THE Romans have made a valiant effort to give this year’s Olympic Games a glitter and glory worthy of the Caesars. Aside from the ordinary athletic contests, which are to be held in the seven stadiums, ten gymnasiums, and five swimming pools that have been built or readied for the occasion, the program includes a score of colorful events.
There will be wrestling matches in the imposing ruins of the Basilica of Maxentius; gymnastic competitions in the mighty Baths of Caracalla; ancient sling-throwing contests and jousts, which hundreds of invaders from Foligno and Ascoli Piceno, clad in brilliant Renaissance costumes, will re-enact under the venerable yews of the Villa Borghese gardens; a mock battle fought out between feather-helmctcd Pisans in the millennial arena of the Circus Maximus; rowing races on the placid green waters ol Lake Albano, near the Pope’s summer residence of Castcl Gandolto; and hockey matches at the Stadio dei Marini, whose sixty white marble statues of naked musclemen memorialize the pompous bad taste of the Mussolini era.
Eclipsing everything else, a marathon starting in the exquisite little square which Michelangelo designed atop the Campidoglio will take a hundred puffing athletes out through the twintowered Gate of Saint Sebastian, over the Appian Way, past the Tomb of Cecilia Metella and the Church of Domine Quo Vadis, and will culminate in a blaze of lights and exuberant Roman cheers beneath the triumphal Arch of Constantine, next to the Colosseum.
Only in one respect is the welcome which Rome is now offering its Olympic visitors likely to provide any accurate reflection of the present Italian scene, and that is the horn-honking confusion of what will certainly be remembered as the greatest traffic jam in the Eternal City’s history. Though the city fathers have made an earnest effort to concentrate most of the Olympic events in two peripheral areas — one located on the northern fringe, the other some five miles south of the
capital — and though they have connected them with a network of highways, bridges, and underpasses, the monument-cluttered stage of the Eternal City was simply not designed to withstand the armada of scooters, motorcycles, sedans, and tourist buses that has invaded it.
The pomp and pageantry of these Olympic Games — the fourteenth in modern times and the three hundred and sixth, according to the historians, to be held since Coroebus of Elis was crowned with the first Olympic wreath in 776 B.C.
cannot conceal the truth that Italy’s domestic situation today is still very uncertain.
Italy’s progress in the last decade has offered a curious paradox. Its economy, particularly in the last three or four years, has been developing faster than that of any of its Common Market neighbors, with a national income increase of about 10 per cent a year, with the lira completely stabilized, and with an accumulation of over $3 billion of foreign exchange (exceeding the reserves of the British Treasury). On the other hand, there have been a growing instability and an increasing restlessness on the political front.
There are a number of reasons for this peculiar situation. To begin with, the absence of anything resembling two-party politics has permitted administrative nepotism and corruption to flourish. In the second place, the balance of forces in Italian politics — between the Communists and Socialists on the left, respectively controlling 141 and 87 seats, and the Christian Democrats, controlling 273 seats in the country’s lower chamber has been so nearly deadlocked as to hamper the possibility of enduring and energetic government.
To rule at all, the Christian Democrats have been forced to bolster their parliamentary plurality by courting the support of several splinter groups, such as the Saragat Socialists, the Republicans, the more conservative Liberals, the openly conservative Monarchists, or even the unashamedly Fascist M.S.I. (Italian Socialist Movement).
This dependence has given the fringe parties a golden opportunity for indulging in all kinds of political blackmail.
Division in the majority party
To make matters worse, the dominant Christian Democratic Party today has more than a half-dozen factions, ranging from outright conservatives, who take their cues from the Vatican or from industry and high finance, to progressives, who favor a policy of splitting the leftwing opposition of Socialists and Communists.
Since Alcide de Gaspcri’s death in 1953, no Christian Democratic leader has shown himself capable of dominating these centrifugal tendencies or of curbing the intemperate appetites of the indispensable fringe parties. Antonio Segni, who has probably been the most successful Premier since De Gasperi, was able to rule for several relatively brief periods, less because of any personal ascendancy than because of the absence of hostility in his quarreling colleagues. For the most part, the party has been run by a directorship made up of faction leaders, none of whom has been strong enough to impose himself on the others or to give the party decisive leadership and direction.
The mere fact that the party could be reduced in the spring of this year to swallowing the caretaker government of a man like Fernando Tambroni, an agile opportunist who flirted with the Fascists back in the middle twenties, is a sure sign of the growing disarray in Christian Democratic ranks.
New elections, which could be ordered by President Gronchi after consultation with the presidents of the two chambers, afford, at best, a risky way out, for the chances are that the Socialists and Communists would come back even more strongly than they did in the last elections, of May, 1958. The other way out of the deadlock is the possibility of weaning Pietro Nenni and his 87 Socialist deputies away from Palmiro Togliatti’s block of 141 Communists. The Russians’ action in brutally crushing the Budapest insurrection in 1956 earned them, and all Communists who supported it, an unequivocal condemnation from Nenni. The relations between Nenni and Togliatti have since then fluctuated with the changing temperatures of the Cold War.
“Opening to the left”
Nenni, who is a National Socialist, has always believed that Italian socialist policies should be decided in Rome, not in Moscow, and that they should reflect the humanitarian, fraternal, and pacifist ideals characteristic of the nineteenth-century socialist gospel.
Whenever there has been a slackening in the Cold War, a lull has descended on Nenni’s continuing debate with Togliatti; but each time Moscow has taken a tough line toward Yugoslavia or toward the West, the relations between the two men have deteriorated, as happened this summer after Khrushchev’s explosive exploitation of the U-2 incident. It is just conceivable that if the U-2 incident and the blowup of the Paris conference had occurred three months earlier, when Italy was desperately groping for a new government, a more propitious climate would have been created for the long-talked-of “opening to the left.”
Amintore Fanfani, who has been favoring this particular way out of the worsening impasse, came within an ace of pulling off such a maneuver in February, when he tried to form a government composed so as to permit Nenni’s Socialists to give it their tacit support without their actually getting any of the cabinet posts. He was forced to abandon the attempt when it became obvious that such a government would precipitate the defection of 40 die-hard Christian Democrats, who follow the more conservative members of the Italian clergy in vetoing the slightest concession made toward the left.
The new Pope
The Vatican’s role in Italian politics thus remains, if only by default, as decisive a factor as ever. Unlike his predecessor, Pius XII, who kept a close watch on the evolution of Italian politics and who cultivated a steady association with Alcide de Gasperi, the new Pope, John XXIII, set out to dissociate the Vatican from such a close involvement in local secular matters.
The immediate result of this initiative, however, may well have been the opposite of what he intended. For instead of removing the Vatican from Italian politics, a virtually impossible task in any short-run period, what he has done has been to give a freer hand to conservative activists like the energetic Cardinal of Genoa. Giuseppe Siri, who leads the Italian Episcopal Conference, and Luigi Gedda, who, though removed from his post as the head of Catholic Action by the new Pope, still retains a formidable influence through some 23,000 civic committees which have the specific job of recruiting votes for the Christian Democratic Party. Siri, who often makes as many as two trips a week to Rome, was particularly instrumental in thwarting Fanfani last spring, not hesitating to call in doubtful Christian Democratic deputies who gave signs of compromising on the issue of an alliance with the left.
Pope John XXIII, furthermore, has done little to dissociate himself from the advice of the more ultramontane members of the Curia, such as Cardinals Canali, Ottaviani, and Pizzardo, whose less than liberal influence was already being regretted in the twilight years of Pius XII’s pontificate. There are pessimists in Rome who are now predicting that the former Pope will come to be regarded as a liberal in comparison with the new one.
Italy’s unequal prosperity
The conflicting currents within the Vatican would not be so important were Italy’s social situation more secure. But the violent riots which erupted in June and July of this year were a sobering reminder that a powerful discontent is fermenting beneath the seemingly placid surface of Italy’s prosperity.
The underlying reason for this ferment is the harsh fact that Italy’s steady industrial advance has enriched the northern cities more than it has reduced the poverty of the traditionally destitute south. Not only that; it has hardly made a dent in Italy’s most serious and chronic economic problem: the continuing unemployment. The bloody riots which exploded in Palermo at the end of June were essentially due to the frustrations felt by an urban population of some 400,000, of whom 50,000 are without work.
The ten-year plan proposed by Finance Minister Ezio Vanoni called for a program of relative austerity, which the Italian governments of the last five years have been too weak and internally divided to pursue. Investments have thus tended to flow toward areas of quick returns, such as housing, which has been surging forward at a rate of increase of 11.5 per cent a year, rather than toward areas of longrange benefit, such as agriculture, where the annual increase, limited almost exclusively to the north, has been of the order of 2.5 per cent.
Two comparisons suffice to illustrate a problem which has unnaturally pushed up the cost of living for the Italians of modest means, particularly in the cities. With a territorial area that is two thirds the size of California, Italy manages to produce 65 per cent as many apples, 72 per cent as many pears, 95 per cent as many plums, and 68 per cent as many lemons as are produced all over the United States. Yet fruit costs more in Rome than it does in Washington, D.C.
The per capita consumption of poultry, to cite a second example, is the lowest in Europe, for the reason that the poultry business in Italy is virtually controlled by one Milanese family, which believes in buying chickens at cut-rate prices from peasants and selling them on the market at four times the price. Most Italians have to do without chicken.
The removal of such bottlenecks and injustices is bound to be one of the tasks which an energetic Roman government will one day have to tackle. The alternative is only too likely to be new social upheavals.