Corruption in Italy: Church, politics and universities
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...
Italian universities have gained themselves a deservedly dreadful
reputation. Could you say something about the adverse situation
they find themselves in?
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?
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?
Well, students and Italians generally should forget the idea of an
Italian palingenesis from so-called rules. We have far too many
Pacitti: I remember you once saying that while
Italians produce rules, other countries produce men.
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?
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.
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
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
Pacitti: So what do you think they should do?
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?
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.
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?
Yes, in Italy there certainly is.
Pacitti: Is there anything positive you could say
I have nothing positive whatsoever to say about Italy.
Pacitti: Do you think things can change for the
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?
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.
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.
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
Pacitti: And this obviously doesnít just apply to
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
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
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?
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.
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
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
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.
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?
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
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?
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?
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
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
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.
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
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.
Indeed, the spirit is similar. He too was a provoker.
Pacitti: But he didnít just do it to provoke.
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.
No, not to my knowledge.
Pacitti: And yet itís a glaring resemblance.
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
Pacitti: Lytton Strachey.
An extremely refined writer and a most elegant historian.
Pacitti: Do you feel you were in some way influenced
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
Pacitti: The Bloomsbury group, Eliot, the great
sinologist Arthur WaleyÖ
Yes, that was a great moment for England, a very great moment.
Pacitti: Are you aware of anyone having particularly
influenced your thought?
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?
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?
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
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
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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
Pacitti: So itís the British who do all the
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
Pacitti: I believe you were a good friend of the late
Lord Acton who settled in Tuscany.
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.
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.
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?
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
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
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
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
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
I donít know if the end of the century will wait for me.
Pacitti: How did you first get started in journalism?
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?
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?
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
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
Pacitti: How do you feel about restricted student
entry to universities?
I think itís definitely needed. Why not? It would be better.
Pacitti: So that might be a step in the right
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?
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?
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?
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
Pacitti: Can you explain how this developed?
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?
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
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?
Lack of character, willingness to descend to any compromise,
shamefully conformist, lack of social and moral conscience, not a
Pacitti: And the merits?
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
Pacitti: And how would you summarise Italian
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.
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
By eliminating 300 years of history.
Pacitti: Thatís assuming of course that Italians
know their history, which they donít.
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.