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Italy : Justice, Politics, and History

Starting with its active role in the fall of the “First Republic” when it pursued corruption among governing elites, the magistrature has become a central actor on the Italian political scene.

Between 1992 and 1994, the famous “Mani pulite” enquiries and those of the anti-Mafia judges resulted in the collapse of political parties that had been in power since the Liberation – and in particular the Christian Democrats (DC) --  and in the discrediting of a number of national leaders. But the judges' clean-up campaigns did more than that; they displayed in the public square the dark or “criminal” chapters of the history of the Italian republic, insisting on the shadowy dealings and illicit practices (corruption, collusion with the Mafia) common among the country's leader class.

The charges brought against Giulio Andreotti were emblematic of the intrusion of justice onto the political scene and into history.  Accusing one of the DC's most important leaders since the 1950's of having established an “exchange agreement” with the Mafia would inevitably feed the uproar against the “ancien regime” and provide justification for the programmes of those seeking to renovate and re-moralise the political system.

Silvio Berlusconi was at that time one of these would-be reformers, announcing in January 1994 his creation of the party Forza Italia and his decision to “descend” onto the political playing field, a move intended at least in appearance as a break with the “old rulers” in order to “clean up politics”. This rhetoric was quickly abandoned in the wake of his own indictment on charges of corruption. The new Italian right began strenuously to denounce the magistrature, accusing it of having used penal action for political purposes – first against the moderate parties of the First Republic and then against Berlusconi and his allies. The judges were accused as well of having rewritten history towards these political ends.

In the new political climate it is not only the magistrature's supposed pretentions to corner political power under the guise of legality which is called into question but also the validity of its revelations of crime and wrongdoing by those in power. Clearly, one of the current challenges to research in this area is to refuse this revision of the facts, to understand how this view has gained ground (grasping the political processes which have resulted in a weakening of judicial power), and to draw on the results of the judges' inquiries for a renewed examination of the history of the Italian Republic.



à lire

La tradition en mouvement. Clientélisme et politique en Corse. Paris, Belin, 1997.
• "La 'guerre des justes'. La magistrature antimafia dans la crise italienne". In J.-L. Briquet et Ph. Garraud, dir., Juger la politique. Entreprises et entrepreneurs critiques de la politique. Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2002.
• Jean-Louis Briquet has just finished a book on the ties between the Mafia and politics in Republican Italy and on the Andreotti trial.


Jean-Louis Briquet
Centre d'études et de recherches internationales (CERI)

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