Beppe Severgnini talks to Walter Veltroni, the man who wants to turn Italy's ex-communist party into an American-style democraticc partyby Beppe Severgnini / April 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Walter Veltroni attracts comparisons. He has been described as a Mediterranean Tony Blair, an Italian Clinton and a 1990s Robert Kennedy-his political idol. Officially, Veltroni is a double “number two”: he is Romano Prodi’s deputy in the Italian centre left coalition (Ulivo) and Massimo D’Alema’s right hand man in the post-communist Democratic Party of the Left (PDS), the largest party in the coalition. In both cases, Veltroni’s immediate future will be decided on April 21st, when Italy holds its third general election in four years. But irrespective of their political beliefs most Italians agree that 40-year-old Veltroni is the best thing the Italian left has produced in a long time. Soft spoken, with a passion for button-down shirts, the internet and American films (including Forrest Gump), he looks more like a young Harvard professor than a leader of what was, until 1989, the largest communist party in western Europe. After the Partito Comunista Italiano (PCI) changed its name to the Partito Democratico della Sinistra (PDS)-and lost the 1994 general election (won by Silvio Berlusconi’s centre right coalition)-Veltroni was chosen as new leader by the party’s rank and file; but the cadres preferred D’Alema, and they had the last word. At 38, Veltroni took the decision philosophically. He wrote a best-seller, La Bella Politica, and became the champion of buonismo, a new concept that sums up everything the young politician believes in: transcending aggressive and confrontational politics; accepting that the left must respect its opponents and gain the trust of the middle class. At present, Veltroni’s main job is to edit l’Unita, the PDS’s newspaper, whose offices are nestled in Via dei Due Macelli, a narrow street in the centre of Rome. Beppe Severgnini, a columnist on Corriere della Sera, talked to him there about the need to complete the modernisation of the Italian left. Some of his comments, particularly his hostility to the PDS’s election partners on the hard left, are certain to cause ripples in the run up to the election.
Q In Italy elections are coming up again. In Britain too there will be elections soon. What are the characteristics of an “electable European left”?
A Looking at the programmes of Tony Blair, Jacques Delors, and our own Ulivo, the points of similarity are clear: we speak the same language, see the same trends, and present the same proposals. The characteristics of the “electable left,” as you call…