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Corruption in Italy: Church, politics and universities

Domenico Pacitti talks to Indro Montanelli

Indro Montanelli was born in Fucecchio near Florence on 22 April 1909 and died in Milan on 22 July 2001. He was the most outstanding Italian journalist of the last century and one of Italy's most lucid historical commentators and fiercest social critics. His intellectual independence and dedication to truth and justice were a constant scourge to Italy's politicians, priests, academics and others who shamelessly adopted and continue to adopt corruption and hypocrisy as a way of life. JUST Response has chosen to pay tribute to this great man by publishing for the first time the transcript of a long interview on corruption in Italy by Domenico Pacitti on assignment for The Times Higher Education Supplement and The Guardian (London). The interview was conducted in the course of a full day spent at Indro Montanelli's home in Milan on 17 May 1997.

Grazie, Indro. Ricorderemo...

Domenico Pacitti: Italian universities have gained themselves a deservedly dreadful reputation. Could you say something about the adverse situation they find themselves in?

Indro Montanelli: Our universities have always suffered from that malformation which is fundamental to Italian culture. It is an academic culture but one that came into being at the table of the princeís palace and has remained so ever since. It made no difference whether the prince was lay or ecclesiastic.

Pacitti: Can you explain why Italian culture came into being in this way and how it developed?

Montanelli: This is an extremely complex subject but if you like I can give you what seem to me to be the fundamental strands. Italian culture came into being in this way because it had no audience. And it had no audience because of the Counter-Reformation. The Reformation, on the other hand, obliged the faithful to read the sacred scriptures on their own and to interpret them without invoking the pastor except to seek his occasional advice. This was how literacy spread in those countries. Therefore people in those countries knew how to read and write. So intellectuals in Britain, Holland and elsewhere had a market, a public market. But Italians had no such market. Illiteracy was widespread and the only audience, the only reader was the lord, assuming of course that he was able to read. And so Italian culture came into being destined for academia, because it was situated at the palace of the lord or prince and required the most absolute form of servility. We no longer have the prince but his place has been taken by the political party and economic power. Italian culture has never served the public. This is the really important point. University culture has been deeply affected by this. University culture in Italy is reserved for university people. This means that the teacher addresses other teachers, never the common herd because to move outside the academic fortalice is dangerous. Itís simply not the done thing. Itís discrediting. And so the language of our teachers is a mafia language, itís a cosca clan language, because culture in Italy is a mafia cosca clan. If you need to say this, go ahead and say it. Itís the truth. And it is the truth for precise historical reasons.

Pacitti: Italian university students are again demanding radical reforms. What advice can you give them?

Montanelli: Well, students and Italians generally should forget the idea of an Italian palingenesis from so-called rules. We have far too many rules.

Pacitti: I remember you once saying that while Italians produce rules, other countries produce men.

Montanelli: I did say that. Certainly. I am told that in Britain there are altogether about six or seven thousand laws. In Italy there are more than two hundred thousand, which means a jungle.

Pacitti: And why are there so many?

Montanelli: Because Ė and this is another case of mafia Ė only the caste of lawyers can find their way through this labyrinth of laws and regulations. Since itís lawyers who make the laws, because the political class is made up of lawyers, thatís where the proliferation comes from and there you have another mafia manifestation of Italian culture.

Pacitti: So what advice could you give Italy's students? Right now there seems to be more optimism, or better, less pessimism in the air.

Montanelli: Optimism?

Pacitti: Well at Pisa, for example, students are once again talking about wanting to tackle the big questions. They want to be treated as paying customers and receive more adequate teaching. Whatís different now is that Italian students are travelling abroad more than in the past on Socrates and Erasmus exchanges. Theyíre seeing other universities, other systems in Britain, Germany, France and so on. And when they return to Italy they ask why they should suffer third-rate universities. Some leaders of national student unions are saying it will only be a question of time before thereís a rebellion unless things change first.

Montanelli: Look Domenico, the 1968 movement evidently failed because you canít go around shooting people. But students did have a just cause Ė they were rebelling against a baronial system that does in fact exist. Now today students must rebel by using different methods.

Pacitti: So what do you think they should do?

Montanelli: Well I certainly donít think they should start shooting. That simply gets them into trouble and detracts from their cause. There are many methods of communicating oneís disaffection and disdain to oneís professors.

Pacitti: But just look at the sort of mess students find themselves faced with Ė poor teaching by professors who have been recommended on the basis of criteria other than merit, incompetence, rigged public exams, favouritism, absenteeism, plagiarism of academic publications including the illegal appropriation of studentsí theses, corruption Ė the list is endless. Certainly they havenít actually done anything yet but at least theyíve started seriously talking about it. You say they shouldnít resort to violence and I understand that. But what exactly should they do?

Montanelli: Again I would insist that they donít use violence. Otherwise they lose out to their adversaries. In Ď68 I found myself having to defend the professors, which irritated me, but I had to do it.

Pacitti: Mightnít the Italian national press be an important weapon here? As far as I can see theyíve hardly dedicated a page to this. Scandals seem to be short-lived Ė they last a day or two and thatís it. The way it looks to me is that the Italian national press is controlled by relatively few people. Some news simply never gets out.

Montanelli: No, itís not really like that. If you really want to do something then you can. Very often Italian servility is not the bossís fault but rather the servantís fault.

Pacitti: So there is this servility?

Montanelli: Yes, in Italy there certainly is.

Pacitti: Is there anything positive you could say about Italy?

Montanelli: I have nothing positive whatsoever to say about Italy.

Pacitti: Do you think things can change for the better?

Montanelli: Iíve now lost all hope. In this country Iíve already seen too many transformations that ended up transforming nothing. I am the age I am, so I saw fascism Ė I saw it all. When we were very young Ė I was just 12 Ė we grew up with the conviction, which later turned out to be illusory, that we could do something worthwhile and that we could even make something worthwhile out of fascism. Slowly but surely we all became outcasts, because fascism came into being as totalitarianism and became a parody of totalitarianism. It wasnít even a serious undertaking. It became serious for other reasons when Italy went to war, but it was really a farce. It got called totalitarianism, but it was totalitarianism Italian-style and therefore something negotiable. Everything was negotiable. Then, when we lost all hope in this regime, we went back to democracy. We were still very young even then and we saw this democracy transform itself into a partitocracy, that is to say into a mafia system. You see, Italy always predominates over everything it does in the name of myths and sacred things and then it corrupts them. It corrupts them and renders them parodies. You give Italy Jesus Christ and you get the Roman Catholic Church. Iím not sure if Iím making myself clear here. I mean, thereís nothing you can give Italy that doesnít at once become a parody of what you give it. And so this means that thereís something in our blood.

Pacitti: What you say is both very clear and very interesting. Let me raise the issue of Italian anathema to moralising. I was recently on a thesis commission at Pisa and a candidate had presented a dissertation on the US novelist Norman Mailer. When I made the point that book seemed to me to be more journalism than literature, I was criticised by Italian colleagues on the commission for "moralising", that is to say for expressing my independent critical opinion Ė or, if you like, for touching an untouchable. Now in Britain where I was born, brought up and educated expressing one's independent critical opinions, especially if reasoned, is something positive and moral philosophy is a perfectly respectable subject with a distinguished tradition. Not only can we moralise Ė we must. It is natural and right to do so. How do you see this?

Montanelli: In Italy there has never been any serious attempt to develop a moral conscience in people. Italians dumped their conscience on the heap at the time of the Counter-Reformation. Conscience was the confessor who absolved you. Very convenient, isnít it?

Pacitti: Yes, thereís quite a collection of axioms whose function seems to be to preserve the status quo, discourage people from challenging convention and prevent counter-arguments from ever getting off the ground: ďWeíre all sinnersĒ; ďLet him who is without sin cast the first stoneĒ; ďDonít be a moralistĒ, and so on.

Montanelli: Yes, itís true. The Church is responsible for this.

Pacitti: Some of our readers might be wondering how it is that a country with the Vatican at its centre can have this sort of problem.

Montanelli: Well the Church never has conscience problems because it is the Church itself that resolves the matter. The Italian sinner certainly doesnít have any remorse, because once he has confessed his sins he is at peace with himself again. Thatís the way it is. But this doesnít apply to everyone. Italy too has its exceptions.

Pacitti: And this obviously doesnít just apply to practising Catholics.

Montanelli: Of course it doesn't. The Catholic upbringing means that it also affects non-practising Catholics, including those who donít believe at all. Itís an old sedimentation.

Pacitti: Going back to universities, what about those who want to know how to go about destroying the rot so as to build something new?

Montanelli: Well as regards the path they should follow, what happens is that at a certain point they simply get sucked in. If they enter academia, they have to accept the rules. It is very dangerous for them to rebel.

Pacitti: Do you have students or teachers in mind here?

Montanelli: Students and young teachers.

Pacitti: Let me press you again on this. What should they do to change things? If, for example, a young teacher who gets in despite being competent begins to go around reporting everyone for their misdeeds, do you think this would be a good thing? Or do you think that he simply shouldnít go into academia in the first place?

Montanelli: Young teachers should enter academia with a sacred pact to overturn the situation. But it certainly isnít easy.

Pacitti: Earlier this year Il Giornale reported Gianfranco Miglio, the constitutionalist and senator of the Northern League party, as literally advising serious-minded students to emigrate. He said that there was no point in telling them to stay on and fight the system since Italians notoriously lack true revolutionary spirit.

Montanelli: Yes, this is true.

Pacitti: Do you really think this is right? Wouldnít it be more courageous of them to stay on and try to do something?

Montanelli: Stay on and try Ė yes. But if I were to tell these boys to do this, I would be in bad faith because I do not believe in the possibility of success. But we must somehow encourage them.

Pacitti: Well, could we say that it is not the system, the rules or the laws that need changing but rather the mentality?

Montanelli: Thatís the point Ė the mentality, the character, which are the most difficult things to change.

Pacitti: At this point an ethical question arises. To what extent in principle is it right to try and change the character of a countryís entire population? I remember Bertrand Russell once talking about the feasibility of an international union of states. He said that some way would have to be found of combining cultural independence with political unity. Unfortunately he didnít say how this should be carried out in cases like Italy where the culture in question is one in which mafia-style corruption is deeply rooted not only in the social culture but also in the major institutions.

Montanelli: Yes, culture in Italy certainly has enormous responsibility for Italian corruption. Thatís the source of the whole problem.

Pacitti: I hope Iím not tiring you with all of these questions. Shall we go on or would you like to stop?

Montanelli: No, not at all. Do letís go on.

Pacitti: Another university issue concerns the 1,500 or so foreign-language lecturers, or lettori, who teach at Italyís universities. Iím not sure if you're familiar with the case.

Montanelli: No. Tell me about it.

Pacitti: Well, a new law was set up in 1980 to create mother-tongue language assistants. What actually happened in many cases was that they ended up doing all or nearly all of the language teaching and in some cases also literature teaching. It seems to have been the predictable result of incompetence, laziness and absenteeism among Italian professors. So the assistants found themselves de facto professors. Now according to European law, in such situations your labour rights and salary should be linked to the duties you actually perform. The European Court of Justice has so far decided in favour of the lecturers twice and so has the European parliament, but Italy is stubbornly refusing to step into line on this. Germany, insofar as it was involved in a similar case, put its house in order within a few months. Sweden has just done the same on another issue. Why wonít Italy obey the law?

Montanelli: The difference is that Germany and Sweden are efficient countries.

Pacitti: So should this too be put down to another case of negative Italian mentality?

Montanelli: As I say, I donít actually know the case, but from what you say there are evidently contrary interests and one can easily find a foothold in the jungle of Italian regulations. You can always find such a foothold in Italy.

Pacitti: Yes, to justify just about anything. Is that right?

Montanelli: Anything. What happens is not that they win the case but that they draw it out. The case goes on for years and years.

Pacitti: Beyond this particular problem of foreign-language lecturers, now that weíre in Europe, it is now the European Court of Justice that is the highest court and no longer the Italian Supreme Court of Cassation or Constitutional Court. Do you think this could mark the beginning of a real change for Italy?

Montanelli: Look. In line with Freudian reasoning, the great desire of Italians to enter Europe is the hope of becoming a European colony. So the idea is Ė bring your laws to Italy, tell me what they are and impose them on me. Thatís what itís all about. Nobody says this, but thatís the way it is. The reason is that we have long since lost all hope of being able to solve our own problems. We are incapable of making a true reform, absolutely incapable. So we hope a German legislator will come along with a regiment behind him and impose the reform by kicking it into us.


Pacitti: Earlier we mentioned Bertrand Russell, the great British philosopher and human rights activist. I donít know if youíre familiar with his thought and opinions.

Montanelli: Yes, of course.

Pacitti: Well I must say that every time I hear you speak you always remind me of him. Do you yourself see this similarity?

Montanelli: Yes, I understand what you mean. There are undoubtedly some similarities even though I never agreed with Russellís philo-Soviet line of thought insofar as I could follow it.

Pacitti: I was thinking more in terms of spirit. The spirit is similar.

Montanelli: Indeed, the spirit is similar. He too was a provoker.

Pacitti: But he didnít just do it to provoke.

Montanelli: Nor do I. He did it out of his absolute independence, out of his spirit of contradiction. He certainly had that quality and I have it too. And there was also his brilliance Ė I hope there is also some of this.

Pacitti: Indeed there is. Much has been written about you in Italy, but I donít ever recall this obvious similarity ever having been pointed out before.

Montanelli: No, not to my knowledge.

Pacitti: And yet itís a glaring resemblance.

Montanelli: No, itís never been pointed out. He was certainly a person with whom I would have felt very much in harmony. Though I must say that the Englishman Iíd most like to be compared with is Strachey.

Pacitti: Lytton Strachey.

Montanelli: An extremely refined writer and a most elegant historian.

Pacitti: Do you feel you were in some way influenced by him?

Montanelli: I cannot honestly say I was influenced by him. I never met him. So I canít say I was influenced by him. But I like his way of recounting history. His biographies are superb. He was a great master of history and he said something very precious: ďThe first requisite of a historian is ignorance.Ē An eminent Victorian.

Pacitti: The Bloomsbury group, Eliot, the great sinologist Arthur WaleyÖ

Montanelli: Yes, that was a great moment for England, a very great moment.

Pacitti: Are you aware of anyone having particularly influenced your thought?

Montanelli: Not really. I have always turned my back on Italian culture. From the very first moment I became a university student I had an overwhelming feeling of rejection for Italian culture and also for the language in which it was written. I found that it was a mission that had betrayed its duties, and the duty of a culture is a missionary duty of mixing with people and propagating culture. If it does not do this, then what does it do? Thatís when I realised that it was a mafia. And it was a mafia which confronted me with the choice: Either I enter the mafia, in which case I can aspire to a university chair, etc. If I donít enter the mafia, then these people will crush me. They didnít get the chance to crush me because I escaped by choosing the path of journalism.

Pacitti: Is this still a valid path for people like yourself who wish to escape the university mafia?

Montanelli: No. Not now. Not any more. If I had to begin my trade again I donít think I would choose journalism despite the passion I have for this trade.

Pacitti: And what would you choose?

Montanelli: Iím not sure. I really donít know.

Pacitti: Can you trace you independence of thought back to anything or anyone in particular. Did it spring from any particular experiences?

Montanelli: No. But I did have some teachers in Italy that I chose myself. For example, for me Prezzolini was more than a teacher. He was a fair bit older than me but of the same stock. We resembled each other in almost everything, even physically. Another teacher was Ridolfi. I had an excellent relationship with him. But they too were escapees. Prezzolini went off to teach in America. He certainly wasnít going to stay here. He was absolutely detested by the official Italian culture, literally detested. He was too free. And Ridolfi was never admitted into Italian culture, never admitted.

Pacitti: When we speak about those professors who are part of the Italian system, it sometimes isnít clear to me to what extent they realise what they really are and to what extent they convince themselves that they got there on merit.

Montanelli: They convince themselves. They convince themselves, but above all their real effort is the effort to get into the cosca clan. Once they get into the cosca clan they protect each other, which is the true mafia spirit.

Pacitti: And what about the rebel?

Montanelli: The rebel, for goodness sake. The rebel is the great enemy. He must be isolated. He must be isolated and condemned Ė I donít say burnt at the stake since they donít have any bundles of sticks, but thatís the idea. You see, mine is above all a case of character. I do not like Italian culture because it is academic. And academic culture really irritates me. I could accept British academic culture though. A lecture by the historian E.H. Carr Ė thatís just fine. He is a master. And naturally Russell too. Thatís because they had nothing academic about them. But Italy Ė thatís another matter.

Pacitti: Itís true that there is this sharp difference between British and Italian academic culture. Itís also unfortunately true that on a generous estimate about 90% of what British academics have been publishing lately could safely be committed to the flames without any great loss to posterity. Going back to Italian universities, can you say something about how academic careers get off the ground?

Montanelli: Italian academia is a fortalice which you enter as some baronís servant. You can then enter the circle, be invested with authority and choose your ideology. Until recently it was that of the political left. And woe to whoever moved out of this rut. And bear in mind that all of this was carried out not for the sake of culture but for the sake of career. Thatís how careers in Italy got under way. First you were a minor vassal, then a major vassal, then vice-baron and finally baron and so on.

Pacitti: When someone does an open public competition for a tenured post, one usually knows in advance who exactly has been earmarked to win and that this has been decided by recommendation on the basis of criteria other than merit. How do you explain the vile and ruthless manner in which these people chop down candidates, who may be brilliant and talented, and destroy the hopes of families that have made enormous sacrifices for their childrenís education? Donít they have any conscience at all? Donít they understand the wrong they are doing?

Montanelli: No. There is no conscience in Italy. Conscience is a lady that is extraneous to our conceptions. The best way to get on is to marry a baronís daughter and enter the clan directly. 

Pacitti: Iím sure all of this will sound strange to those of our readers, especially in Britain, who see Italians as sensitive, romantic people.

Montanelli: They are the ones who are romantic. The British are impenitent romantics who are ashamed of being so. I have never met such romantic romantics as the British. But you canít tell them this or they get offended. They donít like to think of themselves as romantic but they are, much more than us. Italians romantic? Are we joking?

Pacitti: So itís the British who do all the romanticising?

Montanelli: Yes they are the ones who do all the romanticising. Now I donít know if they still do it. This I donít know. But I can tell you that the British are those who have understood Italy best. They have mixed sentiments towards Italians Ė something between an act of sympathy and one of disdain. That is more or less the situation.

Pacitti: I believe you were a good friend of the late Lord Acton who settled in Tuscany.

Montanelli: Yes, he was a dear friend and I was very sorry to lose him when he passed away a few years ago. Acton had been very much corrupted by Italy and by Italians because he was very British in this. He was very British because understanding Italians means a certain amount of participation. He was a truly great, refined Englishman, a man of culture who had accepted Italy and who recounted it. His books on the Bourbons and the Medici are superb. But he was never taken into consideration by Italian historians. Never.

Pacitti: Why?

Montanelli: Because Acton was read and the Italian historianís pledge is not to be read. What I mean is that they should be read only by their colleagues who award them a university post, but culture should not go any further than that. They arenít in any case able to do so because they donít have the language. Our books are illegible. Our history books are illegible save very few.

Pacitti: Donít you think that form in Italy is a double-edged blade? On the one hand, the importance of form has produced an artistic heritage that is unique in the world. On the other hand, the prevalence of form over content in writing means that content tend to be rather mediocre.

Montanelli: All of this Italian formalism is aimed at respecting these hierarchies Ė ďYour most excellent lordshipĒ and that sort of thing in letters. Certainly itís no longer exactly like that now, but the spirit is still the same. And that brings us back to how I came to have my feeling of rejection. I simply donít like culture. I donít get along with it.

Pacitti: To what extent do you feel alone or isolated in this? Are there many others in Italy like yourself?

Montanelli: There are certainly others. To tell the truth, Italy is a country of exceptions in the sense that what I have been saying is the rule, but there are also the heroes who fight against this and who become outcasts. They become outcasts and are destined to solitude. But they also win the hearts of their readers, of the public at large, and this is a great strength.

Pacitti: Do you have anyone particularly in mind here?

Montanelli: One was certainly Prezzolini, as I said before. Another, who was always disputing with Prezzolini, was Sarzoni. They had opposing ideas which were animated by a similar spirit. There are quite a number of others, but they must all resign themselves to being outcasts. They are not part of the cultural jet set.

Pacitti: I see you recently received an important recognition for your work Ė the Spanish Principe de Asturias prize.

Montanelli: Yes, that was for my work as a historian, for the capacity to communicate and for independence. Yes, it was a fine prize, also because it was an exception. It was the first time a foreigner had ever won this recognition.

Pacitti: Have you thought of writing your autobiography?

Montanelli: No. Everyone has been telling me I should, but I no longer have either the strength or the desire.

Pacitti: In a certain sense you have already written it.

Montanelli: Yes, exactly. Anyone who wishes can easily find it. It can be extracted from my writings. I feel that to start writing my autobiography would be rather immodest of me. I had thought of writing a book as a sort of witness of my times. I have had a century of experiences, so I had thought of writing a book entitled ďAlmost a CenturyĒ.

Pacitti: Maybe we should wait for the end of the century first.

Montanelli: I donít know if the end of the century will wait for me.


Pacitti: How did you first get started in journalism?

Montanelli: I started off with voluntary university magazines. But I first began professionally when I was a student in Paris. I attended courses at the Sorbonne as a journalist for a paper which at the time boasted over two million daily copies. It was the Paris Soir. Thatís where I began to learn the rudiments of the trade, the reporterís job.

Pacitti: Was writing French ever a problem for you?

Montanelli: I was able to write French as easily as Italian. As a recognition of merit the Paris Soir sent me on a trip to America. And there, thanks to a United Press correspondent for Paris who had seen my work and had perhaps understood that I had the qualities to be a journalist, I was given a job despite the fact that I didnít know any English. I could read it but I couldnít speak it. I did three monthsí apprenticeship at United Press. It was this great press agency that taught me the job, which is to say they taught me how to write up the news.

Pacitti: You attended the University of Florence. How much did you get out of your studies?

Montanelli: I have two university degrees Ė one in law and the other in political sciences, both from Florence. They have never been of the slightest use to me.

Pacitti: Italian higher education minister Luigi Berlinguer has said he intends to carry out extensive reforms to the Italian university system. Do you think he will be capable of doing this?

Montanelli: Berlinguer is a fine person and an honest man who is well-intentioned. But he lacks the raw materials to carry out reforms. He lacks the men. And when you lack the men how can you change a whole education system? To whom do you entrust your good intentions? The Italian education system is a disaster, a complete disaster.

Pacitti: How do you feel about restricted student entry to universities?

Montanelli: I think itís definitely needed. Why not? It would be better.

Pacitti: So that might be a step in the right direction?

Montanelli: Well it might be a step in the right direction in the same way as a reform of the social state would be a step in the right direction. I donít know. But what Italian government has the strength to tackle such a problem? No government.

Pacitti: On the question of governments, Italy has since the last war been running at a rate of over one a year. How would you explain this to our readers?

Montanelli: Look. In Italy we believed Ė not me personally but this new political class that followed the universal flood of Bribesville Ė that in order to simplify political life, in order to reduce it as in Britain it would be best to have just two parties. One was the majority governing party and the other the minority opposition that would have to wait its turn. They thought that a single new law, the majority law, would suffice for this purpose. Well we did it, we introduced the new law and on paper Italy is divided not into two simple parties Ė that would have been too much to ask Ė but into two blocks of parties: the centre-right and the centre-left. Now within both the centre-right and centre-left the old parties have been reborn. Rather, they have multiplied. We now have forty-two. And what do you do in a stable majority that has forty-two wandering parties that ally themselves with one party one minute and with another the next?

Pacitti: Well, why does this happen?

Montanelli: It happens because, again to put it in Freudian terms, the great dream of Italians is that they want to be governed and so they lie involuntarily. Italians donít want to be governed in order that everyone can do what they like.

Pacitti: And has it always been so?

Montanelli: It has always been so.

Pacitti: It might not be unreasonable to think that mindful of the Mussolini experience people are afraid to entrust too much power to one person or one party. Would you agree with that?

Montanelli: Certainly.

Pacitti: Can you explain how this developed?

Montanelli: The 1947 Constitution was drawn up as a mark of hatred for a dead man. It was a constitution that was in polemic with fascism, which was dead. Fascism had given rise to an absolute prevalence of executive power over legislative power. It was the government that commanded because Mussolini was in control and parliament counted for nothing. In order to reverse what Mussolini had done with fascism, they did the opposite. That is, they gave all the power to parliament and stripped the government of all its power. And thatís how what was born was born. Well, you canít draw up a constitution in polemic with a dead man. Itís sheer madness. But if you said those things at the time Ė and I said them Ė you were considered a fascist. They said we wanted to perpetuate the fascist system. So what was to be done? To reduce and simplify Italian political life is the silly prejudice of poor dreamers who have no contact with reality. The Italian reality does not allow this. It simply does not allow this. If you create two blocks, the same parties you wanted to abolish are reborn within them. And here they have been reborn exactly as they were before. So what are we changing in Italy? In order to change Italy you would have to change Italians. And who can do this? Where are the powers?

Pacitti: Well how about Europe? Could the European Union mark the first step in such a change?

Montanelli: Look. Write this. We do not have the legal credentials to get into Europe. We do not have them because our economic figures donít add up. Thereís no use trying. We just donít have the credentials. But Europe should remember one thing: if they donít give us an admission ticket, Italy will fall apart completely and decompose. It will decompose because there is a centre-north in Italy that has the right credentials to get into Europe but that at the same time doesnít have the credentials because it has to drag the weight of the south behind it. And so since the people in the centre-north have the credentials and they want into Europe, they will simply dissociate themselves from the south of Italy.

Pacitti: So in this sense youíre a Europeanist?

Montanelli: Iím a Europeanist rather malgrť moi. I perfectly understand the British reluctance to enter Europe. I think they are right. The Europe of Maastricht? What can I say? Not even Germany and France have the credentials to enter Europe. The British are quite right. The British are in principle, by instinct and by tradition against any form of European union. What has always been their history has brought them to this. Every time someone sprang up in Europe with the ambition of uniting it in some way, whether it was Napoleon or Hitler, the British were always against it. Here in Italy we donít see things from this point of view because we donít have the same traditions as Britain. But what we do have is that for many Italians Europe is the German gendarme who, together with the French or Dutch administrator, comes along in order to put some order into our country because we no longer believe in ourselves. We know only too well that we could never excogitate a regime to bring us up to scratch, to impose the sacrifice that has to be made. What Italian government will ever succeed in dismantling this parody of a welfare state that Italy has? No government. Here if you try to touch pensions, all hell is let loose. So, you see, Italians hope that the German gendarme will come along. Thatís what itís all about. But as Europe already has so very many problems, I donít think it has any desire to add yet another, namely the dissolution of the Italian nation. I mean, I think Europe will not come about in Yugoslav fashion but in Czechoslovak fashion. That is to say, on the basis of an agreed divorce. There are no Italians disposed either to kill or to die at the hands of other Italians or at the hands of anyone.

Pacitti: This could also be seen to be a form of positive value.

Montanelli: I suppose so, but itís nevertheless a value that renders us rather imbecile, but there it is.

Pacitti: How would you summarise the essential defects of Italians?

Montanelli: Lack of character, willingness to descend to any compromise, shamefully conformist, lack of social and moral conscience, not a ruling race.

Pacitti: And the merits?

Montanelli: A great capacity to cope with trouble when it strikes, immense ability to get by, a certain basic politeness, a sort of creative intelligence Ė the ability to make armoured tanks out of sardine cans.

Pacitti: And how would you summarise Italian politics?

Montanelli: We have a political madhouse that nobody can understand. There is the constant fundamental desire to paralyse executive power. The Italian I like is the anti-Italian Ė the only acceptable Italian. I would describe myself as an anti-Italian.

Pacitti: Yes, but you have to be Italian in order to be a self-respecting anti-Italian.

Montanelli: Yes, thatís true.

Pacitti: My own dual Italian and British nationality should qualify me all right on that one. As you know, this interview is being commissioned by the Times Higher Education Supplement and Guardian, though Iím not sure how much space theyíll find for it. Since higher education is the focus, can I press you one last time on how Italy can solve its university problem?

Montanelli: By eliminating 300 years of history.

Pacitti: Thatís assuming of course that Italians know their history, which they donít.

Montanelli: Precisely. As Ugo Ojetti once put it: ďWe live in a country of contemporaries who have neither ancestors nor descendants, because they have no memory. When we die, everything dies with us.Ē

Pacitti: Perhaps we had better stop here. Thank you so much for your help and also for your patience.

Montanelli: Not at all. I have freely said what I think throughout. Go ahead and make the best use of it you see fit.


Note: This interview was first published in three parts by JUST Response between July 17 and July 23 2003.