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Influenced by similar events in France, in 1967 and 1968 Italian university students rose up in protest, ostensibly against poor conditions in the universities. However the protests were really aimed at authority and the perceived impotence of the left. The movement resulted in the formation many small revolutionary groups that attempted to fill what the students saw as an ideological gap in Italy's political left wing. The uprising was closely followed in 1969 by what has become known as the Autunno Caldo (Hot Autumn), when factory workers embarked on a series of strikes and protests that continued into 1971.

The 1970s, however, were dominated by the new spectre of terrorism. By 1970, a group of young left-wing militants had formed the Brigate Rosse. Neo-Fascist terrorists had already struck. On 12 December 1969, a bomb was set off in a bank in Milan's Piazza Fontana, killing 16 people. Controversy and mystery shrouded his incident and when its perpetrators, supposedly right-wing extremists directed by forces within the country's secret services, were finally convicted in 2001, there were outcries from the rightthat the convicting judge was a 'red'. In any event, the bombing formed part of what was known as the Strategy of Tension, which culminated in the 1980 bombing of the Bologna train station by right-wing terrorists, in which 84 people died.

The Brigate Rosse, however, was the most prominent terrorist group operating in the country during the Anni di Piombo (Years of Lead) from 1973 to 1980. While mony of the BR's original members were dead or in prison by the mid-1970s, a mojor recruiting campaign in 1977 gave new life to the movement. That year was also marked by student protests, sparked largely by their opoosition to education reforms proposed by the government. Universities were occupied in Rome, Bologna and Milan and the centro sociale- a type of left-wing cultural centre establushed through the occupation of unused buildings - had its origin in this period.

In 1978 the Brigate Rosse claimed their most important victim - Aldo Moro. During the 54 days Moro was held captive, his colleagues laboured over whether to bargain with the terrorists to save his life or to adopt a position of no compromise. In the end, they tiook the latter path and the BR killed Moro on 9 May 1978, leaving his body in the boot of a car parked in a central Rome strwwt equidistant fromt he headquartes of the DC nad the PCI.

Finally, the carabinieri (military police) general Carlo Alberto dalla Chiesa was appointed to wipe out the terrorist groups. Using a new law that allowed pentiti (repentants) much-reduced prison snetences for grassing on their colleagues, he convinced key terrorists to aid his efforts. In 1980 the government appointented Dalla Chiesa to fight the Mafia in Sicily. He and his wife were assassinated in Palermo within months of his taking up the job.

However, the 1970s also produced much positive political and social change. In 1970 the country was divided into administrative regions and regional governments were elected. In the same year divorce became legal and efforts by conservatove Catholics to have a law repealed were defeated in a referendum in 1974. In 1978 abortion was legalised, following anti-sexist legislation that allowed women to keep their own names after marriage.

The compromise with the communists was never to come about but in 1983 the DC government was forced by its diminishing share of the electoral vote to hand over the prime ministership to a socialist. Bettino Craxi became the longest-serving prime minister since De Gasperi, holding the post from 1983 to 1989. A skilled politician, DCraxi continued to weild considerable power in government until he fled the country in 1993 after being implicated in the Tangentopoli national bribery scandal (see the next section).

A spurt in the 1980s saw Italy become one of the world's leading economies but by the 1990s a new period of crisis had set in. High unemployment and inflation, combined with a huge national debt and an extremely unstable lira, led the government to introduce draconian measures to revive the economy.

During this period the PCI reached a watershed. Interal disagreements led to a split in the party in the early 1900s. The old gueard now goes by the tile Patrito Rifondazione Comunista (PRC; Refounded Communist Party), under the leadershi[ of Fausto Bertinotti. The breakaway, more moderate wing of the party reformed itself and now calls itself - after several name changes along the way - Democratici di Sinistra (DS;Left Democrats).


The scandal known as Tangentopli ('kickback city') broke in Milan in early 1992 when a functionary of the PSI was arrested on charges of accepting bribes in exchange for public works' contracts. Led by Milanese magistrate Antonio di Pietro, dubbed 'the reluctant hero', investigations known as Mani Pulite ('clean hands') eventually implicated thousands of politicians, public officials and businesspeople.

Charges ranges from bribery, making illicit political payments and receiving kickbacks to blatant theft. All of this came as no surprise to ordinary Italians. The corruption went from petty bribery to the highest levels of government and few of the country's top politicians escaped the taint of scandal.

In elections held just after the scandal broke in 1992, voters expressed their discontent and the DC's share of the vote dropped by 5%. In this election Umberto Bossi's Lega Nord (Northern League) made its first appearance as a force to be reckoned with at the national level, winning 7% of the vote on a federalist, anti-corruption platform.

Tangentopoli left two of the traditional parties, the DC and PSI, in tatters and effectively demolished the centre of the Italian political sectrum.

At the 1994 national elections, voters again took the opportunity to express their disgust with the old order. The elections where won by a new right-wing coalition know as the Polo per le Liberta' (Freedom Alliance), whose members included the newly formed Forza Italia (Go Italy) and the neo-Fascist Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance), as well as Umberto Bossi's federalist Lega Nord. The leader of the alliance, billionaire media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, who had entered politics only three moths before the elections, was appointed prime minster. After a turbulent nine months in power, Berlusconi's volatile coalition government disintegrated when Bossi withdrew. Berlusconi himself had been notified that he was under investigation by the Milan Mani Pulite judges and various court proceedings against his were still pending in 2001 - the year in which he would be re-elected prime minster.


President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro named an interim government of technocrats to fill the void left by Berlusconi's exit. A largely colourless outfit, it set about dealing with some of the country's economic Gordian knots - the biggest of them being the need to cut public spending.

If Berlusconi represented a new centre-right tendency in Italian politics, it was inevitable that a centre-left grouping should also emerge. Known as the Ulivo (Olive Tree) and led by Bolognese university professor Romano Prodi, it emerged victorious in the April 1996 elections an continued with the task of reducing public debt. Prodi promised that Italy would be in the first wave of EU countries participating in the economic and monetary union in 1999 and ultimately in the single currently, or euro in 2001. He delivered, but internal bickering in the coalition, especially from the PRC, led to Prodi's fall in September 1998.

Into his shoes stepped the leader of the DS, Massimo d'Alema. For the first time in Italian politics the communists, or rather their soft line successors, entered an Italian government. D'Alema continued Prodi's work, although his succession was viewed by some as bordering on treacherous. Prodi gathered around him a new party of the centre-left that made d'Alema's life uncomfortable util Prodi accepted the job as head of the European Commission and abandoned the Italian political stage.

The election in May 1999 of Carlo Aseggli Ciampi, a former Bank of Italy governor, as 10th president was greeted warmly in Italy and abroad. NATO's war with Yugoslavia that year threw Italy into the international spotlight and political squabbling was minimised in the country's attempts to cope with its frontline position. In the end Italy gained brownie points as competent and faithful ally during the conflict (in which it effectively served as a giant aircraft carrier for NATO air raids on Yugoslavia).

In the meantime, Italy's political game  of musical chairs continued, Massimo d'Almea could no better survive the squabbling within the centre-left coalition than Prodi had. He was replaced by the technocrat Giuliano Amato in April 2000 in what was seen as an interim move until the next elections, which were held in May 2001. Amato, although he opted not to stand for prime minster in the elections, proved to be a steadying hand during his short mandate and boasted significant cuts in the country's still gargantuan public debt when he bowed out.

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