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The last of Italy's great postwar politicians is dead PDF Print E-mail
May 22, 2016 at 08:15 PM

Marco Pannella
Marco Pannella, the founder of the Italian Radical Party and a long-time warrior for civil rights in Italy and elsewhere, died Friday, May 20th,  at the age of 86. Many young Italians of today probably don’t even know who he was. Or, if they do know his name, they may have come away with an image of a cantankerous person who sometimes spoke on the radio for hours and who was repeatedly staging hunger strikes that often led to very little.

But to say this would be what the Italians call riduttivo, that is totally simplistic and inadequate and  Romans who are well aware of this today jammed into Piazza Navona, where Pannella usually held his rallies, for a last salute to a principled and dynamic man.

Crowds in Piazza Navona saying a final goodbye

The fact is, that if today’s Italy is a freer, more modern place than it was 40 years ago, this is largely thanks to Marco Pannella and his gadfly, aggressive, dedicated radicals. It was under his leadership that Italians went to the polls in a series of unprecedented referenda and voted to have, first divorce and then, in 1978, to give women the right to have an abortion. They pushed to make contraceptives legal (when I first arrived here in the early seventies they were NOT). They defended the rights of prisoners, of porn stars (one was even voted into parliament on their ticket) and fought to end the draft and, less successfully, for the end of the death penalty in places like the United States, for the liberalization of drugs like marijuana and hasish, for a stop to hunger and for world peace.

Pannella, originally from Teramo in the Abbruzzi, where he will be buried on Monday, became active in politics when he was only 25. In 1955, together with several others he founded the Radical Party of which he became the official leader in 1963.  He hated violence and believed that civil disobedience, sit-ins and hunger strikes were the most effective – and acceptable – weapons of political struggle.

He served in the parliament for many years and was also elected to office in a series of city and regional councils throughout the country. His party collected signatures  - more than 50 million over the course of three decades - for a variety of popular referenda that in his eyes would make the justice system and the electoral process more democratic and responsive.

He had innumerable love affairs, with both men and women, smoked (unfiltered French Gauloises) like a fiend and indeed from this may have got the lung cancer that contributed to his death. He could be annoying and obstreperous but he made Italy a better place than it was before his arrival on the political scene. Rest in Peace.




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