Italy’s President once a leading communist whom Kissinger never fathomed

By Lucy Komisar
Dec 13, 2007

I chatted for a few minutes with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano after he spoke this morning at a Council on Foreign Relations breakfast. He agreed that there is a problem posed by offshore financial centers and pointed to concern in Europe reflected in a recent joint letter on the subject by the UK, France and Germany.Giorgio

Napolitano is an extraordinary man who served nearly 40 years in the Italian parliament and was a leader of the Italian Communist Party, the PCI, helping to move it out of the Stalinist camp to social democracy. He had been a member of an anti-Fascist youth group during World War II and joined the PCI in 1945. He’s now a leader of the Democratic Party, participants in the center-left government. He is author of “From the PCI to European Socialism: a Political Autobiography,” published in 2005.

Richard Gardner, US ambassador to Italy 1977 to 81, who presided over the meeting, told me that he had tried to persuade Henry Kissinger that Napolitano was a social democrat. Gardner said that Kissinger never could grasp that. It mattered because, though Kissinger had stepped down as Secretary of State when Gerald Ford was succeeded by Jimmy Carter in 1977, he remained an influential foreign policy voice.

I remember in the 1980s hearing the same about Napolitano from Karsten Voigt, a Social Democratic Party (SPD) parliamentarian and head of the foreign policy committee in the German Bundestag. (Voigt is now the German foreign ministry‘s Coordinator for German-American Cooperation.) The SPD related cordially to the PCI as virtually a sister party, and Napolitano attended congresses of the Socialist International. Voigt would meet Kissinger on his visits to the US, so he may have raised the same point. But for Kissinger, for whom the adjective “realist” is a misnomer, ideology trumped reality.


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