An anti-fascist and democrat at heart, he devoted his life to progressive politics. He upheld social democracy in hard times: he faced the strongest communist party in the West. He was a bold reformist and nailed his colours to the mast while the communists were sneering at him. When he became a national leader, his party’s fortunes had plunged to their lowest (9,6% of the vote, in 1976). He rediscovered his party’s libertarian roots. He didn’t mince his words. He said it loud and clear: a society without democracy and liberty is like fish without water. Communism is a big scam -- and Eurocommunismis baloney, or, to put it more elegantly, the fanciful invention of tricksters who would have us believe in fairytales.
He believed that democratic politics should govern the economy and not viceversa. In the 1970s and 1980s he was the only standard-bearer of social-democracy in his country: he argued in favour of a free market, when it was unpopular to do so in leftist quarters, but demanded strict rules and regulations. He campaigned for an equitable distribution of wealth, for more public spending in education and services for the community. Equal opportunities to all and sundry was his motto.
He stood up to Reagan and defended his country’s sovereignty when no-one else on the left dared to do so. The man definitely had guts. No wonder he was dubbed ‘the strong man in Europe’. Without his consent, the Pershing and Cruise missiles, the weapons that won the Cold War, would never have been installed in the American base in Comiso (Sicily). The Soviets were betting on Europe’s deep-seated fear of a nuclear arms race – the German social-democrats were faltering vis-à-vis their bullying.His courageous decision dealt a powerful blow to the Soviet economy. Soon economic stagnation set in. The sad irony is that he did not benefit from the collapse of the Soviet Union, even though he had done so much – in words and deeds – to bring it about. Neither did his century-old party, which became virtually extinct almost overnight.
He championed the cause of peace and freedom in the Middle East. He was highly respected in the Arab world.
In his lifetime he was both revered as reviled. One day he fell from grace. For years he had been demonized by communists and neo-fascists alike. As soon as the magistrates kicked off their “clean-hands” investigation in the early 1990s, his enemies went in for the kill. Most opinion-makers fabricated a one-sided version of the events that would sway the public opinion against him. He instantly became the scapegoat of his country’s corruption. After all, the capitalists who owned the major newspapers were eager to get rid of him.
He was Italian through and through, and deeply loved his country. He suffered the humiliation of dying in exile. His name was Bettino Craxi (Milan 1934, Hammamet 2000).