pietro disappointed many by
resigning from the judiciary and entering politics.
could say that I resigned from the position of accuser in order to
defend myself. Saving my honour was the only thing that really
interested me. Sadly, we are now back to square one. This does not
mean that Operation Clean Hands failed, but that Italian justice
failed because the new political class was in the end more
concerned with passing laws to ensure the impunity of those on
trial than with bringing them to justice."
believes that the most glaring case of conflicting interests is
that of Silvio Berlusconi, media tycoon and leader of Italy's
rightwing Freedom House alliance and favourite to gain power on
May 13, despite condemnation by the international press -
especially a cover story in The Economist, over which
Berlusconi is threatening to sue - over criminal investigations
into his business conduct and alleged links to Mafia killings.
the foreign reports have caused a furore among some sections of
the Italian media, Di Pietro claims they are nothing new - all are
contained in a recent book by his party's vice-chairman Elio
Veltri - and that the uproar is politically motivated.
opinion on Di Pietro is sharply divided. He is either loved or
hated. "One of the worst accusations is that I put people in
prison. But I was a judge and I applied the law. As a bricklayer,
I tried to build my walls straight, as a policeman I tried to
arrest criminals and as a judge I tried to bring people to trial
when there was good reason to do so."
Italian media, he complains, has been portraying Clean Hands as an
unfortunate anomaly created by the judiciary. "The anomaly
was not the judicial investigation but the fact that there were
politicians who were stealing," he says. "The point is
not who discovered the thieves but the fact that the thieves were
there in the first place. Those under investigation were falsely
represented as victims and the judges as assassins, but no
innocent person was imprisoned. Our media is notoriously
successful at warping the truth. If they all say Clean Hands put
innocent people in prison, then the general public will inevitably
see Clean Hands in a poor light."
Pietro describes former president Oscar Luigi Scalfaro's
definition of Clean Hands as a real revolution that was
fortunately not wholly successful, as scandalous. He believes the
reason for this depiction is that politicians - not just
Berlusconi, but also the centre-left - often influence the media
and a number of them face criminal investigation.
Pietro does not believe the mantra that Italians dislike truth and
justice and have little moral or social conscience. He blames the
media and politicians for moulding popular opinion and thinks
there is no excuse for a modern democracy not to have
conflict-of-interest legislation for politicians.
wants the law to prevent leading public figures such as
magistrates, and beneficiaries of TV companies from standing for
election unless they give up their interests at least six months
Pietro adds that legislation would also be needed to stop, for
example, entrepreneurs who are politicians from passing laws in
parliament on industry and commerce.
problem is that those who would pass that legislation have "a
vested interest in maintaining the status quo," he says. It
is therefore up to the electorate to vote for those parties that
do not have vested interests.
has found himself isolated in parliament as a result of his past
reputation as a magistrate. "I live in a surreal situation. I
meet thousands of people every day who say: 'Bravo, Di Pietro -
keep up the good work', and then I walk into parliament and no one
so much as offers a good morning."
Pietro feels that while new laws and an ethical imperative are
necessary, many existing laws should be swept aside.
other European country has the jungle of laws that we have in
Italy. They are excessive, harmful and incomprehensible. Our
legislators are unfamiliar with them, our administrators do not
apply them, bureaucrats fail to check them and citizens do not
problem, he says, is the alliance between different parties, for
example, the Northern League, "which wants to split up
Italy", and the National Alliance, "which wants to keep
it united". "It is all about getting 51 per cent of the
vote. Not surprisingly, little work ever gets done under such
conditions because policies clash radically."
party is standing alone in the election: "We offer voters a
genuine alternative to those powerful parties whose leading
figures and programmes lack credibility, and we invite everyone
who believes in promoting honest values to join us."
latest opinion polls place the Italy of Values movement, which he
founded just three years ago, ahead of the other small parties
with an encouraging 6 per cent of votes - which could gain him a
modest presence in parliament and a platform from which to work.
But he has been given only an outsider's chance of success in
Milan, where he is also running for mayor.
from past performance and an impressive website that employs daily
bulletins and web vision to combat media distortion, Di Pietro
appears to possess the credentials to carry his plans through.
What is far less certain is whether Italy is quite ready for the
revolution he has in mind.
Among his strongest supporters are his students at the Carlo Cattaneo Free University Institute in Castellanza, Varese, where he has been professor of the criminal law of economics since 1995. "I teach them that respect for the law in business can make for increased profits and that honest competition, product quality and personal standing are the key factors."
Di Pietro's university lectures have been suspended owing to his chaotic pre-election schedule, but he still finds time to see his students every few weeks for examinations and graduation theses. Not surprisingly, he is constantly inundated with applications to supervise theses. No one wants to miss the opportunity of being personally tutored by the man who accomplished the impossible by actually changing Italy - if only for a brief spell.
Note: This interview first appeared in The Times Higher Education Supplement on May 11 2001. Another article based on the same original interview with Di Pietro appeared in World Parliamentarian (Brussels) in February 2001 titled The face of revolution.