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Francesco Cossiga Understood Italy

For those who did not know, Francesco Cossiga, who died yesterday, was an Italian politician and one time President of Italy.  Cossiga hailed from Sardinia, was a fan of John Le Carre, and had earned himself the nickname “the pickaxe”, owing to his outspoken criticism of other Italian politicians.

Cossiga was quite a controversial character, but despite this, seems to have been widely respected by both friend and his foe alike.  I was told by Ray Lamothe, an Italian of American origins who runs a few businesses in Tuscany, that Cossiga was a wily chap who never made it too clear on which side of the fence he stood. Cossiga was bright too, having completed his law degree by the age of 20, which in Italian terms is exceptionally young, seeing as the vast majority of Italian graduates don’t leave Italian universities until they are brushing 30.

This being Italy I suppose it is conceivable that Cossiga’s family paid for their son’s degree, but this seems unlikely in view of his work and powers of perception. Even old enemies the notorious Red Brigades which subjected Italy to a tidal wave of terrorism in the 1970s acknowledged that Cossiga was one of the few who tried to understand what motivated them.

Cossiga certainly did make some wild sounding claims later on in life as you will discover if you keep reading.  But he was someone who understood what makes Italy tick.

Francesco Cossiga, President of Italy 1985 - 1992
Francesco Cossiga, President of Italy 1985 - 1992

Possibly as a result of comprehending just why the Red Brigades had come about, Cossiga took the line that Italy needed to transform itself politically after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  As is often the case in Italy when someone calls for radical change, Cossiga’s words were not really heeded.

Italy’s “pickaxe” was no stranger to sparking controversy, although in later life some suspected he might have been losing his marbles.

Cossiga, the Twin Towers, the CIA and Mossad

On one occasion after the attack on the Twin Towers, Cossiga claimed the incident was a plot cooked up by the CIA and Mossad to help justify sending troops into Iraq and Afghanistan.

Maybe Cossiga, who was fascinated by the world of spies and espionage, had taken John Le Carre‘s intricate, convoluted spy story plots a little too literally.  I, too, have read most, if not all of Le Carre’s books, and so can attest to the nature of the plots within the plot, so to speak.  On the other hand, perhaps operating at the levels at which he did, Cossiga knew full well that the truth can be, and often is, much stranger than fiction.

Bloody Cossiga

More recently, in late 2008 Cossiga shocked more than a few Italians by suggesting that where subversive movements were suspected of existing, such as within Italian universities, these organisations should be infiltrated, and then allowed a few days of rampant destruction before public opinion justified sending in Italy’s police to bloody plenty of noses and beat up those suspected of being responsible.  Cossiga drew the line at beating up high school kids, as even he admitted that doing so would provoke an outcry.

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On the basis of such a claim, one can understand why rumours were floating around that he had become mentally unbalanced, and Cossiga himself had owned up to suffering from bouts of depression which required medical intervention.

Cossiga Believed Corruption is Inevitable

Earlier this year, Cossiga courted controversy once more by claiming that corruption, politics and mafia in Italy effectively formed an unholy, and eternal triangle which could never be eliminated.  Italy’s politicians since time immemorial have been in league with the mafia, stated Cossiga, quoting a section of an 1852 letter written at the time when much of Italy fell under the control of the Kingdom of Sardinia.

Cossiga’s attitude is that corruption is inevitable (he is probably right), and that it is better, possibly alluding to Craxi and Berlusconi, to have a country run by a capable politicians who are on the take than by honest, but incapable politicians.  In Cossiga’s eyes, politicians that are both honest and capable simply did not exist.  Quite a startling claim, and it should be noted that Cossiga has lent his support to Silvio Berlusconi on a couple of occasions.   Berlusconi had a great deal of respect for Cossiga.

Depending on one’s point of view, Cossiga gives the impression he understood that that leopard which is humankind cannot change its spots, no matter how hard one tries, and that anyone who believes differently is naive.  He may have a point, and that makes me naive.

Still, Italy seems to be mourning the loss of a great Italian politician, who, it appears, had a political career which though laced with a good dose of controversy was largely free of scandal.

Oddly enough, Cossiga’s funeral will be a quiet family affair held on the island of Sardinia.  For some reason he did not want any of Italy’s political heavyweights to be present, nor did he want any pomp and circumstance.

Whatever one may make of Francesco Cossiga, he was 100% Italian.  Incidentally, his son Giuseppe Cossiga, is also an Italian politician in the Berlusconi government, as is the way in Italy.

Cossiga Image credit:

Presidency of the Italian Republic via Wikipedia

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