Progetto3_Layout 1 - Gabriele Albertini

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Progetto3_Layout 1 - Gabriele Albertini
Co-author Andrea Vento
Preface by Antonio Ferrari
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Co-author Andrea Vento
Preface by Antonio Ferrari
Guardamagna Editori
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Edited by Helen Isabella Crawshaw
Translated by Jeffrey Jennings and Robert Burns on behalf of Language Consulting Congressi, Milan
Printed by Guardamagna Corrado e Luigi tipografi in Varzi
The photographs reproduced herein belong to the Archive of the
Municipality of Milan, except where otherwise indicated.
First Italian edition 2008
© 2008 Casa Editrice Marietti S.p.A. - Genova-Milano
English edition
© 2010 Guardamagna Editori - Varzi (Pv)
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Totus mundus notra habitatio fit
Jeronimo Nadal
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Table of Contents
Preface by Antonio Ferrari
Pag. 9
Chapter I. Wherein it is recounted a curious
contest between titans, the counsel of the
gnomes and a hammer at the White House
Chapter II. Wherein it is recounted the exploits of the American master, his broken window, European friendships and the grandeur of
our French cousins
Chapter III. Wherein are recounted strange
ironies of fate involving the descendants of the
revolutions and the heirs of the “little factories”
Chapter IV. Wherein it is discussed whether
the heirs of Julius Caesar still live in London
Chapter V. Wherein are narrated various and
sundry encounters with the sentinels of global
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Chapter VI. Wherein it is recounted how
sometimes, when wandering the desert, one
can stumble upon a pillar of wisdom
Pag. 115
Chapter VII. Wherein are recounted stories
of the Eternal City, the Holy Land and the spiritual teachers who live there
Chapter VIII. Wherein it is recounted the lost
memory of ancient battles and the exploits of
footsoldiers, sailors and winged horsemen
Chapter IX. Wherein are recounted tales of
great architects, new urban alchemists and possibly perfect condominiums
A true leader*
Index of names
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“Character is destiny”. This observation by Heraclitus, often
ignored or forgotten but nonetheless true, always and for everyone, is useful when describing exceptional individuals whose
very character causes them to have an impact on the world
around them that goes beyond the role that life or fortune has
chosen for them.
One such individual is surely the former mayor of Milan
and current member of the European Parliament, Gabriele Albertini. A businessman-cum-politician, he doesn’t have much
of the businessman in him, insofar as it is not in his nature to
combine his iron determination with the cynicism of the business world. He has even less of the politician in him, for he is
anything but a cold calculator and is incapable of dissimulation. If he is pleased, worried or furious, you can read it in his
eyes – but that isn’t even necessary, for before you can do so, he
will have already volunteered an explanation as to the state of
his soul.
After getting to know him, spending time with him and becoming his friend, I think I can claim to understand – and obviously share – what Indro Montanelli1 said and wrote about
Albertini. The great journalist was struck not only by Albertini’s ability and enthusiasm, but by his proud determination
to preserve his own autonomy of judgment, despite adhering
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to a specific political movement and being a loyal admirer of
its leader, Silvio Berlusconi. Montanelli also praised the extraordinary interpersonal gifts of the former mayor, which enabled him to grasp the human details that typically either elude
public figures or are deliberately dismissed as marginal. This
quality also encouraged the important leader with whom he
was interacting at any given moment to open up, thanks to the
atmosphere that Albertini is uniquely able to create: to lower
the social mask that nearly everyone wears, particularly those
in positions of power.
I had a chance to witness this first hand during several meetings with international leaders that Milan’s first citizen held
during his nine years in office – encounters that are collected
and elaborated upon in this book, written in collaboration with
Andrea Vento in the form of an interview. It is precisely in this
dimension, far from the trappings and temptations of Italian
politics, whether local or national, that the former mayor was
able to skilfully forge friendships that have since become a veritable treasure for the city and its current administrators.
With Queen Rania of Jordan, who, as a modern and liberal
woman, often suffers the restrictive protocols she is obligated
to maintain, Albertini established a deep and abiding friendship. If Her Majesty continues to acknowledge this special relationship with Milan, it is largely thanks to Albertini. Not just
because of the special attention he showed to her (an ‘Ambrogino d’Oro’ and honorary citizenship), but for his ability
to engage her with gentle frankness and encourage her to do
the same, to spare her the burden of ritualised communication.
A telling episode took place outside Palazzo Marino, where a
group of photographers were shouting her name to get a sellable spontaneous shot, as if she were an actress or supermodel2.
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Mayor Albertini scolded them sharply, reminding them that
they were not in the presence of a pop star but of a queen. His
indignant and respectful protectiveness earned him an affectionate smile from Her Majesty.
During a visit from Ehud Olmert, then mayor of Jerusalem
and later head of the Israeli government, I was invited to join
the two men in the mayor’s office, where I witnessed a lively exchange. Albertini was informing Olmert that a prominent Milanese citizen, of whom the city was quite proud, one of the
great leaders of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Carlo Maria
Martini3, had recently gone to live in Olmert’s Jerusalem. The
future prime minister of Israel, who hadn’t yet acquired the
necessary diplomatic aplomb, responded in an almost disdainful way, “If you only knew how many bishops and priests we
have in Jerusalem!”. Albertini’s response was such that Olmert
quickly adjusted his attitude and his words, and the two became friends.
In 2006, during a trip through the Holy Land, Albertini
met with three heads of state (King Abdullah II in Amman,
Abu Mazen in Ramallah, and Moshe Katsav in Jerusalem) and
another who would soon after win the Nobel Peace Prize, Shimon Peres, all in the course of four days. If that isn’t a some
kind of record for a mayor, it should be! At the very least, it is
a testament not only to the importance of Milan, but to the intrepid personality of its mayor. That trip was also marked by an
episode that threatened to turn into a diplomatic incident. It
was the eve of the Israeli elections, and the Labour Party was
counting on the support of the Palestinian president. However,
Abu Mazen, who was receiving the mayor that day in Ramallah, felt himself so at ease in that Albertinian atmosphere of
contagious confidentiality that he openly confessed to hoping
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that Olmert, head of the centrist Kadima party founded by
Ariel Sharon, would emerge as victor. I remember turning to
another of those present, Janiki Cingoli, director of the Italian
Centre for Middle Eastern Peace, with an involuntary expression of shock, both of us trying to imagine the consequences
should such a statement should leave the room.
It should not come as a surprise that Albertini was treated
like a head of state by Vladimir Putin, who had always shown
a keen interest in Milan from the earliest days of his rule of a
Russia that had just recently abandoned communism. Nor
should it be surprising that Albertini created a current of sympathy with then President of the United States Bill Clinton
and with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. The milanese
mayor’s ability to instantly tune into the psychology of his interlocutor cannot be considered anything but an innate feature
of his character, combined with his voracious curiosity, heritage
of his Jesuit education. He remains fascinated by the political
and human saga of Lawrence of Arabia, and is always ready to
abandon himself to some boyhood passion or other, unafraid
of provoking others.
Consider the time he met Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran4,
supremely refined intellectual and diplomat, and threw himself
into a discussion of questionable appropriateness, arguing that
it had become necessary to convince prostitutes to leave the
streets and reopen what used to be known as ‘houses of assignation’. And he did so by citing an example that could have
seemed sacrilege, and was therefore potentially doubly embarrassing, pointing out that during the Church’s reign as a state
with temporal powers, there were numerous brothels within
earshot of St. Peter’s. His intention was to demonstrate that,
back then, the Church had known how to deal with undeni-
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ably secular problems. Albertini confesses in the book that he
feared he’d made a huge gaffe. But the modern and openminded Cardinal Tauran chose not to let embarrassment prevail, because he recognised that he was dealing with an honest
and authentic man.
It is precisely this sincerity, in addition to many shared values, that cemented the friendship between Albertini and Cardinal Martini, two personalities that appear very different. It’s
difficult to picture a friendship between the solemn prince of
the Church, whose every word carries the weight of his authority, and the spontaneous, sometimes explosive former mayor,
who loves art, music and makes no apologies for frequently
doubting the teachings of the Church and his own faith.
I was struck by the advice Albertini received from Cardinal
Martini immediately after his first election victory, and which
he cites in this book: “He urged me to enjoy this moment of
victory and electoral consensus, with my staff motivated by the
exciting challenge of governing Italy’s second largest city, but
also to prepare for the criticism and the jealousy that would
soon arrive. He told me I would suffer for my position, that
from what he was able to see in me, I wasn’t the sort of man
who could adapt to ethically compromising situations without
resentment; that I was a man who believed unambiguously in
what he thought, a man who did what he said. An outlook not
necessarily compatible with a world of roles and appearances.
For these reasons, he told me, he wasn’t entirely sure that the
job I had taken was suited to someone like me.”
A profound and exceptionally well-aimed observation. This
is why the people and the encounters described in this book are
so brightly coloured, and sometimes highlighted by a certain
ingenuity (thank you, Pascoli5 – you were right when you said
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that we should protect the child within each of us, no exceptions!).
Talking about himself one day, Albertini said, a bit coyly,
that once he left the mayor’s office, at the very worst he would
be remembered as a good ‘apartment building manager’. He
either didn’t imagine, or perhaps knew all too well, that this
self-deprecatory statement would be used against him to diminish the importance of his job and his achievements.
Nevertheless, the legacy of this anomalous mayor, who loves
to collect public honours and knighthoods of every stripe, is
important; it is concrete, and it will endure. Of all his collections, though, the most valuable is also the most ineffable, and
that is the number of people whose fundamental humanity he
was able to perceive and appreciate.
Antonio Ferrari
Special Correspondent for the Corriere della Sera
Indro Montanelli (22 April 1909 – 22 July 2001) was an Italian journalist
and historian, known for his new approach to writing history, exemplified in
History of the Greeks and History of Rome. Unanimously considered the greatest
Italian journalist of the 20th century.
The Ambrogino d’Oro (golden coin depicting Saint Ambrose) is the most important honour the City of Milan can bestow. Palazzo Marino is the seat of the
City Council of Milan.
Carlo Maria Martini, SJ (born 15 February 1927) is an Italian cardinal of the
Catholic Church. He was Archbishop of Milan from 1980 to 2002.
Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran (born 3 April 1943) is a French cardinal of the
Catholic Church. Former secretary for relations with States, he currently serves
as president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in the Roman
Giovanni Pascoli (31 December 1855 – 6 April 1912) was an Italian poet.
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Chapter I
Wherein itis recounted a curious contest between titans, the
counsel of the gnomes and a hammer at the White House
You’ve said that your first ‘magic moment’ on the international
scene was 15 May 1998, in Birmingham’s City Council House for
the G8 summit. Why?
Because of a gracious introduction made by my friend and
colleague Petra Roth, mayor of Frankfurt, who I’d got to know
over the course of the frequent meetings held in those days
with the mayors of Milan’s sister cities at the city council residence of Highbury Hall. The sister cities are the economic capitals or ‘second cities’ of the G8 member countries. We had
made friends and Roth introduced me to Helmut Kohl. I
didn’t understand German, but the then Chancellor’s eyes and
body language conveyed his meaning clearly. Switching to an
English as tenuous as mine, which I therefore understood perfectly, Kohl started talking about Italy’s future participation in
the single European currency, which was still up in the air, the
doubts coming largely from the deutschemark zone.
Around the same time, I also met Hans-Olaf Henkel, president of the BDI, the German employers’ federation and counterpart to Italy’s Confindustria6. Henkel was one of the key
figures behind the benediction given by the German political
and business establishment to Italy’s entry into the eurozone,
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despite the reservations of the financial community. Standing
before the skeptical assembly of German legislators, Kohl
praised Milan and Lombardy as one of the most dynamic regions on earth in terms of the production of wealth, thanks to
the creativity of its industrial districts – that is, not just its principle hubs and their immediate sub-industries, but the entire
capillary network of related businesses. Kohl understood this
typically Italian system, whose main features are dynamism and
entrepreneurial ability. One could say that Milan, Lombardy
and by extension the entire north-east, in economic terms, had
put into practice the exhortations of Carlo Cattaneo, who
spoke from the balcony of Palazzo Marino during the epic
‘Cinque Giornate’. He saw in federalism the most favourable
conditions for maximising the potential of the greatest nations
and the smallest villages, whereby the colossi of finance, industry, commerce and technology work together on a large scale
while at the same making the most of the resources provided
by the small business owner, the family, the individual – a system for which creative and organisational skills are fundamental. And that’s how our delightful first encounter concluded.
Kohl is a giant, and not just politically – I had never imagined
him to be so physically immense, with that massive hand that
shook my own so warmly. His praise made me feel as proud as
a peacock.
Soon thereafter I had an experience that made me wonder
if I was dreaming or hallucinating. I felt as if I were watching
a clone of myself from a distance, barely believing my eyes
when Richard Daley, mayor of Chicago, sister city of Milan, introduced me to Bill Clinton. The President of the United States
of America communicated an instant sense of camaraderie
when he placed his hand on my shoulder – the same hand that
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had only to press a button to unleash global thermonuclear
war – and said, “I love Milan”. He then told me why: the fashion, La Scala, the dynamism of the region. If I remember correctly, he also mentioned he had visited Milan as a student,
and had seen Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. While Clinton
sang the praises of Milan, his wife Hillary entered the conversation, seconding her husband’s appreciation for Milanese fashion and opera. When Mr. Kohl joined our little circle, I had the
opportunity to witness an exchange that bordered on aggression between the titans of the two largest economies of the
western world. Adding to the impression of enormity was the
fact that both men are physically imposing – Clinton, while
less robust than Kohl, matched him in height. And there I was,
standing between them, a bit intimidated not only by matters
of physical scale and circumstance, but also because I’d been
mayor of Milan for just a year. In fact, in a coincidence that
seemed almost destined, that very day marked the first anniversary of my having taken the oath of office, on 15 May 1997,
when I officially assumed the duties of Milan’s first citizen.
These were Kohl’s exact words, in English: “This is the chief of
Milan, a very good friend of our Mayor Roth of Frankfurt.” He
then told the Clintons what he’d said earlier to me, that our
region was one of dynamism and development in every field,
from wealth production to technological research, adding that
it represented a new frontier of modern society with regard to
the integration of immigrants. In short, a spark of specifically
European modernity, which Kohl naturally saw from a viewpoint that I would call ‘European nationalism’. At this point
my surprise turned into enthusiasm, the etymology of which is
the Greek word eintheos, meaning the participation of the divine in our mortal souls, or how we project those souls onto the
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concept of the divine: infinite, eternal, the absolute good, and
so forth. By now my enthusiasm bordered on delirium, as the
contest between Clinton and Kohl over who could applaud
Milan more loudly reached a curious intensity. Clinton had in
fact lauded the industrial districts of Milan and Lombardy with
the same adjectives, the same reasoning, the same knowledge
deployed by Kohl, and he considered what was being done here
in Europe an example to follow, a model in which to believe.
Naturally, Clinton’s position was somewhat protectionist, insofar as it was his job to defend the interests of the United States
from the possibility of Europe becoming an antagonist on the
global chessboard. He was speaking not only about Germany,
but of a certain other European country, at the time not fully
recognised as an industrial power. As a representative of that
certain other country, to find myself in the middle of this altercation between figures of such stature left me all but speechless.
Considering the solidity of our economy, both in Lombardy and
nationally, do you think in retrospect that Kohl was right to champion Italy’s participation in the single European currency?
It’s a good question. Looking back, I can say that I agreed
with the goal, the strategic approach that Kohl was promoting
at the time. I believe that it should have been our objective as
a nation, and it was. The assertion you made in your question
is true, and echoes Kohl’s argument that Europe couldn’t leave
out a country with Italy’s economic characteristics. Even now,
despite everything that is said, we still have the sixth largest
economy in the G8. Perhaps even the fifth, if we take into account the so-called ‘submerged’ economic activity that doesn’t
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show up in the GDP and which may be proportionally even
larger in central and southern Italy and the islands than the
more structured, mature and modern system of central-northern Italy, particularly the area known as the Padania. I think
that if we included those numbers, we would surpass other
countries where the fiscal and legal relationships between society and the state are similar to those of northern Italy. So, the
goal was the right one. As for the process, there should have
been a more cautious attitude on the part of the government
in achieving that goal, a more moderate or regulated pace. For
example, unlike the Germans, we didn’t have cents. One lira
was of negligible value. Now we walk around with 50-cent
coins in our pockets that are worth 1,000 lire, yet they have the
same dimensions and appearance as the old 20 lire piece, which
was worth barely one cent. According to several studies, the
fact that there is no one-euro bill, along with the introduction
of cents, had a heavy impact. From one day to the next people
went from dealing with coins that were worth practically nothing to coins that were worth thousands of lire, yet unconsciously they remained ‘pocket change’. I remember a
conference where Giulio Tremonti pointed out that, according
to a study by the Treasury, the average Italian unwittingly threw
away two euros a day due to simple errors in calculation. That’s
60 euros a month, equivalent to 10 per cent of the minimum
pension. Furthermore, the fact that the euro was perceived as
corresponding not to its real value of 1,936.27 lire but to the
more manageable figure of 1,000 lire dramatically cut into the
individual’s buying power and therefore into consumption, investment and so on.
Returning to the euro and Europe, I dwelled on the question of the individual citizen, on the fact that things would fi-
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nally be paid for not with double-digit inflation or public debt.
This approach was basically procrastination, putting off payment for what was being purchased at lower values to future
generations. For many years we indulged in a quality of life
that was beyond our means. Those years of the ‘Hot Autumn’,
the protests, the insidious historic compromise. It was the
1970s and 1980s, the halcyon years of “Milano da bere”7 which
eventually extended to Italy as a whole. By accruing debts that
would be handed down to our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, our generation essentially squandered its wealth. The
euro forced us to come to terms with our debts and to actualise
them. It was a logical consequence of past actions. We couldn’t
have thought or acted otherwise, for we had been following a
path that had distanced Italy from the rest of Europe; objectively speaking, our political conditions had become uniquely
our own. If I’m not mistaken, Léon Blum8 defined the Italian
Communist Party as «un parti nationaliste étranger»; the
Catholic Church, with its eschatological view of things, has a
conception of the economy and of wealth production that is
not exactly contiguous with the Communists’ but certainly
overlapping in terms of values. The Sermon on the Mount reflects the Catholic conception of work, quite different from
Shintoism, which considers work as God’s will made manifest
in humankind. For us it is a harsh sentence: «By the sweat of
your brow, you will produce food to eat», the book of Genesis
intones. We chose a path where, in order to toe the line and adhere to the division of Yalta, we had to satisfy the demand for
greater economic prosperity than we were realistically capable
of producing. For better or for worse, it was our choice. Had
someone proposed a more Thatcherite path, they would have had
to face a violent conflict with Italian society. Perhaps our past
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choices penalised us, but we could not remain outside Europe.
We had debts, and we had to pay them back, simple as that.
Going back to the two cheerleaders for Milan and its economy,
Clinton and Kohl, what were your impressions from the ‘human’
point of view?
What struck me about Clinton was his extraordinary ability
to make an immediate impact. He is a man who interacts as if
he’s known you for years; he gives you the feeling that he’s devoting his full attention to you. It’s a rare capacity for spontaneous recitation, a subliminal talent of the political animal,
and I was not immune to his charm: «I love Milan», his position, his smile, his gaze that conveys an exclusive interest in
the person standing before him at that moment. Kohl, on the
other hand, is a man of great ‘weight’: contemplative, rational,
Cartesian, full of energy and strong of will. Perhaps he is less
friendly than Clinton, at least on first impression, but he is
solid. He’s someone from whom you’d buy a used car, or to
whom you’d lend your own. This is not to say that he is a
shrinking violet by any means, or dominated by moral scruples. And as for Clinton, while fascinating, he also gave the impression of being a charmer, someone capable of bewildering
you with his innate charisma.
We’ll talk more about Bill Clinton later – and perhaps about
the chair you were obliged to sit in by Congressman Henry Hyde
– when we get to your visit to the White House. But to follow up
on the G8 episode, while the two giants were celebrating the virtues
of Milan and its competitiveness, where was the Italian prime
minister, Romano Prodi?
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He was there in the room, but he didn’t witness the scene.
I recounted it to him a few moments later when introducing
some fellow mayors. The matchmaker was Stefano Parisi, then
general director of the municipality of Milan who, several
months previously, had left the economics department of the
Presidency of the Council of Ministers and had therefore
worked with Prodi. I told the Prime Minister about the exchange with Clinton and Kohl, and while he was pleased, he
also made it clear that he would have preferred that the districts
of Milan and Lombardy hadn’t received all the credit. In fact
Emilia-Romagna has important districts as well, though with
slightly different features.
A comparison between the generous Kohl and his successor, Gerhard Schröder, who you met in 1998 at the Corriere della Sera
building just before he became chancellor?
The first thing that comes to mind is an unkept promise –
Schröder did not prove himself a very good boy scout. At that
meeting, during the final toast, I secured his commitment,
should he become chancellor, to reiterate what Helmut Kohl
had said about the districts of Milan, his admiration of the industriousness and capacity for innovation of our region and its
people. Schröder told me, «If I become chancellor, I will say the
same». Several qualified exponents of our economy were there
to witness this. Indeed, the big guns of the Rizzoli Group were
present, including Cesare Romiti9. As in other cases where my
prophecies have come true, such as that of the not-yet President of the Republic Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, I replied that the
next time he came to Milan, I would be greeting him as Mr.
Chancellor. And that I would hold him to his promise. He was,
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of course, elected, and if I remember correctly he did visit
Milan for a meeting of the European socialist parties. But his
stay was brief, from the airport to the conference and back, so
I had no opportunity to ‘cash in’ my credit. I tell this story,
somewhat jokingly, to provide some insight into Schröder the
man: during the course of that first meeting, which was a twohour luncheon, I got the impression of a wise and very clever
man, plus a touch of opportunism. Capable, more than ethical.
Which is not to say that he was excessively loose, absolutely
not. But there was something about him… One thing that
struck me was the way he and his entourage of collaborators
seemed to be on the same wavelength. I didn’t know who they
were, but even without understanding German I could sense
the sharp, efficient professionalism of their dialogue. Reading
his résumé, I saw that he was a professional politician, born to
modest means, that he worked his way through university and
had risen in the political ranks through dedication and determination. Very impressive and praiseworthy. If one is born a
prince, that’s one thing; if he instead becomes one, then appreciation of his hard work and abilities must be all the greater.
Anyone who manages to achieve so much starting with so little
deserves a lot of credit. I also recognised in him a remarkable
ability for negotiation, someone who knew how to use all the
tools of politics, including the ability to convince people of
one thing and then do another, to move shrewdly through the
political landscape and to play his role with a certain degree of
unscrupulousness. These were merely my first impressions, and
I don’t know if they can be confirmed beyond the almost insignificant episode of his unkept promise to me. In any event,
destiny has since taken its course, and now it is Angela Merkel’s
opinion of Milan that matters.
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So Schröder was more like Clinton than Kohl.
One could say that, yes. Although he didn’t have the
charisma of Bill Clinton, whose ability to put people under his
spell was unique. His hand on your shoulder, his eyes telling
you that he really, truly does adore Milan, that there’s no place
he loves better.
A snake charmer?
It’s more than just that. There is, I think, a degree to which
these men convince themselves of their sincerity, and it is communicated as such. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi does this
when he appears to believe his “white lies” with such conviction. The word belongs in quotation marks, however, because
he doesn’t tell lies. What he does is identify himself so intensely
with the role he’s playing as to become sincere, even if he himself might have reservations about what he’s saying. Not everyone knows how to do this.
Let’s talk about the main points of your programme during both
your first and second terms as mayor. It appeared that the mission
to England in May of 1998 enabled you to launch two of your
most important themes: benchmarking – specifically, a focus on
the ‘virtuous conduct’ of local administrations rather than of governments, as in the case of the entry into the euro – and privatisation. It was during those months that the process of selling shares
of the Milanese energy company AEM got underway, and it was
during that visit to London that you met with the most important
figures in the world of finance.
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This is a juxtaposition of two apparently unrelated scenarios, but yes, in reality they are quite contiguous. City administrations can be measured against one another, even if their
political, normative and/or legislative situations are different.
But now, participating in a united Europe, the competition between territories are emerging, interacting in a way that has
been called ‘coopetition’, a principle I borrowed and brought
to the collaboration between Rome and Milan, where city administrations compare notes on problems that often overlap:
pollution, urban sprawl, the new phenomenon of the ‘metapolis’, a recently coined term for urban areas that no longer have
any boundaries, at least according to traditional definition of
circumscribed urban space and surrounding agricultural territory. Now we have networks that swell and spread. Traffic and
parking, social problems, disused areas that need redeveloping,
energy production, the drawing power of universities, finance,
industry and the service sector – all of wich contribute to the
undesired effects of concentration, which lower the quality of
life despite generating wealth. As such, these European cities,
which share similar structural situations, got together to identify the issues and sectors where they could compare experiences on the basis of shared problems and devise a set of best
practices – that is, the organisational, legal and economic solutions that seemed most appropriate. Basically, we were working to identify a shared paradigm and compare our experiences
in a framework that nevertheless remained competitive. So
Frankfurt, Birmingham, Milan or Barcelona would continued
to compete with one another to host the Olympics, or to
achieve the fastest growth in their stock exchanges, with French
and Spanish investors trying to attract capital in Milan and
Italians doing the same in Lyon. This went without saying, and
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was in fact seen positively. It wasn’t antagonism, but healthy
competition, even emulation, with each competitor faithfully
sharing their experiences with the others. The subject of privatisation is apparently extraneous, since the municipalities are
also corporations that provide services, giant holding companies with resources, capital, property. All elements that must be
optimised in the intense global competition between territories, and no longer between nations or individual companies.
In short, cities must efficiently squeeze the greatest value possible from what they have, perhaps changing and rearranging
their holdings, for example selling an energy company and investing the proceeds in infrastructure. Those were the days
when we were promoting the sale of AEM stock in view of its
privatisation. We were already in the phase of looking for individual investors, as well as for the 400 institutional investors
who would benefit by buying well and selling better. Sure, we
were giving up stock in a company that was founded 100 years
ago to protect the territory, its businesses and its citizens at a
time when industrialisation was spreading rapidly. Milan was
the city with the highest energy consumption, but was also
paying the highest rates. The constitution of AEM thus served
a social purpose for the citizens and business community. Over
the years, this system levelled out. The question arose: why
should we maintain ownership of high-value stocks instead of
ceding them and using the funds to build subway lines, public
housing and other services to both attract and provide ‘quality
of life’ for everyone? I still remember those photographs of
Margaret Thatcher with the scions of finance: the Iron Lady
was at the centre of this palingenesis of public function and
private management. The utility was public, while the method
of running it was no longer bureaucratic but entrepreneurial.
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That’s what I tried to accomplish during my ‘guard duty’, and
I think I can say that there were brilliant successes, a few difficulties and many clashes, but in the end the results were undeniably positive. It was in this context that the competitive
collaboration between the other cities present at the Birmingham G8 and the English experience of the Thatcher government’s privatisations were brought together. This reminds me
of a connection between a passage in Thatcher’s The Downing
Street Years and something that happened at the end of my term
with regard to privatisation, among other things. Thatcher was
losing her hold on the majority, because her policies, not populist but popular, had provoked dissent. When she announced
the closing of several mines and a reduction of benefits, the
Welsh miners went on strike for nearly two years, generating
social division and conflict. Later, the benefits of Thatcher’s actions became clear. But there is always a phase where the price
of coherency is a loss of consensus. Doubts arise, and some political leaders experience what is known in psychological terms
as regression. They take refuge in their roots, distancing themselves by seeking refuge in the safety of their electoral base,
their own little consensus group. And that’s how they lose sight
of the big picture. This happens every day – investments in
public works are stalled because they might generate dissent; a
parking lot isn’t built because it entails cutting down trees; privatisation doesn’t move ahead because there’s a risk of being
criticised by the press. There is always a bit of that when it
comes to privatisation. The system of publically-owned companies and political parties make it unlikely that those involved
will not expect positions of power – it is the nature of those
who govern to want that. However, in order to do something
good for society and for future generations rather than merely
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for the next election, one must work in an entirely different
direction, thinking of the future rather than protecting one’s
own career.
In the course of your visit to London among the ‘gnomes of finance’, what impression did you get of their views on privatisation?
We did a tour of the big investment banks – Warburg, JP
Morgan, Schroeder’s. During a dinner in the cosy guest quarters of Fleming bank, furnished with magnificent paintings
and precious antiques, including a perfectly polished dining
table typical of the English aristocracy, the man who would become the general director of the Milan municipal government,
Giorgio Porta, then commissioner for privatisations, put on an
unforgettable performance to illustrate how he would privatise
AEM and other companies. He proposed a balanced combination of a retail offering to incentivise the individual shareholder
and the sale of capital assets to institutional investors to ‘starve’
demand and therefore raise the value. And then there was the
question of maintaining the governance of the company. To
explain how these three profiles would be harmonised and balanced, he did a demonstration that recalled the game of ‘threecard monte’, gesticulating all the while.
The contrast between my exuberant Italian colleague and the
austere English bankers was quite amusing. My only regret is that
not long after that occasion, the director of Fleming organised a
dinner with Mrs. Thatcher, but unfortunately I had to decline
the invitation due to previous commitments in Milan. It was a
difficult sacrifice, given the stature of the former prime minister
and the inspiration I drew from her in my work as mayor.
The London financiers approved our privatisation strategy
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in part because they, as institutional investors, had a vested interest in buying and reselling. So they looked very favourably
on the possibility, since it would create a market in which they
could play a role. Everyone offered to act as placement agents.
This tension of entwined interests, while legitimate, made me
think of an analogy that illustrates the concept well: the relationship between interior decorator and furniture manufacturer. So they spoke with the seller. Some were already
consultants – Goldman Sachs for AEM, JP Morgan for the
Centrale del Latte –, while others proposed themselves as investors and buyers, but in reality these roles often change. It
was here that I saw, particularly in determining the prices, the
same relationship that exists between the interior decorator on
the one hand and the furniture, kitchen and bath suppliers on
the other, given the frequency of contact between them. I had
the feeling that in all the various forms of the placement of
public assets, the priority of the advisors was to favour the market, both retail and institutional, rather than helping the seller
get the maximum price. Apart from this ethical consideration,
for a public institution, there is nothing negative about a balance between the maximisation of income for allocation to
public works and the political will to realise a large-scale privatisation. In Milan, the first Italian city to venture into privatisation, we found the political will to design an offering that
was remunerative for 400,000 individual investors without
being speculative for the seller. If I had to do it again, perhaps
I would be more determined to keep the ‘interior decorators’
on a leash and to insist on a higher share price: I would have
received more money for public works, without upsetting the
institutional investors and individual shareholders – at least
not too much.
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These bankers also proposed other instruments in addition to
privatisation to generate resources, which were either not used at
all or, if so, only towards the end of your term. They insisted particularly on project financing and the Private Finance Initiative,
or on stock issues already valued in euros. Why were you skeptical
about using a more ample ‘menu’ for the city’s finances?
We only considered that road because it was our first experience with operations of this sort. We felt it was a miracle to
succeed in a real privatisation after years of immobility. The
Lega presented 5,000 amendments, and the city council promoted a referendum on the privatisation of AEM. We felt that
a clear-cut, understandable, not overly complex process would
be the most productive. I should add that the other instruments were forms of joint investment with private interests or
debt financing. In recent years, project financing has been used
to build lines four and five of the metro and will perhaps be
used for the tunnel under the Bastioni10. We did not issue municipal bonds, as it is a form of debt that in some cases proves
more costly than ordinary borrowing. Sometimes other local
administrations use it for political reasons, especially if they
have citizen-investors participating in the construction of the
public works that they themselves will use: the citizens at large
benefit, even though it is not strictly logical in the economic
sense. Debt in its various forms is one thing; reinvestment is
another, i.e. changing the nature of an asset: selling shares and
building metros, selling business units that no longer have a
political function and reinvesting the resulting resources in
services necessary for the city. Why was the Centrale del Latte11
created? Because a 100 years ago, milk was a way of life, but also
a way to die from bovine tuberculosis. Winston Churchill said
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that no investment was ever more productive that putting milk
into children. The same applied to the municipal pharmacies, responsible for the distribution of quinine to combat malaria.
With the passage of time, these social functions and these illnesses disappeared, and the existence of the firms was only justified by the fact that they provided jobs, consulting and
contracts to the political system. We transformed them into
companies: some we sold, others we left operating at a profit.
One of your many inspirations over the course of your two
terms was the English model of public administration. Now, more
than 10 years later, do you think that it would be possible to apply
this model to Italy as a whole, or is that a labor of Sisyphus?
The English language also provides inspiration – ‘reinventing government’, in the present tense, suggesting an ongoing
process. In 1997-98, we examined the programme of public
administration reform in the US called just that, ‘Reinventing
Government’. The head of the programme, Robert Stone, gave
me a lapel pin as a gift – a little silver hammer – at the Assolombarda conference that year, during which we discussed
the issue, as well as our desire to borrow the American experience for the reform of the ‘municipal machine’. When Vice
President Al Gore came to lunch at Palazzo Marino for the
125th anniversary of Corriere della Sera, I naturally showed up
with the little hammer in clear view on my lapel. Mr. Gore adjusted it for me to the proper position, since he had been delegated by Clinton to oversee the public administration reform.
In our territorial government, we expressed a determination
and coherency of principles and programmes that no other administration, local or national, has been able to reproduce. And
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we were able to do so for two reasons: one, because the society
of which we are the expression is objectively more modern and
advanced, more Anglo-American, if you will, yet without that
consumeristic, frivolous component that derives from a superficial fixation with trends and fashion. Today, the world speaks
English, just as 2,000 years ago it spoke Latin – it’s a question
of dominant culture, of a modern hegemony. The soul of the
world, Hegel would say, at the present time is American. Scientific research is published in English. So it is only right to
take inspiration and ideas from the Anglophone countries, particularly the United States, because they have paved a path towards de-bureaucratisation, towards the liberation of economy
and society from excessive government intervention. Prior to
reform, an American public administrator had to fill out a
mountain of forms just to requisition an ashtray. When Al
Gore smashed an ashtray on live television with a hammer, he
was symbolically underscoring his government’s determination
to implement radical change, to transform bureaucratic obstacles into concrete action – thus the motto of the reform programme, “From red tape to results”, from which my
administration drew inspiration. These ideas are consistent
with the principles of economic freedom, private as opposed to
public property, the dynamism of the individual rather than
the lethargy of bureaucracy. We can and must move towards
these principles, inevitably. However, Italy is long and narrow
– the north, with its constant ferment, is the most economically fertile area, whereas it would be extremely difficult to develop this tradition in places with less individual autonomy,
fewer resources and a different mentality. One need only think
of the differences between the Lombardo-Veneto cultural heritage and that of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
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Another G8 leader you met in Birmingham was Jean Chrétien,
then prime minister of Canada, who came to Milan and was
hosted by you at Palazzo Marino just a few days later, in June
1998. What was your impression of Chrétien? Did you ever have
the opportunity to meet with him after that?
Our conversation in Birmingham was more of a passing
chat. We exchanged only a few words, commenting on Milan’s
sistership with Toronto. Our encounter at Palazzo Marino on
the other hand was more extensive, and significant for me because he was the first head of state I received as mayor. We
spoke in French, which I know a bit better than English. I was
struck by his lucidity and immediacy. If I had to identify a single trait shared by all the heads of state I’ve known, it is surely
the ability to get straight to the point, to simplify what is complicated, to instantly synthesise an argument that would, in
less expert hands, tend to wander. Chrétien has this ability to
drive a sword to the heart of the matter, like Alexander with the
Gordian knot. He knew our city and its problems, and we
spoke of the prospects and perils of globalisation. The Twin
Towers disaster was still three years off, but I remember sensing
that he had a clear vision of a sequence of events that might
lead to such an event, as if foreseeing it.
Canada is a country of vast spaces and resources, yet its population is comparatively small. Chrétien therefore faced the
problem of developing a huge area, wealthy yes, but with a disproportionate social structure – immigration, for example, is
heavy, and Canada needs to be able to metabolise these external
influences and make them Canadian. We talked about relatives
of mine who had sold all their property and emigrated to
Canada, and whom I’d visited on my travels. He gave the im-
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pression of a clear-headed, agreeable and direct man, with little
regard for protocol. In nomen omen: a good Christian, and certainly a man who bore his enormous responsibilities with vitality and serenity.
Some time later, I had the pleasure of being received in his
official residence in Ottawa, which was as dignified as it was
modest. The difference between the Anglophone democracies
and countries like France and Italy, which have experienced
periods of absolutism and, later, dictatorship, can be seen in
these symbols of power. Once when I was in London, for example, Nick Raynsford, then minister for London, called me
a taxi at the House of Commons and personally carried my
bag to the coat room. While we made our way through courtyards and corridors, he was greeted by the ushers without any
particular deference, like a normal citizen who just happened
to have important responsibilities at that moment. And this
man was at the level of cabinet minister of the Blair administration, a man responsible for a city of nine million inhabitants.
Another example: the office of New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a man of immense power, was the humblest of spaces,
the only indulgences being the desk used by Fiorello LaGuardia
and a bow window. Conversely, the office of Jean Tiberi, mayor
of Paris, was striking for its ample dimensions, its imperial
grandeur, the precious tapestries on the walls. The mayor of
Buenos Aires even had cuirassiers in high uniform in his office.
These conspicuous, tangible displays of power seem to want
to compensate for a lack of real power, whereas I saw that in
New York and London, real power is signaled through understatement. Getting back to my last meeting with Chrétien, it
was 18 April 2002, and once again we enjoyed a most cordial
conversation, during which I offered my condolences for the
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four Canadians who had died in Afghanistan and discussed the
joint projects for the sister cities of Milan and Toronto, particularly in the areas of contemporary art, design and fashion.
Our encounter coincided with the airplane accident at the
Pirelli tower, so I had to hurry back to Milan that afternoon.
June 1998 was also the first edition of the States-General, and
there was a session with foreign mayors, including Eberhard Diepgen of Berlin and José María Alvarez del Manzano of Madrid.
Back then, Milan was extremely far behind, like an open construction site compared with the other major european cities. On 17
July of that year you went to Berlin and did a reconnaissance of the
buildings being erected by the world’s greatest architects in preparation for the transfer of the capital. Since then Milan has made
a lot of progress in terms of urban development.
From this point of view, yes, our city was behind, but now
10.5 million square meters of disused industrial areas have been
reclaimed. Other European cities seem to have made an earlier
start on the transition from post-industrial to neo-urban. My
visit to the urban centre in Potsdammer Platz gave me an idea
which I then conveyed to the president of Fiera Milano, Luigi
Roth, which he implemented: a time-lapse video camera that
would tell the story of the city’s transformation, from the demolition of the crumbling ruins of East Berlin to the relocation
of the cranes to the rise of the futuristic new structures. Looking back, I can say with justifiable pride that, since that round
table with my fellow mayors where we discussed these issues,
Milan has closed the gap.
During the course of a meeting with Mayor Diepgen, an
interesting episode with regard to the Teatro degli Arcimboldi
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and urban development funding. The European Community
obliged us to tender the restoration of the theatre through a
complex procedure, thus withholding the funds for many years
as we waited to find out who would do the work, rather than
enabling us to utilise modern financial bartering for a project
donated to the city. Fortunately, thanks to the lobby of European mayors, the European Commission granted us a more accelerated and pragmatic transformation of the funds. In this
way we were able to rebuild the Teatro degli Arcimboldi, just
as other European cities were able to implement similarly important public projects. If this hadn’t happened, it would not
have been possible to make such a rapid transition from the
post-industrial to the neo-urban model. At the time of the
mayoral round table, we were behind. Our developable spaces
were bare, with little construction going on, and no specific
political decisions had been taken. Now, eight years later, all of
these areas are occupied by either completed projects, like the
Fiera, or by works in progress designed by the same great architects who have been working in other European metropolis. I
should add that there will be an actuation phase that will follow
our decision, since in Italy it can take longer to arrive at a decision to build something than to actually construct it. How do
you think we were able to negotiate an agreement among the
42 property owners of what will be Milan’s counterpart to the
Défense, the Garibaldi-Repubblica area, among whom was a
particularly stubborn and polemical man who had filed a lawsuit regarding the constructability of his land, not to mention
the Region, which eventually bought his building from us? We
did it with the simple logic of the condominium: everyone
was assigned the same index of constructability, in proportion
to the square meterage they owned. Otherwise we never would
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have gotten all 42 landowners to agree, every one of whom
wanted the skyscraper on his property and a lawn on that of his
Confindustria is the Italian employers’ union, founded in 1910. Gabriele Albertini was chairman of Federmeccanica, the federation of mechanical employers, belonging to Confindustria.
“Milano da bere”, roughly translated as “Drink up Milan!”, was the famous
slogan of a 1980s advertising campaign for an alcoholic drink called Amaro
Ramazzotti. It was then adopted by journalists and used to deride the emerging
social classes, particularly those linked with fashion and design.
André Léon Blum (9 April 1872 – 30 March 1950) was a French politician,
usually identified with the moderate left, and three times the prime minister of
Cesare Romiti (born 24 June 1923) is an important Italian manager and entrepreneur. Former CEO of Fiat, he was also chairman of the publishing group
Rizzoli Corriere della Sera (RCS).
The ring road around the centre of Milan.
The milk factory of Milan.
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Mayor X ALE
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Chapter 2
Wherein are recounted the exploits of the American master, his broken window, European friendships and the
grandeur of our French cousins
In early 1999, the middle of February to be exact, a series of
newspaper stories appeared with harsh titles like “Albertini appoints himself sheriff ”, “Lessons from America for Albertini”,
“Albertini plays the tough American”, “Trigger-happy mayor”
and so forth, all in response to your meeting with a man despised
by Italian politicians and the general public alike. In reality there
was an almost total split between what the journalists and politicians thought and the real needs of the citizens of Milan and
elsewhere. Who was this ‘terrible monster’ that you met in New
That’s a good way to frame the image of Rudolph Giuliani, for it allows us to rediscover the man himself by looking
at his values and the practical choices he made in terms of security. Examining his work as mayor of New York, which he
still was at the time, one sees a concrete choice of authority,
not authoritarianism as the pundits would have it, and of
firm government, not the militarisation of the police. The
Italian press practiced instead what Lenin or Gramsci12 would
have called the “identification of the target”, a de facto invention aimed exclusively at denigrating the subject. During our
meeting, he clarified for me in an almost lexical way the
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meaning of ‘zero tolerance’, which we usually translate literally and inappropriately as tolleranza zero. But by tolerance,
Giuliani intended administrative slovenliness, a lack of conscientiousness on the part of institutions which then reverberates in the community. This is a big mistake, because citizens
need to feel that these institutions are paying attention to
their problems and working to resolve them; that they are attentive to the public’s desire for safety and civility. Government institutions have to set an example in this regard, so
that citizens can follow it. So Giuliani implemented a set of
interventions that achieved truly brilliant results in New
York, which we reproduced in Milan during my two terms on
the same proportional scale. The numbers tell the story –
crime decreased by 30 per cent after my arrival in 1997, while
security fell from number one on the list of citizens’ greatest
concerns to number two, replaced by traffic and pollution.
Giuliani’s programme was utterly lost in translation, as it
were. Whether it was mystification or simplification, he was
portrayed as ‘the sheriff ’, ‘the vigilante’, the ‘hard-liner’ who
rounded up and arrested anyone and everyone. No one wrote
anything, on the other hand, about his vision of urban security, which I borrowed and implemented in our city.
So who was Giuliani from the personal, rather than mediatic
point of view?
He has a certain inflexibility about him, but he isn’t the
man we read about – he’s not intransigent due to some lack
of ability to get along with others, or aggressive or polemical.
He is simply a man of great moral rectitude. What impressed
me most was his sense of the moral responsibilities of his job.
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Let’s not forget that before becoming mayor he was the district attorney who had crippled the New York mafia. A sort
of American Giovanni Falcone13, with the same heroism but,
fortunately, without the martyrdom. Giuliani is in this sense
a ‘man of the law’, insofar as he sees the law as indispensable.
An inscription from Roman law that one often sees on the
friezes of European courthouses comes to mind: legibus
oboedire debemus si liberi esse volumus. While Giuliani appears
to be a relentless man, he is simply upholding the strong
moral convictions he learned from his family, his school, the
value system into which he was born and raised. I must say
that I immediately felt great personal sympathy, though I
don’t presume to compare myself or my job to him or to his.
Which brings me to the Jesuits. As some readers may know,
I spent 12 years of my life with them, and I came to know a
number of major figures in the Jesuit hierarchy, such as Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini. Blaise Pascal, in his Provincial Letters, uses the term ‘Jesuit’ as a synonym for hypocrite, and
speaks of them as mystifiers and confounders of reality, as opportunists whose educational and behavioral principles are
founded on duplicity, falsehoods and doubt. Perhaps a Jesuit
or two has deviated, but the founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola,
articulates quite clearly the cardinal rule of ethics, in his case
religious, but one which is also applicable to the lay values of
Giuliani or those of a man in search of his faith such as myself: todo modo para buscar la voluntad divina, or ‘use all
means in search of the divine will’. ‘Use all means’ does not
mean being so stupid as to bang one’s head against a wall,
but to have the intelligence to manoeuvre through the
labyrinth of reality, sometimes going backwards, other times
laterally. Lenin’s zig-zag path is not unrelated to this concept.
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Once one’s values and principles are sound and thus become
a categorical imperative of one’s conscience, any means are
valid. Other philosophers have theorised the premise differently, and many people have applied it without any moral
structure to back it up. Obviously, with the ethical principle
in place, one must maintain a balance between the end and
the means. So, in light of this little excursus, what I saw in
Giuliani were two fundamental elements, foremost of which
was a strong morality – and by this I mean the morality of institutions, not of the individual, for I detected in him neither
sanctimoniousness nor hypocrisy, but rather a rigorous determination to pursue the cause in which he believed: defeating evil. Secondly, a sharp intelligence, in the etymological
sense of intra or intus legere, the ability to understand the
complexity of a society or a community in all its parts, even
its deepest and most intimate ones. He was smart enough to
understand that the military strength of a reorganised and
expanded police force was not enough, that the spark had to
come through understanding. The community first had to
realise the state of decay in which the city found itself, the
concept of the ‘broken window’.
With ‘broken window’ you are referring to a controversial article by James Wilson and George Kelling from 1982 that inspired Giuliani and constituted both the premise and the
corollary of ‘zero tolerance’. Is this a concept you shared in your
vision of civic administration?
According to the ‘broken window’ approach, urban decay
and neglect – that is, the window that doesn’t get fixed, the
pothole that doesn’t get filled, the crumbling cornice of a
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building induce a state of slovenliness in the minds of the individual citizens. In other words, there is a direct correlation
between the state of the territory in which people live and
the behavior of the people living there. Administrative neglect
generates a sense of detachment from one’s community and
leads to illicit, even criminal conduct. So, the parallel between
the fight against graffiti writers and other crackdowns is exactly the same: government needs to take care of the visible
aspects of its territory, even if they seem marginal. A pertinent
analogy comes to mind – in all the drug rehabilitation centres
I’ve ever visited, from Padre Eligio to Don Mazzi and San Patrignano, regardless of the finances available or the approach
to rehabilitation, they are all very attentive to the aesthetic
aspect – well-tended gardens, modern furnishings, clean and
dignified spaces. Because mental and moral order derive at
least in part from external order. Those who need to put their
lives and consciences back together need to live in a nice, orderly environment. We have all experienced certain moments
in our lives when things haven’t gone as well as we had expected, and this can challenge our moral solidity, be it an illness, economic misfortune or problems in love. To get back
on our feet we need, among other things, liveable and dignified surroundings. Giuliani was in this sense a man of balance: on the one hand, there was the toughness of his
crackdowns; on the other, his sensitivity towards the weak
and the discouraged. What’s more, his approach transgressed
the traditional political definitions of ‘left’ and ‘right’.
Some time ago in Trieste, back when I was coordinator of
the metropolitan mayors, I had a debate with my friend Walter Veltroni, mayor of Rome, on the subject of the municipal
police. I had proposed that the laws governing local law en-
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forcement take into consideration the possibility of transforming the vigili urbani, or traffic cops, into armed police
officers with the ability to defend themselves. People began
talking of truncheons and militarisation, confusing the issue.
Veltroni and others contested my position, stating that the
vigile urbano had to be a sort of social worker in uniform,
without any military role whatsoever. The argument was
heated but respectful, and we eventually decided that those
who shared my view were “for the father”, while the others
were “for the mother”, taking the issue in a psychoanalytical
direction. Be that as it may, there is a related issue of responsibility: one must always distinguish the victim from the
criminal, otherwise the line between them is blurred. I don’t
agree with those who believe that the criminal is fundamentally a victim of society, and that the responsibility belongs to
a social context. People are responsible for their own actions,
and that includes administrators. That said, in New York and
Milan, the results of the application of the ‘broken window’
approach are there for all to see.
I’m not sure I’ve answered the question, so I’ll go back and
say that Giuliani’s personality corresponds with his politics,
and I felt a great affinity for him from the start, when we met
in the office that was once occupied by Fiorello LaGuardia at
the New York City Council. I was struck by the minimalism
of the space. Here was the mayor of the most important city
in the world, running a metropolis of nine million, and his
office was a cubbyhole. Dignified, of course, but very modest.
Quite a contrast, as I mentioned, to the office of the mayor
of Paris at the Hôtel de Ville, which is instead a scene of
grandeur, sumptuous, almost vain, with attendants in full formal dress and sofas so enormous, in necessary proportion
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with the vast imperial spaces, as to prohibit a man of normal
stature like myself from leaning against the backrest if he also
wishes to keep his feet on the floor and avoid looking like a
small child. There was a flower pot the size of a Fiat 500,
which in that enormous space didn’t seem all that big. Anyway, it’s clear that the Anglophone and Latin cultures have
two different concepts of democracy and position.
A couple of thoughts on Giuliani: you mentioned that debate
about the ‘mommy’ traffic cop versus the ‘daddy’ armed officer.
But in the course of your visit to New York there were other issues
that were misreported, like the ‘dum-dum bullet’ – the Italian
press maintained that Giuliani had armed his police force with
hollow-point bullets when in fact they were rubber bullets.
That’s right. It was the same thing that happened with
‘zero tolerance’, also misunderstood through ignorance. The
terms of the debate were truly ‘anti-pathetic’, in the sense that
they went against feeling.
Giuliani was also capable of great generosity. After 11 September, with just a few months of his term left, he got down on
the street and worked alongside the emergency crews. What do
remember of your last meeting, when the City of Milan made
him an honorary citizen in 2004? Giuliani himself was impressed by the visit. In fact, after the ceremony he was taken over
to La Scala to see the recently completed restoration.
Yes, our last meeting was especially gratifying, both for the
dedication he wrote in a book I’d been given and for the
warmth of our conversation. He was almost affectionate, and
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for a man with his character, that means a lot. He had very
kind things to say about Milan, which went unreported by
the media, who preferred to give more space to the rather impolite behaviour of another famous Italo-American, Robert
De Niro, who that same week had ostentatiously refused our
city’s ‘Ambrogino d’Oro’ award. Giuliani was not offering
facile compliments for the imitation of his model; he understood that we had been the most authentic and consequential
interpreters of his own values, and he noticed the positive results. This brought me a legitimate, I think, sense of pride.
He appreciated the work at La Scala, which had been completely restored in just two years, despite constant aggression
from politicians and the media. The opposition wanted the
last word to be the ‘destruction’ of Piermarini’s building14.
They would have liked to portray us as Herostratus, who set
fire to the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus so he would be remembered for posterity. Instead, we succeeded in bringing
La Scala back to life. Obviously it was necessary to ‘destroy’
before modernising and then restoring the theatre to its original state. That was the reason we removed all of the architectural superfluities of the past 50 years, which in truth were
just layers of ugliness. In fact, the work done at La Scala was
not unlike our security programme – it was essentially the
application of the ‘broken window’ model. This is why my
colleague and teacher Giuliani understood and appreciated
it. It wasn’t an accident that he became an honorary citizen of
Milan that day. Nor was it insignificant that the criticisms
we received over the restoration of La Scala were similar to
those received by Giuliani for his clean-up of New York.
Your work on the security issue continued through 1999 with-
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out paying much heed to the opinion of the press. In fact it was
that autumn you met the mayor of Neuilly, a small city outside
of Paris. His name, certainly less familiar then than now, was
Nicolas Sarkozy, who later became France’s minister of the interior and is today, of course, its president. He seemed to you a fellow admirer of Giuliani’s methods with regard to urban security.
I met Sarkozy at the headquarters of Eridania Béghin-Say,
in the presence of Antoine Bernheim, president of Generali,
and the Italian Ambassador Sergio Vento. Sarkozy struck me
as different from the other French politicians I’d met around
that time, namely my counterparts in Lyon and Paris, Raymond Barre and Jean Tiberi. The young mayor of Neuilly
seemed to me somewhat consumed by ambition. I didn’t have
much to go on, obviously, given the brevity of the meeting.
But there were gestures and looks, almost imperceptible. He
also conveyed the impression of a capable and intelligent
man, but one who was driven by an ambition that I won’t
call ruthless, but it was certainly intense. One saw clearly,
even then, his desire and above all his conscious intention to
come across as the future leader of France – a role that had
perhaps been suggested to him by others.
You mean hoped for, or foretold?
Foretold, absolutely. And he knew it already. We found a
strong common ground that evening on one issue, insofar as
both of us had to lead our cities under centre-left, and therefore theoretically hostile, national governments. From what I
was able to gather, Sarkozy governed his city well. So I’m not
surprised that his paradigm for success at the municipal level
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led him to a position in the national government in 2002. At
the time we were both facing imminent change in the political situation of our respective countries, and Sarkozy was
very astute in foreseeing this change. Moreover, like many of
the successful politicians of his generation that I’ve met, he
has the intuition, the acuity and the spontaneity to face problems without becoming mired in peripheral details and redundant analysis. In short, Sarkozy has a talent for getting to
the root of the problem. Compared with Barre’s equilibrium
or Tiberi’s ability to metabolise adversity, Sarkozy seemed to
me tough and determined. But precisely because he’s a sharp,
dynamic and intensely committed man, rather highly strung,
he also seemed fragile, less able to take a punch. One senses
in him a man who can make bold, even aggressive leaps forward, but who also knows moments of depression and personal defeat. To sum up, I’m not sure if I saw in him then the
future leader of France, but I certainly knew that he was destined for the highest levels of government. I should mention
that we touched briefly on the subject of security, and I found
him open-minded and at the same time tough on crime, seeking integration for immigrants on the one hand and greater
rigor in dealing with widespread predatory crime, misleadingly known as microcriminality, on the other. I also recall
congratulating him on the regeneration of the area of Neuilly
where we were, just across from La Défense.
Before going into more detail about other important figures in
French politics and the economy, I’d like to continue our discussion about politicians who have addressed the issue of urban security in recent years. You talked about upholding the law with
Giuliani, Barre (who we’ll get to know) and Sarkozy. But there’s
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another individual you met in 1999 in Bonn – Otto Schily, then
Germany’s minister of the interior. A rather curious pairing, if I
may say so – a man like you, with your background in business
and industry, exchanging views with a man rooted in political
and ideological extremism, who had also served as lead attorney
for the notorious RAF, the Rote Armeé Fraktion. Yet a delightful
man who loves Italy, knows our language and culture and is one
of the main exponents of the German social democratic current
known as Toskana Fraktion. Could you give us a little sketch of
his personality?
I can give you more than a sketch, for we had a lengthy
meeting in the federal ministry, and we saw each other again
for a season premiere at La Scala here in Milan. More recently, we met by chance in November 2004 at Norman Foster’s new Bundestag. Schily seemed a very likeable and precise
man. In his work, he appeared highly sensitive to the problems of humanity. So, while he may have sympathised in his
youth with the ‘revolution’, he did so from a position of solid
human values – ethical, social and professional – also evident
in his work at the ministry. In our reflections on the problems
of big cities at the turn of the millennium and the challenges
of globalisation, there was greater focus on the social dimension, on redemption rather than repression. But we were in
perfect agreement on several issues, such as the need for a
modern and more technological approach to security. Clearly
he wasn’t a fellow student of Giuliani, but we shared the view
that the problem of upholding the law had to be addressed
with the twin tools of redemption and repression, just as we
use two hands to cut a steak, one holding the knife and the
other, the fork.
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Let’s move on to another topic. Between 1998 and 1999, you
visited Paris and Lyon. In the French capital you met with the
mayor, Jean Tiberi, who was caught in the middle of a scandal
over influence peddling and public housing. He was the successor
of Jacques Chirac at the Hôtel de Ville, his loyal friend and associate.
That’s right, we met at the height of the scandal. It seemed
to me that the relationship between Tiberi and Chirac was
similar to that of Evangelisti and Andreotti15. That evening he
held a reception in honour of the mayors of the world’s great
cities, which he himself did not attend for health reasons,
whether real or diplomatically invented. Our face-to-face
meeting was cordial and formal, and he impressed me as an
experienced professional. But what struck me most about the
Paris city hall, as I said before, was the incongruity between
the grandiose architecture and the relative modesty of a
mayor’s power. Tiberi had the air of a politician d’antan, of
yesteryear, with a personality capable of absorbing any blow
and taking any amount of heat. A man who, despite the political tensions and health problems (real or not) that he was
battling at the time, maintained a remarkable serenity and
lucidity. I’ve frequently notice this trait in men of power –
some are good at their jobs, others less so, but none of them
lose their head in moments of crisis. When faced with situations in which normal people would be agitated, even hysterical, these men probably experience the same emotions but
they don’t allow them to emerge; they metabolise them. They
manage to skillfully separate the person from the job, from
the institution, and to analise personal insults from a distance, then absorb them. Tiberi attended those meetings of
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the world’s mayors while newspaper headlines blasted out the
scandal, yet he seemed untouched by it. This brings to mind
Rudyard Kipling’s Letter to the Son, where the great English
writer enumerates a dozen rules for cultivating character, patience and the ability to control one’s emotions in the face of
adversity. I don’t know if my Parisian colleague had read it,
but he certainly understood its practical application. In some
ways, Tiberi reminded me of a typical Italian politician, perhaps in part because of his surname, which I believe is Corsican.
Another prominent Frenchman you met at the time of your
first encounter with Sarkozy was the financier Antoine Bernheim, who was very interested in what was going on in Italy.
Can we talk a little about French finance and industry, which
in recent years have been an important presence in Italy, and
Milan in particular?
Bernheim had economic power sculpted into his very features. He wasn’t sitting across from me, but slightly to the
left. Even without listening to him, his physiognomy told
you who he was. He conveyed the idea of a powerful man
subjugated, however, to the aphrodisiacal scent of his own
power. Speaking with him, this impression was confirmed.
He explained his concept of corporate governance, whereby
diffused ownership was a trifle, and expressed his conviction
that privatisation must be accomplished with a strong, concentrated ownership structure. He could not conceive, not
even remotely, that they could develop as public companies,
because he felt this approach led to corporate non-governance
and inefficiency of the entire system, and to domination by
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management over the shareholders. This view is certainly entrepreneurial but also marked by a desire for power. Bernheim
was much more shareholder than manager in all his activities,
including those concerning his equity interest in
Mediobanca16. I had spoken with Vincenzo Maranghi about
Bernheim on the numerous occasions we’d met, with and
then – after his death – without Enrico Cuccia. Maranghi described a vigorous and reliable partner, like all men of resolute
character. A tough negotiator, an individualist, firm in his
values and interests, who also knew how to manage his own
pride. A man little inclined, therefore, to overcomplication.
Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar comes to mind, when he equates
his own character with Polaris: «I am constant as the northern
star / Of whose true-fix'd and resting quality / There is no
fellow in the firmament». There is something of this in Bernheim’s personality, which makes him hard and stubborn, but
also extremely reliable and trustworthy. Very different from
the other investors I’ve known, whose faces I recall better than
their names. There is a sharp difference, but this is more a
perception than a demonstrable claim. The investors we
found in the UK were primarily interested in acquiring shares
in AEM and thus making a financial, not industrial, investment, because our line in the first privatisation was market
listing, split between an investment tailored to the movers
and shakers of finance – i.e. an investment extended to the
400 financial institutions who subsequently bought in – and
the offering to small investors within the public at large.
These British contacts viewed the investment from a purely
financial standpoint – they wanted to pay little for something
that was worth a lot – a speculation in the strictly objective
sense, not with the amoral connotations that often accom-
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pany this word. They were looking to make a gain, considered the investment in AEM as productive and consequentially declared their interest. The offering price of AEM was
prudential, however, and too low with respect to the strong
demand that I sensed. They were not concerned with governing the company, it was not an industrial investment. That
group – and particularly Bernheim, who was linked to Italian
financial allies including, I think, Romiti, Maranghi and others – perceived the dimension of the investment as entrepreneurial, and thus governance of the capital for the industrial
strategies of the company they were investing in. One much
clearer factor was the aspect of diversity. It should also be said
that the capital of global finance, the City, is in London not
What do you think of the claim that in the Anglo model, industry is at the service of finance, whereas in the French model
it’s the other way round? Is the latter approach a good strategy for
the State?
This is the conceptual translation of what I was describing
in experiential terms. The relationship between finance and
industry is comparable to the debate between a Ptolemaic
view and a Copernican one. In one model, it almost seems
that the goals of industrial investment are financial in nature,
and that these govern the system. In the other, financial investment is used to further industrial strategies. We basically
have inverted situations here. The causes can be attributed to
any number of things – the histories of two countries, the
differences in the way their respective states were born, the
policies instituted by Jean-Baptiste Colbert17.
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Let’s talk about the role of France’s big public utility industries
and companies in helping the government during the nine years
that you were mayor. Obviously we’re not dealing with charity
organisations, but can we say that the country benefitted from
In keeping with the model of finance at the service of industrial strategy and the decision-making power of the investor, there were several episodes involving Milan that
resulted in a powerful influence of the French economy over
our territory. It’s true that, after a 30-year wait, a transitory
contract was granted to the Spanish company Endesa, but it
was a consortia in which the French multiutility Suez-Ondeo
Degrémont figured prominently that built the water purification plants at Nosedo, San Rocco and Peschiera Borromeo18. The French won the contract because they offered
the best quality, technology and price, and their construction
and investment abilities turned out to be formidable. They
won fair and square, not with the attitude of a Napoleonic
Grande Armée. I should point out, however, that unlike our
situation in Italy, French private industries that compete internationally are greatly assisted and supported by both the
government and the nation as a whole. Another case worth
mentioning is the Edison affair, perhaps more striking to
someone like me, who comes from the world of small industry and is accustomed to viewing the interventionism of big
industrial monopolies with a certain hostility. During my
‘watch’ as mayor, four fundamental events took place with
regard to AEM: the public offering and the acquisition of
three trillion lire; the acquisition of ENEL’s power stations
after difficult negotiations which eventually turned out well
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for the system; entry into the telecommunications field
through a brilliant city-wide cabling operation; and lastly, the
agreement between EDF and AEM on Edison19. It was awkward to be sitting around a table with Pierre Gadonneix and
other big-name French executives, whose cordial formality
betrayed a certain sense of superiority on their part. You
could see in their eyes that they were thinking, “ah, les italiens...”. Nonetheless, for the first time, among all the potential partners out there, les français had chosen les italiens,
specifically our privatised AEM, with the aim of acquiring
Edison – a company which, although private, had recently
been under inefficient semi-public management and no
longer had the numbers to stay in the energy market without
public subsidisation. This agreement brought me great satisfaction.
Here’s a slightly provocative question, but one that can wrap
up this whole discussion: you started out as a Confindustria man,
then a union-breaking champion of Federmeccanica20, always
and absolutely a free-market advocate. After nine years at the
helm of Italy's most important city from an economic standpoint,
did you leave the job with a different philosophy on the issue of
national and local government equity participation in strategic
sectors? Like milk plants, pharmacies and everything that was to
be privatised on a priority basis? Or did you develop an Einaudian synthesis that thus involves the state in various strategic sectors, especially in periods of economic crisis or reconstruction?
Based on the teachings of Adam Smith, the state must be
involved in a few sectors in which private activity cannot be
remunerated. And since the purpose of this is to perform
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functions that encourage capitalisation and the distribution
of the results of investment, the state cannot become involved
without being deflected from the proper concept of economy.
As the prophet of laissez-faire himself explains, some sectors
essential for the activity of a nation must be managed by the
state, because they lack market factors. This may evolve over
time: things that lack market factors can acquire them, as in
the cases of milk and quinine. My most recent experience as
head of an institution and at the same time president of a
holding company – i.e. the City of Milan – convinced me of
two things: the first is the clear existence of the ‘invisible
hand’, the second is that the competition that should ensure
quality and quantity of service, compensation, and best performance in tendering is not always well practised. So I acknowledge that private is not always good, i.e. there are
conditions in which inappropriate, anomalous management
of a private activity is worse than the distributive management of the public system. In fact, I have seen many foul
things: tenders that don’t work, companies that cheat, conniving bureaucracies. I’m not speaking just about corruption
but also inefficiency, slovenliness, excessive tolerance. As far
as economic strategies are concerned, we demonstrated with
our companies, both state-owned and private, that a service
can be managed efficiently and productively in both cases for
the owners we represented and the consumers as well. There
can therefore be a concept of efficiency that is not speculative
or capitalist in the strict sense – that of the accumulation of
wealth and the sharing of profits. I leave this experience with
the strengthened view that state ownership or public control
is compatible with the efficient management of a service intended for the public at large. Furthermore, public control
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ensures a balance between supply and demand that is not always present in the market. But, in the end, one finds both
private companies in crisis, as in the case of Edison when we
bought it, and inefficient political systems. In other words, I
leave with a less Manichean view.
Let’s conclude this chapter by talking about Raymond Barre,
a friend of yours who recently passed away – a great technocrat
who was the prime minister of France before becoming mayor of
Lyon, Milan’s sister city.
From the moment I met him, I was awed to be in the presence of one of the fathers of Europe – a feeling that was eventually tempered as I got to know him as a colleague and
mayor of Milan’s sister city. He was certainly one of the great
figures in the political history of the last several decades, if
not the last century. His great skill, his extraordinary courtesy
and attentiveness, his savoir faire in identifying himself with
his institutional role are unforgettable. He was a consummate
gentleman: refined, polite and cultured. And a man of great
judgment as well. It was he – and this is the first time I’ve
ever confessed this – who suggested write that first letter to
the citizens of Milan in 1998, which I then repeated in 2001
and 2005. Three times in nine years. Barre even gave me tips
to ensure that this approach would be effective and appreciated. The relationship between citizen and mayor is unique,
in part because mayors are elected directly, but that’s not all.
There’s an anthropomorphisation of the institution, though
not on a Napoleonic scale – a mayor is far too busy to have
time to feel important. We had long conversations about the
painful reality of there being too many needs for us to re-
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spond to. We spoke of refusing to indulge in the seduction of
prestige and power, about the disproportionate ratio between
our responsibility and the real possibility of action. We exchanged stories about the odd things that can happen to you
when you’re a mayor, like being denounced in the same
breath for not having completely eliminated the mosquitos as
well as for the pollution from the pesticides you used to eliminate most of them. This job is a contradiction that leaves
you so exposed as to make it impossible not to be seen in
public, or to live by reflected image. So in order to overcome
this conflict, the best approach is often communicating directly with the citizens, whether to ask an opinion or communicate how things are going, politically and administratively.
Barre pointed this out to me, and I followed his advice. In
fact it was very soon after my return from Lyon that I sent my
first letter to the Milanese people. It was an excellent piece of
Another aspect of Barre’s personality that always impressed
me was his Olympian calm. He was a man who had partecipated in many tumultuous historical conflicts and upheavals,
but he never gave the impression of having known the slightest interior conflict. Certainly he had experienced both great
satisfaction and defeat, but he faced them all serenely. While
this equilibrium was probably only external, I like to imagine
that it coincided with his interior dimension. I should emphasise that this serenity made him extremely lucid. Once,
as we were parting, he left me with a quote from Pascal:
«L’humilité est raison d’orgueil pour les orgueilleux». Wise words
indeed, particularly for leaders who need the help of others in
order to do their job. They mustn’t prevaricate, but rather
function as the reference point for their team, for all the in-
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dividual minds and souls of which it is composed. For this
reason I tried to choose my collaborators, not always successfully, from among people I consider more intelligent, more
capable, more expert than me, whose judgment is better than
mine, thus eliminating the problem of antagonism, for I believe that a team functions better when it’s made up of people
who are better at their jobs than the boss is. This is the secret
to success for governments, businesses, countries, municipalities, perhaps even families. To prevent the implosion of social
systems of any kind, starting with the family, one must be
wary of the Cronus complex, whereby initiative is suppressed
because it risks causing an alternative leadership to emerge
that might compromise your own.
Antonio Gramsci (22 January 1891 – 27 April 1937) was an Italian philosopher, writer, politician and political theorist. Founding member and onetime
leader of the Communist Party of Italy.
Giovanni Falcone (18 May 1939 – 23 May 1992) was an Italian magistrate
who specialised in prosecuting the Sicilian Cosa Nostra. He was killed by the
mafia, together with his wife and three of his bodyguards.
Giuseppe Piermarini (18 July 1734 – 18 February 1808) was an Italian architect who trained with Luigi Vanvitelli in Rome and designed the Teatro alla
Scala, Milan (1776-78).
Giulio Andreotti (born 14 January 1919) is an Italian politician of the now
dissolved centrist Christian Democratic Party who served as prime minister of
Italy. Franco Evangelisti (10 February 1923 – 11 November 1993), was a minor
political figure of the Christian Democratic Party.
Mediobanca is an Italian investment bank founded by Enrico Cuccia in 1946
to facilitate the post-World War II reconstruction of Italian industry. Vincenzo
Maranghi succeeded Cuccia as CEO of Mediobanca.
Jean-Baptiste Colbert (29 August 1619 – 6 September 1683) served as the
French minister of finance from 1665 to 1683 under the rule of King Louis
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Endesa, S.A. (Empresa Nacional de Electricidad, S.A.) is the largest electric
utility company in Spain and a subsidiary of the Italian utility company ENEL.
Suez S.A. was a leading French-based multinational corporation, with operations primarily in water, electricity and natural gas supply, and waste management. The company conducted a merger of equals with fellow utility company
Gaz de France on 22 July 2008 to form GDF Suez.
Electricité de France (EDF) is the world’s largest utility company. ENEL,
AEM and Edison are Italian energy providers. AEM merged in 2007 with ASM
Brescia creating A2A.
See note 6.
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Chapter 3
Wherein are recounted strange ironies of fate involving
the descendants of the revolutions and the heirs of the “little
On 24 March 1999, Jiang Zemin, then president of the People’s Republic of China, was received at Palazzo Marino. This
episode gives rise to a number of themes, not least your view of
this ‘new China’ as a great emerging economic power with an
incredible rate of development but little concern for environmental constraints or social rules. And there is also the issue of
respect for civil rights...
First of all, I should mention that Jiang Zemin came to us
in Milan after visiting Rome, where the then mayor,
Francesco Rutelli, later leader of the Unione in the electoral
campaign, had publicly criticised precisely these aspects of
the Beijing regime21. Rutelli’s message, although I don’t
know how accurately, was published in the press. So, in order
to make amends and adopt an approach befitting the first
citizen of the economic capital – or, as I am fond of saying,
mayor of the capital rather than of the Capital – during my
private talk with Jiang Zemin I said that I did not agree with
my colleague’s stance, which amounted to a blanket criticism
lacking in any interpretive merit. While identifying with the
values of liberty, social progress and the safeguarding of the
weakest segments of the population, while defending the
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right to form unions and everything our western world may
claim as achievements, I understood that a post-communist
country such as China was faced with a sort of devil’s alternative: unleashing an unregulated market threatened to brutally wipe out the established system, one that was
considered stable, albeit unjust, incapable of producing development and tending to spread poverty. It was a familiar
scenario, analogous to that of the Russian economy following the collapse of the Soviet Union. But the total and
abrupt abolition of a planned economy in China would have
created momentous problems… especially in a country with
some billion citizens accustomed to a certain lifestyle, a certain discipline. Hence to me the wisest course appeared to be
a synthesis, perhaps painful, between the proactivity of a free
country and the discipline of a dictatorial regime. I understood – without necessarily agreeing with them – the policies
of Jiang Zemin: a progressive course toward a free economy,
a society that would one day also become pluralistic, but in
gradual steps. The immediate granting of full liberties would
have led to anarchy and, given that there are more than a
billion Chinese, to global chaos. After the interpreter had
translated my thought, I caught a flash of gratification in the
otherwise impenetrable gaze of this great mandarin. It was as
if I had grasped the nature of his path. Actually, it didn’t take
a political genius to understand the “devil’s alternative” that
Beijing was facing, and my prestigious guest recognised the
honesty of my judgment. I also observed that the new class
of Chinese leaders had sent a clear message by abandoning
the uniform of Mao’s revolution and adopting western dress.
The youngest in the president’s entourage spoke fluent English. The gradual transition was also manifesting itself in
these exterior signs.
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Let’s return to the double-digit economic growth rates that
could strain our old economies.
The growth in their GDP is certainly impressive, and not
just for the double digits, but because in a number of quarters the first digit was actually a two. Furthermore, the dimension of this economy is underestimated: these figures do
not refer to a village, a district or to cities like Hong Kong
and Shanghai, but to an entire nation. This means that,
within a few years, the composition of the G8 will have to
be reassessed, otherwise we may find ourselves facing apocalyptic scenarios.
Do you recall what Jim Woolsey, former director of the CIA
and father of ECHELON, said about China, off the record, at
a dinner at Morton’s Steakhouse in Washington?
Yes. With an icy gaze, Jim spoke about a military solution
if, by 2012-2015, this country of producers had not also
transformed itself into a country of consumers. This is pretty
much the global challenge, which obliges us to contemplate
the hypothesis of a global conflict if China maintains its rates
of GDP growth, production and exports without accompanying this production with an appropriate distribution of
wealth – that is, by creating consumer demand. And I mean
that not just in terms of consumption of materials, but also
consumption of ideals and thus freedom of thought: in the
end, democracy is a child of the market, which in turn is the
child of the industrial revolution. We might sum it up with
a quip, saying that washing machines produced feminists
and that industrial progress has permitted the spread of lib-
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erty for all. The true revolution, the one that has most
greatly changed the world, is the industrial revolution. Three
hundred years of industrialisation have done more to change
human history than the previous 3,000 years, including,
with all respect, the legacy of Jesus Christ. Now, getting back
to China, Woolsey’s analysis should be seen not so much as
the apocalyptic outcome of this challenge, but as a warning
both for China and the West.
How does the commercial war that goes on every day between
low-cost Chinese products and their western counterparts fit into
our discussion? How do we respond to competition that erodes
our competitiveness and damages, in particular, small and
medium businesses? It brings to mind a dilemma between two
“friends”. On the one hand we have Cesare Romiti saying that
we have to immediately close the gap with other countries by
recognising China, investing in it and creating joint ventures.
This is certainly a sensible approach, since Italy is both technically and politically behind other countries with regards to
China, both as a market and in terms of the delocalisation of
our production. On the other hand we have the grim outlook of
Jim Woolsey. In practical terms, he is saying: either the Chinese
change or, in ten years, we will see the outbreak of a thermonuclear war. Do you see a possible synthesis between Romiti’s positivity and Woolsey’s negativity, or are they incompatible?
You have already given the answer. I definitely see a synthesis, in the sense that Romiti and Woolsey are addressing
the same topic from different standpoints in terms of profile
and focus. One is that of the entrepreneur, the other is that
of the security expert. One is more generous because he is ac-
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customed to taking business risks, the other is more prudent
because he feels obliged to account for undesirable consequences. However, the two analyses are unified by a concept
theorised by Marx and other Marxist philosophers which is
also perfectly valid for us liberals: that of base and superstructure. Economics change society’s rationales. When you
create a demand for well-being without responding with an
adequate supply, a dynamic is inevitably sparked that leads
to the redistribution of wealth. This may come about violently, gradually, in a balanced manner, in fits and jerks or
smoothly, depending on various conditions and complications. So I have faith that, in this “devil’s alternative” I mentioned before, China will also become a nation of
consumers. And therefore it is right to invest in developing
partnerships, promote the internationalisation of small and
medium businesses, and support the investments our entrepreneurs make in such a dynamic territory. Every year in
China a million new and well-qualified engineers complete
their training and then go on to continue their studies
abroad to deepen their knowledge. In Europe we certainly do
not turn out 450,000 engineers a year. This is one example
of a gap that must be closed.
So, luckily, no atomic bombs. The penetration in Europe is
strong both on a commercial level, with low-cost manufacturing
that undermines our own with counterfeited products, and in
terms of the establishment of large Chinese communities in our
cities. The latter is certainly less significant than other waves of
immigration we have experienced, but not completely free of illegality, as explained by the then vice mayor Riccardo De Corato
in a press conference, when he referred to the arrest in Milan of
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Chinese persons involved in prostitution, usury and gambling
rackets. How do we respond to these phenomena?
Again, collaborative economic investment cannot be separated from the need for civil liberty and a sensible distribution of wealth. The two things go hand in hand. When we
want to export capital, we must also export our social mores
so that we can live in a globalised world, where the Chinese
can also enjoy the right to work in competitive conditions.
At this point everything reaches a new equilibrium in a more
harmonious system. There is a field – the Chinese domestic
market – where unfair competition has been observed, because there are no environmentalists, trade unions, worker
protection schemes or workplace safety measures. As our
standards are progressively adopted, this problem will be
overcome. As far as the Milanese context is concerned, the
Chinese have a longstanding tradition of cohabitation with
our city. I would like to mention the founder of Osama, the
businessman Mario Tschang. Tschang came to Italy from
China with his grandfather in the 1930s, I believe. He took
up residence in via Canonica and was the representative for
the housewares division of our family business in the 1950s.
He then acquired and relaunched Osama, a large office supplies company, on the international stage. Now it actually
sponsors sailing regattas. This is the extraordinary characteristic of the Chinese in Milan, and indeed of other foreigners
in our city. Unblinded by prejudice, Milan has this great capacity to take in and metabolise foreign elements. And you
can become Milanese even if you have almond-shaped eyes
– you just have to respect the rules and work tenaciously.
This Mr. Tschang, whom I later met together with the mu-
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nicipal authorities, has become a great successful Milanese
entrepreneur. Of course, compared with the 1950s, there is
a much greater migratory influx today, although this is true
for all nationalities. And with this we have also witnessed a
spread of the conditions often associated with immigration
that foster criminal behaviour. For the Chinese it is a more
autochthonous phenomenon, regulated by internal mechanisms of the community. The effect on society at large is significant but hidden, partially because, like honourable
Chinese, they are alert and smart enough to deal with important things in a more appropriate manner and leave the
grunt work to others. The same thing is not seen with other
groups who are more explicitly involved in predatory crime
and thus more visible, although perhaps less well organised.
Hence our attention and preparedness regarding this phenomenon cannot be relaxed or lowered. But I maintain the
idea that the Chinese community in Milan, while tainted
with some illicit aspects, has a consolidated history of mutualism with our city, not least in topographical terms.
A final thought on your impressions of Shanghai and Beijing
which you visited in November 2005, and in particular, your
memories of the foreign minister, Li Zhaoxing?
I saw a lot of things in China, but the one that made the
greatest impression concerned the effort to bring together
years of planned economy with the market. It was my visit
to CELAP in Shanghai, a sort of public administration academy similar to ENA in France. Initially I had not thought
much of this appointment, considering it a relatively unimportant affair. In reality it turned out to be much more
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meaningful than others in terms of helping me understand
what was happening in China in those years. While limited
in terms of space and time, the visit to CELAP provided a
clear explanation of their way of thinking, their rationale
and strategy. The dean of the university, professor Xi Jie Ren,
whose CV I read on my way to the conference, had been a
distinguished Marxist theorist and, as a result of his doctrinal
erudition, a well-ensconced Party leader. This gentleman had
transformed a school for the Communist Party into a business administration academy for top managers with the goal
of teaching the rules of the market to those who had been
Party bureaucrats, the red mandarins. And he was succeeding
– I found fully competent managers who were open to internationalisation and entrepreneurial processes. The location
was also appropriate: architecture is always a synonym or expression of a civilisation because it synthesises the many figurative art forms and visually expresses a thought, a moment
in social history or a political line. All regimes have made
use of it: from the Roman Empire to the neoclassicism of
Napoleon and Frederick II, and in Italy the umbertine style
of the late 19th century and, later, the rationalist style of the
fascist period. CELAP is a sort of large red desk built by a
French architect, an example of ultra-contemporary architecture of unimaginable dimensions whose legs amount,
more or less, to two of our Bicoccas22. The top of this desk
is composed of an enormous rectilinear volume of glass and
steel in which thousands of future managers are trained. In
short, it is a sort of ark that carries these gentlemen from
post-communism to a market economy. Or, if you prefer,
the vehicle for a new Long March.
Another extremely gratifying moment during my visit
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was my conversation with the foreign minister, who struck
me for his likeability, affability, humour and humanity. He
regretted not being able to read Dante in the original language, having only known it in Chinese translation. He also
surprised me with a number of apt quotes from Boccaccio.
Apt quotes, since they were made while discussing the delicate
question of SARS and bird flu...
We had the thankless task of excusing ourselves for the
decision in 2004 to cancel a performance by La Scala theatre
company in Beijing. But Zhaoxing proved to be very understanding, actually joking about it and making a suggestive
reference to the plague in The Decameron. In the end he was
generous toward our city and, when you think about it, by
receiving me he was paying a great honour to Milan. This
was what I took away from my days in China: the great interest, respect and attention with which the Chinese followed our western example of public administration. It was
interesting to see it in such a distant country, albeit one
which is coming closer to us in many ways, starting with
links between our economies and businesses. This was my
image of distant China, reminding me of a famous film by
Godard, in which distant objectives are filtered through numerous conceptual lenses. And yet, as I was saying, I found
and was able to understand, some years later, a society moving along a well-marked path with their eyes firmly fixed on
the destination, moving at an aggressive pace yet tempered
by a wisdom that embraces history, social practicability and
economic development.
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A great opportunity, produced partially by the civility and
wisdom of the Chinese. What comparison might you make between Russia and China, two countries that have moved or are
moving from a planned economy to a market economy?
There are unquestionably large differences, not least because, objectively speaking, they are countries whose histories are in some respects contiguous and interchangeable and
in others very different. The Soviet Union broke up and imploded traumatically. I was acquainted with the Soviet
Union in that period. Before I had assumed any institutional
role I witnessed what happened in the years of Gorbachev
and Yeltsin, and later I personally visited the Russian Federation of Putin. In China, the transition of the social classes
at the helm of the economy is taking place in a much less
traumatic manner, while nevertheless maintaining unprecedented growth rates. If I have to express my judgment as to
the capacity to govern, I would say that the Chinese have
proven, so far at least, to be far more capable.
Staying in the Far East, but moving to the south-east Asian
countries, a curious event occurred on 30 May 2000: the then
vice mayor of Milan, Riccardo De Corato, received – during the
only meeting where you were not personally present – the secretary general of the Vietnamese Communist party, Le Kha Phieu,
the equivalent of a head of government.
The vice-mayor receiving the successor to Ho Chi Minh,
another great revolutionary of the 20th century, at Palazzo
Marino was a bona fide Dantean contrappasso. But I had to
leave for Moscow to meet with the newly-elected president,
Vladimir Putin, and had made an deal with Riccardo: I
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would undertake the mission to visit Lenin’s heir and he
would meet with Ho Chi Minh’s. There was a scent of history in the simultaneous occurrence of the two meetings and
the centrality of Milan and its representatives. I found the
moment gratifying not only because of my boyish love for
films shot in Vietnam such as Apocalypse Now, but also because the reception of Phieu in our city demonstrated just
how hospitable and open to the world Milan is. Furthermore, both meetings were tinged with irony. De Corato, like
me, had never dreamt of participating in one of those antiAmerican demonstrations against “imperialist” U.S. expansionism. Given our sympathies, which are no secret,
Riccardo and I had even fantasised about receiving our guest
wearing cufflinks from the White House. For obvious diplomatic reasons we refrained from doing so. In truth, those
meetings represented a double contrappasso: in Moscow, I,
the former president of Federmeccanica – that is, the principal representative of the owners of Italy’s heavy industries
and historical adversary of workers’ unions – received nothing less than the Order of Lenin, transformed into the more
innocuous Order of Friendship. In Milan, De Corato, exmember of the Italian Social Movement, later regenerated
and transformed thanks to Fiuggi mineral water – and I say
that with warm respect for an incomparable collaborator –
received, in his institutional capacity, the most important
heir of the Charlies. I came to the conclusion that the cold
war had truly ended23.
Let’s dwell a little longer on Saigon and talk about another,
almost paranormal episode: your visit to the Vietnam Veterans
Memorial in Washington.
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I would not hesitate to define this event as paranormal,
and it left me quite perplexed at the time. It is hard for me
not to attribute some supernatural message to it. I was walking that day in front of the very long monument that commemorates and celebrates over 50,000 Americans who died
in Vietnam. At a certain point, a member of my staff said:
“Let’s see if there are any Albertini.” I turned around and, as
if drawn to those names engraved into the black stone, I
pointed them out immediately. This was the first surprising
moment. The second was that the two I had picked out,
James, nicknamed “Jimmy”, and Joseph, who went by “Joe”,
were born on the same day, 30 September 1947, and were
more or less my age. They died, about four months apart, at
the end of 1967 and the beginning of 1968. How do you
explain the extraordinary fact of stopping and finding, right
there at eye level, two names out of 50,000? Even though
the stone is black and the names not easily read, we register
a series of messages in our subconscious, and then perhaps
we get a flash of illumination.
What else do we know about these Albertini?
Our research turned up touching and analogous stories.
Obviously both were Italian-Americans, young students
shipped off to Vietnam. One came from California, the
other from Massachusetts. They were born on the same day,
and both were corporals in the army. Jimmy was killed in
action and Joe died because he stepped on a land mine.
This story can be thought of as a coincidence. But it is
also linked to another thing that happened one summer
when I spent a few days of vacation in Selva di Val Gardena
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as a guest of the Carabinieri24. As I was returning home, I decided to follow the “wine road” through the Trentino. As I
passed through a small town, whose name unfortunately escapes me, I decided to stop and look around. I paused in the
main square in front of the monument to the fallen in the
First and Second World Wars. There was a list of names, all
German except for two that were Italian. And they were both
Albertini. I didn’t check their birthdates, but if they had both
been born on 30 September I might have believed it was a
sort of omen… perhaps of the date of my own death… 30
September of some upcoming year which, like “1947”, has
digits that add up to the prime number “3”: 2010, 2019,
2028, 2037…
Let’s get back to the institutional meetings, and more specifically those of 2 June 2000. What occurred in the Great Hall of
the Moscow Conservatory?
Let me start with events leading up to the encounter with
Vladimir Putin, newly-elected president of the Russian Federation, and that will frame it. I should point out that they
gave me the stimulus, shortly thereafter, to make the proposal that would melt the icy gaze of the former head of the
KGB for the German Democratic Republic.
In that period, something had happened that had a negative impact on relations between the Italian prime minister
Massimo D’Alema and Milan. I had called him to propose
a visit, either by myself or with Cardinal Martini, to ask that
the offices of our control agency, improperly called an authority, of the Third Sector (also known as the Voluntary Sector) be located in Milan, since the city was the capital of
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non-profit world activities. I envisaged housing the central
agency in the noble space of Palazzo Carmagnola, and had
given the issue much thought. Unfortunately, due to resistance from the government in Rome, it did not happen. At
the end of May I left for Moscow, having been informed by
the Russian ambassador Nikolai Nikolaevich Spassky, that I
would be meeting with the successor to Lenin and Stalin.
And so I had the idea of putting a small plan into action as
a sort of response to that institutional – and, if you will, also
personal – “slap in the face” from Palmiro Togliatti’s successor25. D’Alema at the time – and this is perhaps another paradox of history – did not seem to realise that the entire
communist system had fallen along with the Berlin Wall.
At this point, another one of those contrappassi occurred,
thanks to the invisible hand of market justice. On the plane
I was trying to come up with something to say to Putin to
convince him of our good intentions and the gratitude and
recognition for the great honour he granted to our city and
to those who govern it by receiving me in Moscow and then
choosing Milan for his first visit abroad as president.
The Russians, so careful in diplomatic affairs, must have had
a big thorn in their side to choose a meeting with the mayor of
a centre-right city as their first encounter with Italian governmental institutions.
Certainly, but we also have to recall that there is a great
and longstanding tradition of economic and cultural exchange with our city. Putin also wanted to send a message of
support to Berlusconi. At that time, Milan was like the River
Jordan of John the Baptist, a sort of outpost for all those who
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foresaw the Advent. And so there was also this investment in
the future, a bit like the letter to George W. Bush.
Of which we will speak a little later.
So, getting back to the contrappasso, I really liked the idea
of giving Russia what had been refused by Rome. Although
I was greatly disappointed that neither the offices of Consob
nor the authority for the voluntary sector would, for now, be
set up in the palazzo of the Count of Carmagnola, a Renaissance adventurer. As mentioned, on the evening of 2 June
we were at the Moscow Conservatory for a concert by the
Scala Philharmonic, impressively conducted by maestro Riccardo Muti. Putin, thanks to the kind efforts of Ettore
Volontieri, was courteous enough to invite me backstage,
where I found him with his wife and an interpreter. I was
accompanied by the Italian ambassador, Giancarlo Aragona.
Putin struck me as a man with an inscrutable, nearly expressionless mien. I was a bit awed, because my previous experience with this type of encounter was limited, in truth, to a
few films. Plus, he had just been elected and was largely unknown. The situation reminded me of John Le Carré’s Karla
trilogy. In any case, the message reached me that the president wanted to meet me and had some thoughts for me and
for Milan. Hardly pausing for breath, Putin announced that
four days later he was coming to town. I responded formally,
saying that I could not find the words to express my gratitude for having been received, and especially for the announcement of his imminent visit. Precisely because I was
not able to find the appropriate words, I decided I would
express myself with a deed, in keeping with the Milanese
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style. I offered the Russian Federation a public, municipal,
renovated building in the historic centre of Milan to serve as
the premises for a foundation whose task would be to represent and promote the Russian economy. It was a way to relaunch relations between our two countries. At this point,
while I was speaking and the interpreter was translating, I
noticed that this impenetrable visage was undergoing a metamorphosis, to the point where, once I had finished, I found
a completely different person in front of me. His face had lit
up. All my preconceptions – Lenin, Beria, Karla – had vanished and I felt I was with a carefree, cordial student with a
broad, open smile. He said incredible things. In spite of the
fact that my proposal flouted protocol – it was the first time
I had mentioned it and the ambassadors Spassky and Aragona had not been informed – he immediately understood
that it was a genuine offer, an authentic and heartfelt gesture.
He said, “It is something I completely agree with, and I
thank you. I feel this is a sign. Since my time as vice-mayor
of St. Petersburg, I have loved Milan. I will give immediate
orders to the foreign minister to ensure this proposal is pursued.” A week later, the letter arrived containing their acceptance of the constitution of the Fondazione Italia-Russia.
This goes to show that sometimes the tsarist, and later communist bureaucracies, the ones we are accustomed to reading
about in their great works of literature, are not all that bad.
Even from dusty files, languishing like dead souls, a flash of
brilliance may spring forth.
So the Tsar acted with an edict, an ukase, the music changed
and everyone started dancing to his tune?
That really impressed me. He didn’t consult with anyone,
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and yet the thing was pursued. Such speed complicated
things more for us than for him, because we were the ones
who had the problem of keeping our end of the bargain, getting a renovated building ready and available in just a few
months. But we succeeded, and in March 2001 we inaugurated the new offices of the Fondazione Italia-Russia with
the Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov in attendance, who
honored me with the Order of Friendship, formerly the
Order of Lenin.
On 16 June 2000, in the Sala Alessi of Palazzo Marino, an
event took place that brought together Putin and Italy’s most
important entrepreneurs.
The press conference was televised all over the world. Just
15 days after his election, Putin came to Milan because he
wanted Italy and Europe to understand that, unlike his predecessors, he would preside over economic legality. When he
laid out the economic conditions and his plans for reform,
I was struck by how fitting his words were for the milieu and
style of the conference. He wanted untainted capital to flow
into Russia and capable entrepreneurs to hear him, and here
he was addressing the most appropriate of audiences. When
he made a reference to Rosario Alessandrello, top manager of
Technimont and future president of the Fondazione ItaliaRussia, we were all struck by his personal approach. He said,
“Alessandrello is also our friend” and I turned toward
Rosario and thought, “Alessandrello, who are you?” I still
kid him about this because the proclamation took everyone
by surprise. Getting back to Putin, he made a pledge that,
under his guidance, his country would recover an economic
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liberty compatible with post-communism, without making
any concessions to illegality, organised crime, certain oligarchs or those cliques, perhaps originating in his own secret
service, who had handled the shift to post-communism in
the unscrupulous way we are all familiar with.
I spoke with Gianni Letta26 during Putin’s conference and
he told me that he had been impressed by the fact that the
Russian president had given orders that only the mayor of
Milan, and no other authority, would appear in the television broadcasts… sure, a bit behind and hidden, but still visible. From a human point of view, Putin confirmed my first
impressions: he had a dual personality, capable of implacable
determination and iciness, marked by ontological cynicism,
but he also expressed genuine humanity, generosity and
openness depending on the situation and whom he was talking to. It seemed that two different people lived in one, but
they cohabited within well-defined rules, something physiological rather than pathological.
During this speech, some of your colleagues were playing
with the famous Russian ‘red telephone’, placed in a room not
far from the admiral who had the attaché case containing the
codes to the Russian nuclear arsenal.
Yes, that was another amusing episode… because later we
also found the room with the admiral. We even took pictures. Then as a joke, someone referred to one of my favorite
movies, Dr. Strangelove, where the American president,
played by Peter Sellers, has an absolutely hilarious phone
conversation with his Soviet colleague:
“Dimitri, look, […] I guess you’re just going to have to
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get that plane.” We tried out the buttons on the phone.
“What’s this button for?” someone said. “Wow, it’s actually
Washington…”, said another. We were having great fun,
open to this new experience without prejudice or precendent. For just a moment we were immersed in a spy story.
And there was another amusing and paradoxical detail:
Putin’s microphones didn’t work, which was rather disconcerting considering that we were in the Italian capital of
So you were awarded the Russian Order of Friendship and
then, a few months later, you were made a Knight of the British
Empire. How are these two honours reconciled?
First, I would like to use my three encounters with the
leaders of China, Vietnam and Russia as examples of Milan’s
most defining characteristic: it is a city that manages to be
successful in spite of all the biases and tensions that divide
human souls. Milan is capable of taking in, metabolising and
putting to use the different expressions of history, economics
and society. Being the workshop for Italian trends, Milan
cannot draw back from indulging its curiosity to know, be
known, take in and integrate.
This brings to mind, by association of ideas, the fact that
Sergio Cofferati was made a Knight of the French Legion of
Honour. He had not yet been elected mayor of Bologna and
was still the secretary of the CGIL27. Stefano Parisi proposed
that I send him a warm note expressing my opinion that it
was right and proper that he received the highest honour
stemming from the French Revolution, while I, harking
from a slightly more conservative sphere, was dubbed Knight
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of the British Empire. This habit of recalling the honours
pinned to my breast is obviously a joke. There are those who
collect toy soldiers; I amuse myself a bit with medals. It is a
form of self-mockery, a conscious and playful vanity.
To conclude our exchange about the president of the Russian
Federation, may I ask your impression of Mrs. Putin, Ludmilla,
whom you met on two different occasions?
Ludmilla Putin: our paths first met on that “historic”
evening in June 2000 backstage at La Scala with her husband. She gave me the impression of being a very modern
woman compared with other wives of Soviet and post-Soviet
leaders. In brief, she looked like a woman who could easily
have been the first lady in some western country. She is quite
a connoisseur of music. We spoke about the conductor
Valery Gergiev and about the Putins’ cultural interests, with
Riccardo Muti also joining in the conversation.
In September 2000 maestro Gergiev was honoured with the
Ambrogino d’Oro and his friendship with the Putin family undoubtedly encouraged the president’s fondness for Milan.
Yes, he was one of the “ambassadors” of this friendship. At
any rate, I noted a strong bond between the presidential couple and the complementary role played by Mrs. Putin: she
did not stay in her husband’s shadow, nor did she overexpose
herself. She was a companion, the wife of a head of state, capable of fulfilling her role with poise and balance: a fitting
amount of public exposure and enough private life to suit a
woman who is not a queen, but the wife of a president. Her
cultural and musical interests indicated to me a very cultured
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woman. I met her again some years later in Milan. It was
June 2005 during a programme of cultural exchanges between Milan and Moscow. That was followed by an event at
the Piccolo Teatro with a speech by the then education minister Letizia Moratti and by Berlusconi’s personal secretary,
Valentino Valentini. The Russian children were performing
the story of Pinocchio. I made a bet with Mrs. Putin on that
occasion: I said that I was introducing her to the future
mayor of Milan, Letizia Moratti, and she promised that if
this turned out to be true, she would return to Milan in
homage to the city’s first woman mayor.
One more person, also quite unusual: the mayor of Moscow,
Yuri Luzhkov.
He was a truly unique figure. The first image that comes
to mind is that of Nikita Khrushchev, whom he physically
resembles, and although I never met the Soviet leader personally, I imagine them sharing the same mannerisms. In the
film Enemy at the Gates, there is an actor who plays the
young Khrushchev, then a political commissar during the
battle of Stalingrad. Luzhkov gave me the same impression:
a capable interpreter of Leninist duplicity, able to adapt to
situations that must have conflicted with his own cultural
and ideological background. In his youth he had been an orthodox communist, a technician of large state companies, I
believe. During Putin’s electoral campaign for the Kremlin
there had been some differences of opinion that Luzhkov
brilliantly glossed over. Thus I considered him a man of great
ability. There was an apparent lack of style in his appearance
that he recovered in dialogue, revealing a lucidity, wisdom,
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astuteness and thorough knowledge of the instruments of
power and the main dossiers of a mayor. Let us not forget the
consensus he managed to obtain and the works he achieved
in a metropolis such as Moscow. It cannot have been easy to
hold at bay the unscrupulous interests of both western capitalists and the new bourgeoisie of the oligarchs. Lastly, he is
a man with a great flair for communication and a love of
sport. Let me just mention the numberless soccer matches in
which he took part, including the one against the Palazzo
Marino team, captained by our city commissioners, or his
driving a Ferrari on the Monza track or his plunge each winter into the Moscow River. He called to mind – and I say
this with warmth and admiration – a walrus: his physique,
his courage, his waistline and an impressive cardiovascular
Francesco Rutelli, MP (born 14 June 1954) is an Italian politician and current
president of Alliance for Italy.
The theater of Bicocca aka ‘Teatro degli Arcimboldi’ was inaugurated by
Gabriele Albertini in 2002.
The Italian Social Movement (MSI), later Italian Social Movement–National
Right (Movimento Sociale Italiano–Destra Nazionale, MSI–DN), was a neo-fascist and, later, national-conservative political party in Italy formed in 1946.
The party was dissolved in January 1995, at the conference of Fiuggi, in a famous thermal bath location.
The Arma dei Carabinieri (Corps of Carabineers) is the national gendarmerie
of Italy, policing both the military and civilian populations.
Palmiro Togliatti (26 March 1893 - 21 August 1964) was an Italian politician,
the leader of the Italian Communist Party from 1927 until his death in 1964.
Gianni Letta (born 15 April 1935) is an Italian politician, member of the
Forza Italia party.
Sergio Cofferati (born 30 January 1948) is an Italian politician, and has been
secretary general of the trade union CGIL and mayor of Bologna. The Italian
General Confederation of Labour (CGIL) is a national trade union, influenced
by the Italian Communist Party and its successors.
Mayor X ALE
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Chapter 4
Wherein it is discussed whether the heirs of Julius Caesar
still live in London.
In this chapter and the next, we will address the Anglo-Saxon
world. And I would like to begin with its most authoritative representative: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. We could say that
you are one of her faithful subjects, having been honoured with
the title of Knight Commander in the Most Excellent Order of the
British Empire in October 2000.
Queen Elizabeth’s visit was a truly meaningful moment: it
was the second visit during my tenure of a great head of state
to Milan. I had prepared for this encounter with some trepidation: notions of protocol, no questions, absolutely no physical
contact and other things as well. It all turned out to be quite
complicated, but we soon realised that the Queen was perfectly
affable and in no way a stickler for ceremony. Not at all in line
with all the advice given to me the previous day. When I received her at the entrance of La Scala, she greeted me with
spontaneous enthusiasm. The master of protocol introduced
me as the mayor and president of La Scala. Her Majesty expressed surprise at the coexistence of the two roles. The same
surprise was even more evident in Prince Philip, who is perhaps
unaccustomed to doing several jobs simultaneously. The prince
made a spirited quip when he saw Minister Enrico Letta, who
had met his plane a couple of hours earlier at the airport28. I be-
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lieve he said: “So now you’ve been promoted to minister of culture” (previously he had been introduced as minister of industry). Another priceless little episode occurred as we entered the
royal box and one of our entourage told the prince consort that
he would be sitting next to the Queen. Philip responded,
“How surprising!”, as if to say, never in my life have I actually
been next to the Queen, but always one step behind. Fantastic! I
cannot hide what a unique moment that was for me, standing
next to this head of state, the hereditary queen of the British
empire, and listening to the two national anthems. This was
followed by a beautiful performance, with music that was both
sober and solemn, quite fitting for the circumstance. Afterwards we headed for maestro Muti’s dressing room. In the entrance corridor, I had enough sense to block our guests’ view
of some photographs hanging on the wall showing damage suffered by La Scala during the World War II. In the tiny space of
the maestro’s dressing room – as it was before the restoration
of the theatre – the Queen conversed with the conductor, received the gift of a book, and met the Muti family. At a certain
point, I uttered the phrase I had been practicing in my poor
English, offering to withdraw and leave the sovereign alone
with the maestro. With subtle expression in her eyes and words
to the effect of “It isn’t necessary, you may stay”, the Queen
again exhibited her innate grace. I believe that she also meant
to thank me for my discretion, my desire to withdraw and not
take up space, since I had already had my time with them.
I witnessed the same manifestation of regal grace the following day – and have a beautiful photograph of the event –
in Piazza San Fedele when we went together to greet the children at the British School of Milan. The students were waving
the Union Jack and among them was a young girl who was in-
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sistently asking questions and addressing the Queen in a discourteous manner. And so, while the Queen consented to
shake hands with other students, she ignored this rude child.
At that moment I understood the truly authentic quality of
Her Majesty, something I had also perceived in her appreciation of the performance at La Scala. She had said, “Thank you
very much indeed for this lovely evening.” The following day,
she came to Palazzo Marino and I met her in Piazza della Scala,
where I showed her the recently restored pavement. Entering
the palazzo, I told her something of its history and who Marino
had been: a merchant who came to Milan, made his fortune as
a banker and then became the main liaison with the Spanish
aristocracy. I explained how, over the course of the centuries,
the palazzo had become a seat of city government. Another
small anecdote that merits mention was a gift we made to her:
a 19th-century reproduction of Leonardo’s drawings. She responded by saying that she would have kept it among the dearest gifts in her collection. Then I learned that the royal library
of Windsor has Leonardo’s most important originals!
I introduced her to an array of authorities, including Silvio
Berlusconi and Roberto Formigoni, president of Lombardy. In
Berlusconi’s case, we were making a bit of an exception to protocol, taking a bit of political license so to speak, because he
had not yet become prime minister and was still the leader of
the opposition. We then went to the Sala Alessi, where all the
city’s notables had gathered, ranging from members of the city
council to the many British residents of Milan29. It was quite
a large crowd, everyone was standing and the situation probably corresponded little to protocol. I felt a bit embarrassed at
the time, not so much for possible security problems, but
mainly for questions of decorum. But the Queen shook hands
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with nearly everyone in spite of the buzzing voices and the large
number of people present. And this is precisely the stuff of
kings: the capability to gracefully adapt to less-than-ideal circumstances. A word for everyone, an exchange of cordialities.
Then the Prince of Edinburgh arrived, after his visit to the
Agusta-Westland helicopter factory. I was struck by the simplicity of the Queen’s questions: “Was it tiring? Did you see
anything interesting or amusing?”
“Yes, rather,” responded Philip, “Now we are going to visit
the Prefecture.”
“Everything is fine here,” replied the Queen, “The atmosphere was most cordial.”
This brief exchange revealed the intimate, almost bourgeois,
everyday dimension of the British monarchs.
I wanted to ask about two other occasions involving the royal
family: a more recent encounter with Prince Andrew and then the
visit to Saint Paul’s cathedral for a service to honour the Order of
the British Empire.
Three things struck me about Prince Andrew. First of all,
the firmness of his handshake and the speed with which he
climbed the stairs, showing the physical prowess of an athlete.
He is a prince, a soldier and a sportsman. I think he is also a
body builder or, at any rate, dedicated to fitness. I believe that
as a young man he was a helicopter pilot and he has conserved
that physique. In the evening, at a dinner hosted by the British
Chamber of Commerce, he produced a series of quips, exhibiting his highly refined British humour. I was also surprised by
his curiosity and competence in issues of urban transportation
and traffic. He was well informed regarding the congestion
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charge, although tending to oppose it. We exchanged opinions
on the issue and I told him that I had visited my colleague, the
mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, a few days after the inauguration of the new city hall designed by Norman Foster, with
Andrew’s august mother in attendance.
We will get back to Livingstone’s congestion charge and also
Foster’s work. But what was Prince Andrew’s comment regarding
the invitation to La Scala?
I have always been amazed at the oratorical talents of the
British ruling class, despite the interspersion of a studied form
of stuttering, something Indro Montanelli explained to me.
The great Indro told me that there are actually British clubs
where, in order to be accepted among the ranks of excellence,
one has to learn how to stutter. Or better, assume the most natural yet affected demeanour possible. This all serves to avoid
embarrassing or contradicting one’s interlocutor. Hence the
recommendation to begin your phrases with a “Well, I
don’t…” In short, there is always a sort of gurgling in the diction in order to not seem contradictory. Regarding the prince,
he began by saying (more or less): “Yes, it is my pleasure to be
here at the 80th anniversary celebration of the Chamber of
Commerce. It was kind of you to invite me. However, I cannot
deny that I am also here this evening to thank the mayor for
having found the time to receive me today. He also invited me
to opening night at La Scala. A few months ago they invited
my mother, who could not come. Then they invited my
brother, who also could not come. And now here I am in Milan
and I too have been invited to opening night at La Scala: and,
surprise, I too cannot attend. But just to get an idea, I asked to
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visit La Scala. I was told it was not possible because the conductor was rehearsing and the renovation work had to be completed on time…” Hence, what threatened to be a gaffe led
instead to a moment of great wry wit and good cheer. On the
face of it, it might have seemed a form of protest, a complaint.
Instead it was an elegant way of poking fun at their protocol
and ours, with a level of style and taste befitting a true British
prince. It was a great lesson.
Let’s talk about the ceremony in Saint Paul’s cathedral in May
First of all, that cathedral is a pantheon of the heroes that
populate literature and cinema: the sacred resting place of
Wellington, Montgomery and Mountbatten, not to mention
Kitchener and Gordon of Khartoum. In short, the entire
British Empire is there. And this leads to my first thought:
from the industrial revolution to the World War II, the British
Empire has represented a civilisation that can only be compared with the Roman Empire. It did not endure for such a
long time because, in the modern world, the succession of
events is much faster compared with the millennial progress of
ancient history. With technological progress, society evolves at
an extremely rapid pace. My grandfather watched an American
put his foot on the moon on live television, while as a child he
read in the newspapers about the first flight by the Wright
brothers. In just 60 years, technology made all this possible.
The rule of the proletariat had been announced as an “everlasting institution”, to be compared with the Catholic church,
and instead it lasted 75 years, less than the Albertini company.
The millennial Reich fell after 13 short years.
The history of the British Empire was written on the tombs
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and monuments in the cathedral. With those persons, that
aplomb, that solemn, unhaughty pride, without any ostentatious display, but almost liturgical in style, the secular and religious aspects intermixed with extraordinary perfection and
class. And I, a non-British, proud of my badge as Knight Commander of the British Empire, which other Italians scorned as
worthless foreign coinage, was an emotional participant in the
silences and harmonious singing. There were 2,000 people expressing the unity of the British Empire in one harmonious
choir. Sure, this was an elite; I did not notice any Manchester
United hooligans. But it allowed me to understand what it
means to be proud of one’s empire and its civilising effect on
the world. The pride of being there and being what they are.
At the same time you could feel the respect for common manners, how one behaves at the table or in church, how one
moves or queues in the underground. Perhaps respect for accepting a limit to one’s own freedom or power as an individual,
to one’s autonomy, in favor of the collective good, as happened
in the case of the congestion charge, and identifying with this
sign of the civility of the empire. Since this last principle is universal, or in any case associated with western civilisation generally, I did not feel at all out of place. I am Italian and have
nothing against my roots. I believe Italy is a marvellous country, but if I had to choose a nationality other than my own, I
would like to be a British citizen. It would give me a feeling of
certainty, even more than if I were German or American. Even
though now we might say that the correct translation of civis
romanus sum is “I am American”, the British civilisation is a
much deeper one. Hence, on that occasion, I felt sincerely
moved. It was a true privilege to be able to take part in that
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Let’s talk about the congestion charge, a measure that was not
implemented in Milan, where instead a pollution charge was preferred.
Given that he represents the left, Livingstone paradoxically
applied, in true British style, the most important of liberal
principles. He began by regulating parking for residents, street
by street, using referendums to assess public support, especially
agreement for the principle that the small amount of available
space in the centre of town should be paid for. The new mayor
of Milan could have implemented a congestion charge; we had
prepared the entire setup to allow it. Our electronic traffic control system, costing 192 million euros, for which we received
financing of 23 million euros from the EU, makes it possible
to monitor access to the city and how traffic is channelled
through it. A very modest investment would have allowed
Letizia Moratti to institute a congestion charge or an “access
charge” at the most suitable access points around the circle of
the Bastioni30. However, prior to reaching this decision, it
would have been opportune to make a number of preparatory
steps: a parking plan, regulated parking in all neighbourhoods,
parking charges to residents and the enhancement of the public
transportation system. Borrowing the model applied in London would have brought, as Mayor Livingstone explained it to
me, at least three positive outcomes. First of all, in keeping
with the basic criteria of political economy, the use of a financial lever to influence behaviour that was either to be promoted
or discouraged. It would thus be made clear and agreed that the
use of a scarce resource – such as space, or one such as air that
is abused to the point of becoming unhealthy for the city
dwellers because of pollution – should be regulated by a charge.
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This way we would discourage damaging behaviour and receive
some kind of indemnity for it. And this would not be an
episodic thing, like traffic-free Sundays or the even-odd license
plate measure, but a permanent and structural solution. The
second benefit would be improvement in public transportation
made possible by the income from the charge. It would have
paid for a kilometre of new subway line per year. We had calculated, assuming an access charge of three euros per vehicle,
proceeds of some 100 million euros per year to be invested in
the development of the public transportation system. The third
and last effect is that of the immediate reduction of urban traffic congestion and air pollution.
I have three good reasons for asking you to comment on three
other issues: it is curious and paradoxical that good ideas can be
shared despite conflicting ideologies, given that “Red Ken” Livingstone, mayor of London, made no mystery of his political credo;
the second regards the thought that something like a congestion
charge perhaps works in London because the British are more respectful of rules than the Italians; the third regards your impression
of the place where you met the mayor, the new town hall designed
by Norman Foster.
“Red Ken” gave me the impression of being a wise and determined man, and one who had the solution in his pocket.
Indeed, the polls showed public opinion shifting from predominantly hostile to predominantly supportive (from 60-40 to
40-60 percent). He explained that public opinion changed
when Londoners understood what was being done with the
money coming in from the “access tax”, and thus grasped the
liberal rather than dictatorial aspects of the measure.
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Regarding the second issue of the attitude of the British,
what you say is true: although it should be mentioned that the
approach taken to regulating city parking, while somewhat authoritarian, also contained participatory elements, because the
proposition that parking would be regulated on your street, in
your neighbourhood, was put to a referendum among Londoners. Precisely because people were convinced that the principal would be enforced, the majority of residents voted in
favor of paying for parking in exchange for the reasonable certainty of being able to find a parking place for their cars. If
something has a value, it is right and proper that it be paid for.
It would have been a disaster to force residents to pay for parking if they were then unable to find parking places because the
prohibition against non-residents was not enforced properly.
Lastly, Norman Foster’s town hall. The Queen inaugurated
it and we were the first foreign delegation to visit it, as Livingstone told us. Of all the architects I have known, Foster is the
one who has made the strongest impression on me both as a
person and for his architectural style. I find the way he conceives space wonderful, the way he uses such modern and innovative tools and materials with unfettered creativity and a
keen sense of efficiency. He is almost more engineer than architect. His skyscrapers are vertical cities, where advantage is taken
of winds and incoming radiation to produce energy and create
the best possible living conditions. Then I saw the London stations, which are absolute beauties. And I mustn’t forget his
masterpiece, the Reichstag in Berlin, which embraces a century
of history: the fire, the signatures of the Soviet soldiers and finally the modern part. At the entrance we were greeted by our
friend Schily, the German minister of the interior, who acted
as our guide.
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Getting back to the congestion charge, the psychological attitude
of the Milanese was rather different from that of the British. There
was heated opposition almost immediately.
Yes, and below any acceptable level of common sense. They
did not even want to consider it, they did not want to discuss
the issue and thus we squandered the only real possibility for
addressing the problem of traffic. In modern metropolitan
areas, you cannot resolve the problem of scarcity of space by
taking refuge in a distant time, that of the good savage, that is
not even a real piece of history. In Italy, some have an atavistic
aversion to industrialisation and progress. They do not take
into account that industrialisation and progress have eradicated
plagues, famine and illiteracy. This is not even Marxism, but
pre-Marxism. And in any case it is a mindset that is not confined exclusively to the left. These people do not understand
that the complex phenomena of industrial and post-industrial
urban gigantism can be governed using equitable and reasonable methods, that it is possible to live with development. Development is deleterious if poorly managed, but if resources
are directed to measures that compensate the damage, we can
go forward without being forced to erase the reality in which
we now live.
In those nine years, you also had the chance to meet both John
Major and Tony Blair, two residents of Downing Street.
Meeting Major, the heir of Margaret Thatcher, in a restaurant cannot have been a matter of chance. In the dispute with
the Milan traffic police, we were inspired by the privatisation
carried out by the “Iron Lady”. We imitated her intransigent
determination in opposing the striking miners in Wales.
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The meeting with Tony Blair was not a chance event either,
given that in August 2004 you spent an entire day as the guest of
the Strozzi Guicciardini with whom the British prime minister
was staying on holiday.
Yes, and I was able to get to know him more intimately precisely because he was in his summer version. That encounter,
facilitated by Ambassador Vento, a neighbour of Princess Irina
Strozzi Guicciardini, is memorable for the friendliness of the
guests and the delightful setting in a Tuscan park of rare beauty.
And it is also memorable for the prime minister’s affability,
forthright cordiality, lucidity and ability to grasp the simple
essence of things. Just a few days earlier, he had been a guest of
Berlusconi in Sardinia, and was in fact there when the famous
episode of the bandana took place. I often smile at Blair’s story
of his arrival by boat. He saw people on the dock waiting to receive him. He was still too far out to recognise faces, but he
noted one in particular, not particularly tall but physically robust, with a bandana on his head. He initially thought it was
a bodyguard, then thought that it might be someone else, before finally distinguishing the features of the prime minister,
exclaiming “Oh my God!” under is breath.
What did you talk about over breakfast with Blair?
Different things. There was the Iranian question that saw
our government and the British allied in the effort to convince
the United States to take a less intransigent position. The elections had not yet occurred that would usher in the extremist
current president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
I was also struck by the vivacity of Blair’s son, his intelli-
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gence, alert gaze, and the efficient bodyguard who followed
him like a shadow. Blair’s naturalness also impressed me, that
of a world leader who would later be reelected by a wide margin. At the same time he had a very informal mien, much more
spontaneous than Clinton or Schröder.
Of the four world leaders who unfortunately suffered terrorist
attacks at home – Bush, Aznar, Putin and Blair – the latter is the
one who sent a message to his people that was both more serene
and more intransigent. There was none of Bush’s agitation, Aznar’s
collapse, or Putin’s iciness. It was a masterpiece of political communication in an emergency. But perhaps this too is natural for the
British. Just think of Winston Churchill’s statement at the height
of hardship, in the summer of 1940: “We shall never surrender!”
Blair interrupted the G8, held a press conference, and returned to London. In one of the most tragic moments for the
West, he found the poise to explain to his people, using all the
media at his disposal, the values of western civilisation and how
they can never be bent by terrorist attacks. He masterfully exorcised the true power of terrorists. It is not the dead, but the
fear they generate that empowers them. The death they bring
to our children, while painful, is insignificant on a military
level. The professionals of death, the great dictators of the 20th
century, killed millions while the victims of terrorist attacks are
but a handful. However, they have a devastating effect on people’s minds, on our habits, on our most delicate neurons, that
single square millimetre of our brain that conditions our fear
response. Think of the withdrawal of the Spanish forces, of the
weakness of spirit exhibited in some segments in Italy. Blair
wielded the tools of information in the best way possible. And
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he promised a response, finding the British unified in accepting
it. And to think that, prior to the attacks, the majority were
opposed to the war.
Enrico Letta (born 20 August 1966) is an Italian politician.
Sala Alessi is the main hall of Palazzo Marino, the seat of the Milan City
See note 10.
16° albertini X
Pagina 1
1. With Pope John Paul II (June 1997).
(© L’Osservatore Romano)
16° albertini X
Pagina 2
2. With the President of People’s Republic of China, Jiang Zemin
(March 1999).
16° albertini X
Pagina 3
3. With Vladimir Putin (June 2000).
16° albertini X
Pagina 4
4. In Moscow, with the Philarmonic Orchestra of La Scala, with
Michail Gorbacev and Maestro Riccardo Muti (June 2000).
16° albertini X
Pagina 5
5. With Queen Elizabeth during HM official visit to Milan
(October 2000).
16° albertini X
Pagina 6
6. With the Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, in Piazza San Pietro at
the ceremony for the Ambrosian Jubilee (4 November 2000).
(© L’Osservatore Romano)
16° albertini X
Pagina 7
7. Ceremony for the celebration of the 140th anniversary of the
Milanese Police Force (2001).
8. With Adriano Galliani, Carlo Ancellotti and Paolo Maldini on their
return from Manchester as victors of the Campions League (May
16° albertini X
Pagina 8
9. With Ehud Olmert, then Mayor of Jerusalem, during his visit to
Milan (November 2000).
16° albertini X
Pagina 9
10. At the World Business Forum, Gabriele Albertini bestows
honorary citizenship on Rudolph Giuliani, Mayor of New York
(October 2004).
16° albertini X
Pagina 10
11. With Queen Rania of Jordan (March 2006).
16° albertini X
Pagina 11
12. A Letter from Queen Rania of Jordan.
16° albertini X
Pagina 12
13. Gabriele Albertini with the certificate stating that, on 26 March
2006, together with Lieutenant Colonel Mauro Gabetta, he took part
in the flight of an F16 of the Italian Air Force and broke the sound
14. Take-off from Cervia air-base on board an F16 of the Italian Air
Force (21 March 2006).
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Chapter 5
Wherein are narrated various and sundry encounters with
the sentinels of global security.
In early 2001 during a mission to Washington, you delivered
a letter from Silvio Berlusconi to President George W. Bush and
met with Stephen Hadley, then national security advisor to the
White House. What were your impressions of Washington, the new
imperial capital?
It is no coincidence that Bush was born in July like Julius
Caesar, even if it was on the 13th and not the 6th. Facetious
comparisons aside, the United States and the pax americana
now unquestionably represent what, 2000 years ago, the
Roman Empire stood for. I went to Washington with the intention of meeting the heads of the new administration. A
friend of mine, Michael Ledeen, who has not unfortunately
enjoyed good press in Italy, had promised to get me into the
White House and he did. I entered the West Wing carrying
Berlusconi’s first letter to Bush31. I was the first ambassador –
or I should say, the first postman – of what became the new
Italian government just a few months later. Berlusconi’s missive
made reference to Bush’s compassionate conservatism. The
thing that most surprised me about Hadley was his tiny office,
almost a cubicle. However, it was in the White House and occupied by a man who was very close to the president. Yet again,
in the trappings of power, Anglo-American sobriety contrasted
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with Latin pomp. The other thing that surprised me was an
ultra-thin monitor, a sheet of aluminium and plastic just a few
millimetres thick, on the National Security Advisor’s desk.
Other than this object, there was nothing in the architecture,
furnishings or dimensions that hinted at his level of power: the
form did not coincide with the substance. It was thrilling to
walk through the West Wing, and it conjured up a host of
movies that showed the same light, the lampshades, the carpeting and the cream-colored walls. The atmosphere was
warm, almost homey. There was a discreet presence of military
personnel, especially marines.
A pilgrimage was also undertaken during your stay, because in
addition to the Vietnam Memorial, about which we have already
spoken, you also visited Arlington Cemetery, the Lincoln Memorial
and Congress.
Yes, and during my stay I also met Jim Woolsey, former director of the CIA under Bush senior and then with Bill Clinton, to consult with him about the lingering controversy of the
Argentine airports.
But let us focus on Clinton’s chair, the chair in the Hall of Congress on which he sat while Congressman Henry Hyde conducted
the interview about the Lewinsky affair. I would like to ask your
thoughts on the Clinton story and on certain strange aspects of
American democracy. Nixon lost the presidency because he wanted
to bend the rules of the electoral process by spying on the Democratic candidate George McGovern, while Clinton managed to
save himself by a hair for having lied about a sexual relation. This
democracy seems at once so strong and yet so fragile, and certainly
vulnerable to the strong influence of the media.
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Precisely. The United States remind me of a diamond, the
hardest material that exists, one that can scratch the most tempered steel but at the same time is also the most fragile, in the
sense that while it cannot be scratched, a hammer blow will
disintegrate it. Other materials adapt, they are ductile. They
do so in different ways, and other nationals adapt to the implacable norms of democracy. In any case, I am of the opinion
that as long as America steadfastly adheres to these rules, we
have reason to believe in this system. And we can do so because
the American system, unlike our own, forges statesmen, not
petty politicians, people who work for the upcoming generations and not for the next election. Both the Clinton case and
the analogous one, again of a sexual nature, of Gary Hart, teach
us the importance of sincerity. Senator Hart lost his chance to
become president and Clinton risked impeachment, being
saved by his lucky star and by the fact that the US economy
was going strong thanks to his policies. And this was the reason
why, as an exception, he survived and was forgiven in spite of
the fact that he lied about adultery in a deeply puritan country.
An Italian asks himself what, after all, is a little lie about sexual
matters? For Americans, sincerity is the seal of assurance on
presidential power, of a strong and concentrated leader. This is
the head of the executive branch, a person who is not elected
by the Senate or by Congress, but directly by the people. It is
a guarantee for humanity, given that we are talking about the
leader of the world’s greatest power. He can intervene in affairs,
and pass or veto laws, and thus absolute integrity must be demanded of him. When we are talking about the most powerful
man on earth, any infraction, even the smallest, cannot be allowed. If Gary Hart tells a lie as a candidate, it means he cannot be trusted when he will have to be perfect. It is like arriving
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late for a job interview with a disorganised CV, bad breath and
a dirty tie.
Our democracy entrusts politicians with far less responsibility, perhaps because in Italy trust is out of the question by principle. It is a typically Italian equivocation, where we take it for
granted that a politician or administrator also has to be a man
who attends to his own affairs, manages things, finds ways to
get what he wants, and so we give him less power to prevent
him from doing too much damage. And then when we have
proof that he has not behaved impeccably, Italians turn a blind
eye. It happens here in Italy that someone is found guilty of
crimes against the public administration and after a few years
we have him back on stage as if nothing happened, even in the
same role as before. A democracy such as that of the United
States, on the other hand, has a more rigorous, tougher,
stronger character, and is less amenable to compromises.
This is probably also connected with a different religious ethic.
At any rate, sitting on the chair where President Clinton sat while
being questioned must have been a memorable experience.
I am reminded of the Carmina Triumphalia: when Caesar
passed by after victory in battle, his legionnaires joked about
his sexual relations with the king of Bithynia. His best soldiers
said that “the queen of Bithynia” was passing. This type of
comment was tolerated only in times of triumph so that the
gods would not become envious of the emperor’s glory. The
jokes that were told about Clinton in those years were a sort of
latter-day Carmina Triumphalia.
It seems that Hillary forgave him in any case. Perhaps partially
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because she wanted to become senator and had her sights on the
White House. Puritanism may be tempered by considerations of a
practical nature.
My grandfather had a saying in dialect that we could translate more or less as: “If the Lord didn’t forgive the sins of the
[trouser] fly, he’d find himself alone with the Virgin Mary”.
While you may be disappointed that you did not get to meet
George W. Bush, we must not forget that you did have the privilege
of having breakfast with his father, George senior.
It was one of my very first meetings with someone at the
level of head of state. And to think that he was the man behind
the first Gulf War! I met him in Carlo De Benedetti’s private
residence in May or June 199832. The former president was
visiting Milan and I had the privilege of sitting on his right at
table. I thus had the chance to exchange ideas with him. In my
halting but comprehensible english we talked about Ronald
Reagan, a man whose speeches I recorded and from whom I
learned much. I confess that I was and have remained a fanatic
for his capacity to govern. I consider him one of the greatest
presidents of the United States. With his determination and
inexorable, unwavering adherence to the liberal ideal, he was
able to defeat Soviet-style communism. Reagan was the only
one who made us consciously aware of the values of liberty and
of a market economy. He helped us understand that in order
to create a society of free people, to make democracy prevail
over dictatorships, one could and should threaten to resort to
“star wars”. If we won the cold war, we owe it as much to him
as to Pope John Paul II. Fortunately, of course, on the other
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side we had Mikhail Gorbachev, who, intelligent man that he
is, understood the game was lost as a result of the implosion of
the Soviet system. Sure, Reagan’s attitude was a bit cowboy.
When asked why his staff didn’t wake him up when a Libyan
plane was shot down over the Gulf of Sidra, he responded, “If
one of our planes had been shot down, yes, they’d wake me up
right away. If it’s the other fellows, why wake me up?” In substance, Reagan had the strength to stand up to the evil empire
at a time when it appeared to be spreading all over the world,
after Vietnam, with the invasion of Afghanistan and a 1,000
other provocations. This vigorous resistance by the United
States was essential for defeating the Soviet Union. Something
that was supposed to be a great ideology that would endure
through the millennia, like the Catholic Church, collapsed in
a matter of weeks, from the Romanian revolution to the
breaching of the Berlin Wall. And to think that some in the
Catholic Church itself had believed in the ability of communism to mould people’s minds. Instead it was all a grand illusion. In the 1970s there was this desire to believe that our
enemy was like us; we granted him dignity, recognised him as
eternal, and this helped us remain consistent in our actions.
But Reagan and the gentlemen of the US intelligence community, of which Bush senior was an esteemed representative,
helped us unmask this ruse.
On this subject, many wonder whether the world really is a
better place, in terms of both global security and economic stability,
now that the Cold War has ended. When the Iron Curtain was
still in existence it was unlucky to be born on the other side, but,
especially in the more conservative sectors of both sides, some maintain that this counterposition served to stabilise the system, to sub-
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due the darker and more nefarious forces of politics, society and
the economy.
Just as the undesired side-effect of industrialisation is pollution, the side-effect of the end of the Cold War, and the end
of the nightmare of total thermonuclear war, is the loose “balls
of mercury”. The concentrated powers are so many and so varied they cannot be traced: terrorists, oligarchs, international financial criminals, former secret service agents. All can
transform themselves into security threats, with attacks of great
and bloody impact, as we saw with the Twin Towers. But these
are nevertheless anomalies that we might define as market
anomalies, and we no longer face the risk of a thermonuclear
war that would put us back in the Stone Age.
Let’s go back for a moment to your impressions of the meeting
with Bush senior.
When I shook the hand of this elegant man, the first thing
that struck me was his class. He gave the impression of being
a gentleman as well as an oil magnate. He had something special that could not go unnoticed, and it had nothing to do with
the fact that he had been president of the United States. With
his broad forehead, sharp and cordial gaze, he had a special distinction. Reginald Bartholomew, who was not yet ambassador
to Italy at the time of the First Gulf War but part of the presidential staff, recounted an episode to me. Saddam Hussein had
invaded Kuwait and a decision had to be made as to how to respond. We have to imagine a meeting at the White House with
all the advisors, ministers and generals, a meeting in the style
of Dr. Strangelove. Everyone states his or her opinion: this has
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happened, we are a great power, we have obligations to the
planet, after the end of the Cold War we have effectively become the world’s police force, an international law has been
violated, etc etc. However there are also those, like the secretary
of state, who make observations regarding the incendiary effects of a conflict between American foreign policy and the Islamic world: the presence of US soldiers in the Gulf would
spark a reaction from extremists. In short, the question is raised
as to whether it is opportune to intervene or not. And then
there are some advisors who gauge the repercussions of intervention on the economy and development in terms of the price
of oil. Lastly, the military advisors have their say and, paradoxically, they are the most strongly opposed, since it would be up
to them to do the “dirty work” and suffer the highest costs in
terms of human lives. And so they emphasise the level of
weaponry of Saddam’s army and the logistical difficulties in
occupying a territory the size of Iraq, as big as France with 30
million inhabitants. After everyone has had his or her say, the
onlookers expect a decision from the leader and look at him:
Bush has listened to everyone, taken notes and asked for further explanations. There is a pause when no one speaks, then
the president thanks everyone, commenting on their contributions and finally declares that he wants to do just the opposite, explaining the ethical reasons for the intervention and
stating that there is a destiny for nations just as there is for
men. There are moments when a nation cannot shrink back
from a higher calling. Especially in this case, when the fundamental right of a small country has been violated. This anecdote gave me the impression of Bush senior as a meditative,
alert, scrupulous and mannerly person who does not need to
raise his voice. He reminded me of a timid man like Harry Tru-
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man, who, in spite of a host of dilemmas, had the strength of
spirit to drop two atomic bombs and thus end a world war.
And so I remember him as an “ethical” leader. At the end of our
conversation, he informed me of the physical condition of Reagan, of his debilitation and the fact that he no longer recognised anyone, except his wife Nancy. It was, in fact, close to
the time of his death. Bush senior considered himself a sort of
dauphin to Reagan, letting transpire a deep sadness and sense
of friendship.
A further thought: the Reagan-Bush coupling is very interesting
because, in spite of the fact that they were part of the same system
and political party, they had quite different personalities. One was
an actor from Hollywood, a man always ready with a quip, a propagandist; the other was a gentleman and oil magnate who had
had an important career in the CIA, with an analytical and
thoughtful personality. However, one gets the impression that it
was precisely Reagan’s charisma and talent with the media that
Bush lacked in the 1992 election against Clinton.
I fully agree with your analysis. In the days of Reagan, a
magazine was published that read “Why is this man so popular?” on the cover. The United States had found in him a way
to exorcise the wounds of Vietnam and, thanks to this great
communicator, they succeeded. Reagan, instead of just reciting
other people’s lines, was the actor of his own scripts. Or better,
he believed intensely in his simple, essential, defining, nonchaotic values and gave the impression not of a doubtful intellectual, but of responding like a common man, an observer of
reality who was fully aware of day-to-day life. The other was
more intellectual, more cultivated, better educated, more man-
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agerial and perhaps somewhat less authentic. When I was getting ready to take my first steps as mayor, British minister
Claire Short advised me to “have a hard head and a big heart”.
If you swap the adjectives around – a hard heart and a big head
– you err politically. A big heart is the ability to comprehend,
to open up, to know, to listen, to be generous even with one’s
opponents, whereas the hard head corresponds to willpower
and determination. Bush senior owed his defeat in the election
against Clinton to a diminishing authenticity and to some
doubts that he had let grow. In the early phase he had had the
lucidity, rationality and determination to make war, but not a
big enough heart for the aftermath, to be understood during
the subsequent phase. Perhaps it was because he was president
more by trade than conviction, because he was a professional
rather than because it was his passion. He lost because he
lacked the balance of a man with convictions, the appearance
of authenticity. It may be that Reagan was also a bit of a tradesman – an actor in his case – but at least he believed in the part
he was playing.
Let’s move on to someone else, a friend who is not loved by
everyone in Italy: Michael Ledeen, former intelligence consultant
in Italy, known for having translated the conversation between
President Ronald Reagan and Bettino Craxi33 during the Sigonella
crisis after the Achille Lauro hijacking34.
Again, I would like to make a reference to cinema: anyone
who has seen the film La piazza delle Cinque Lune cannot help
but note the resemblance, both physically and in terms of personality, between Michael and the character Murray Abraham.
Michael is a bottomless pit of historical knowledge, and it is
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not just scholarly knowledge, but also based on direct experience, particularly so in Italian history because of his involvement in the Moro case, Sigonella and other events. We were
introduced to him one day and he revealed himself very useful
in unravelling the Argentinian airport mess. He is a fascinating
and well-educated man; he has written, among other things, a
very good book on Machiavelli. With his allure as a member
of the intelligence community and his contacts with the Republicans in Washington, he charmed us, alternating between
sweeping designs and succulent bits of gossip. In 2000 and
2001 he established relations with Italy, some in the name of
the new Bush administration, with the future majority here.
In the final analysis he allowed the establishment of good contacts, such as those with Hadley and Woolsey. When I turned
to Indro Montanelli, whom knew Michael because he had
worked for Il Giornale, for some advice on the man, the great
wise man of Italian journalism smiled good-naturedly and
spoke of him as a pleasant person with whom it was always interesting to talk, precisely because he had stimulating intellectual and human gifts. But he finished by saying that he was
undependable, not in the sense of a negative character trait or
a man who posed some sort of danger, but because he was a
man with so many different contacts that “at times he risked
forgetting who he was working for at any given moment”.
That’s what Montanelli said. For example, the first trip I took
to Washington that Michael had organised was a curious affair.
The interviews with a series of local newspapers were never
published and I never received copies of the photographs and
videos taken at Arlington. All this gave me the feeling that he
was preparing a big fat file on me. Who knows?
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You may have realised it at the time, but perhaps you were
under examination…
Yes, I think it was precisely something along those lines. I
was especially struck by a strange interviewer and interpreter in
his office. My feeling was that they wanted to understand with
whom they were dealing, a sort of psychological analysis. And
the same thing goes for those photographs I never received.
And they never even let me know if I passed the test. Even if
we have been in touch less in recent years, I still have a positive
memory of Michael.
While we’re on the subject of the United States, could we add
a few brief thoughts on Rudolph Giuliani’s successor, the magnate
Michael Bloomberg?
To me, Bloomberg does not have Giuliani’s charm, even
though I found him quite likeable for his qualities as a businessmen and his personality. After our talk, he gave me a book
on his life with a nice dedication. He gave me the impression
of being a colder man than Giuliani, apparently more rational.
Whereas, as I said before, I found in Giuliani a man of values
and strong ethics, Bloomberg evoked more the aspects of a
manager, an entrepreneur, a very practical man. This is clearly
a consequence of their different backgrounds: the first is the
investigating magistrate that took on organised crime, the second is an extremely wealthy communications businessman – a
sort of New York Berlusconi. I happened to meet him again in
Athens during a gathering of mayors of large cities. However,
I cannot say that I see in him the teacher I found in Giuliani.
I should add that the qualities of Giuliani’s leadership as mayor
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were recently confirmed by a series of New York real estate entrepreneurs, who told me that in his time there was a greater
push toward development, while, paradoxically, having a great
entrepreneur at the helm of the metropolis has not brought the
same impulse with it.
The articles were referring to the pending decision to redevelop
large areas of the city, and in particular the harbour area.
Once again, determination, hard-headedness and big-heartedness are the guarantee of success. The other mayor is more
of a manager, more pragmatic, a broker of interests without
such a strong political vision. So I am not surprised that there
is some grumbling now. A man with a strong consensus and
credibility can afford to do things quickly and directly, while
others, especially if they are business-people, have to negotiate
every step and are perhaps more subject to conditioning because they have interests that hold them back. But I can understand how difficult it is to compete with a giant, especially after
the tragedy of the Twin Towers, where Giuliani demonstrated
the full depth of his charisma.
Let’s go back to the 2000-2001 season, the final period of the
Ulivo government. It was the eve of the political and administrative elections of 2001 that put you into your second term as mayor
and that brought national victory to the Casa delle Libertà. It was
a victory for the centre-right in Milan that was almost plebiscitary,
with Albertini in a certain sense the spokesman of Italian international policy for the following five years. In 2000 and 2001, you
met people of the calibre of Jiang Zemin, Putin, Elizabeth II and
had a close brush with George W. Bush. Do you believe these gov-
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ernments were sending a signal of discontinuity with the out-going
Ulivo government in Rome?
One can unquestionably read the sequence of events in that
way. Ambassador Spassky came to Milan way in advance to announce that President Putin planned to visit our city and meet
with the business community under a centre-right government,
and as the guest of an entrepreneurial mayor. As Ford might
have said, he came to talk with capital and illustrate his theory
of business, in the noble sense of the term. By explaining that
he would guarantee free initiative and internationalisation,
Putin staked his bets on our administration as a forerunner and
paradigm of the imminent Berlusconi government. After that,
Prime Minister Berlusconi’s relationship with Putin was characterised by significant interpersonal dialogue and highly cordial and collaborative exchanges. In their first meeting, as
recounted to us by Ambassador Aragona in Moscow and by
Valentino Valentini, Putin cited the experience of the Fondazione Italia-Russia. And at the White House too, in spite of
modest opposition by ambassador Salleo, probably more
aligned with the centre-left, we received disproportionately
grandiose treatment for a simple mayor.
So, in this case as in others, it was an act of diplomacy that was
justifiable from a political standpoint, but certainly not standard
In any case, we succeeded, because the letter from Berlusconi made it to Bush, who in turn responded. That was the
signal we were looking for. If we had adhered to protocol, I
would only have met with the mayor of Washington or New
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York. Perhaps there was some luck involved, or maybe someone
wanted to invest in us. A few days ago I saw The Last Emperor
again, in which a fabulous Peter O’Toole plays the British tutor
of the young Son of Heaven. The international community
has always invested in future leadership, in part intentionally
and in part circumstantially. But I believe that luck and pluck
are often intertwined in the history of people and peoples. The
sun of Austerlitz helped Napoleon’s artillery men to take aim,
exactly 200 years ago, while at Waterloo, Emmanuel Grouchy’s
forces were mired in mud and prevented from intercepting the
Prussians, in spite of the fact that the battle had been brilliantly
planned by the emperor.
Sun and mud. How does this relate to the heads of state who
came to visit Milan?
Putin chose to come. Jiang Zemin was in Italy and asked to
make a visit to Milan. The same is true of Queen Elizabeth II.
Perhaps all of this came about partially because of the rules of
international economics. My only regret is not managing to
meet Bush junior, even if I did have the chance to chat with his
Michael Arthur Ledeen (born 1 August 1941) is an American specialist on
foreign policy.
Carlo De Benedetti (born 14 November 1934) is an Italian industrialist, engineer and publisher.
Benedetto (Bettino) Craxi (24 February 1934 – 19 January 2000) was an
Italian statesman, head of the Italian Socialist Party from 1976 to 1993 and
prime minister from 1983 to 1987.
Craxi is also remembered for the Sigonella affair of October 1985, when he
refused the request by Ronald Reagan to extradite the Palestinian hijackers of
the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. The PLO group was responsible for the
murder of an American citizen, Leon Klinghoffer.
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Chapter 6
Wherein it is recounted how sometimes, when wandering
the desert, one stumbles upon a pillar of wisdom.
In your nine years as mayor of Milan you met Queen Rania of
Jordan four times and her husband King Abdullah twice. It must
have been quite an experience, given that they are the heirs of King
Hussein of the Hashemite monarchy, which descends from the
caliphs of Mecca and therefore from Muhammad himself. The
young royal couple have succeeded in reconciling the values of Islam
with a modern view of society, and the Queen is helping to recast
the role of women in the Arab world.
Queen Rania came to Milan in 2002 for fashion week and
a conference organised in collaboration with the Italian Centre
for Middle Eastern Peace, the participants of which included
Letizia Moratti, then minister of education. The conference
dealt with the role of women in Western and Islamic societies,
and Her Majesty had assumed the role of ambassador for this
movement of modernisation, civilisation and expansion of
horizons. She is a fascinating woman in every way, and I say
that with all due respect. When I received her at Palazzo
Marino, there was a great horde of photographers and camera
crews calling out her name as if she were an actress expected to
flash her best smile, at which point I said, “Please, Her Majesty
is a queen, not a pop star”. I was rewarded with a royal smile
for my attempt to safeguard the dignity of her position. Media
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folklore aside, I saw in her a keen intelligence and an extraordinary love for her country. She had truly generous words to
say about Milan, and reiterated them the following day in an
interview with Antonio Ferrari of Corriere della Sera, who was
perhaps the catalyst for our city’s friendship with Jordan. The
Hashemite monarchy has forged a position over the years as
being loyal to the Islamic cause in the broadest sense, while
also being rigorously protective of its own security and absolutely unsympathetic towards fundamentalist terrorism. This
has enabled it to preserve its dignity and ensure its appurtenance to the cultural and religious ideals of a civilisation with
modern values that almost the entire world shares. During the
Queen’s stay in Milan, she attended the fashion shows and met
with economic and political leaders. I had the opportunity to
show her how an international city, populated by citizens from
all over the world, can function as a forum for dialogue at
many levels – economic, cultural and religious. I told her about
my trips to Palestine, we talked about Israel, and I expressed
our city’s desire to represent a small but significant piece of the
western world on the global stage. As in the past with other
leaders such as Putin, I could see that the Queen understood
that she was dealing with someone she could trust, at which
point she put aside protocol, lowered the customary protective
barriers, and our discussion became genuinely confidential. Afterwards there was a reception at Palazzo Reale with the most
important Milanese fashion designers. That was when I made
her promise that she would return to Milan to be awarded honorary citizenship, which she did in September of 2005.
You also met with her in July 2003 at the World Economic
Forum in Amman, where you were received by King Abdullah.
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Yes, that was quite an interesting experience. As you know,
and obviously I say this with a certain degree of facetiousness,
I am a ‘collector’ of civic honours and knight’s crosses from all
over. I am particularly proud, however, of having received the
Grand Cordon of the Order of Istiqlal, meaning ‘freedom’. If
I’m not mistaken, the first foreigner to receive this honour was
T.E. Lawrence. The King tied the Grand Cordon around me,
while my staff composed ribald rhymes with the Italian ‘cordone’. Horseplay aside, there was nearly a diplomatic incident
involving the Italian ambassador to Amman, Stefano Jedrkiewicz, who had informed us that for reasons of protocol,
and not out of any ill will or desire to be polemical, he did not
feel he could attend the award ceremony, as it was supposed to
be reserved for heads of state, or at the very least for those who
had accomplished something significant enough to merit being
considered a peer of His Majesty. That still amuses me.
A bit like the Collare dell’Annunziata, which gave its wearer
the right to vaunt the title of ‘cousin of the King’. Evidently the
ambassador felt you didn’t deserve it35.
He felt it was inappropriate that I receive such an honour,
perhaps because it had not yet been bestowed upon our president. Anyway, it was given to me, and it brings to mind an exquisite gesture of royal grace on the part of Queen Rania. I was
brought into the hall of the hotel where the ceremony was to
take place, escorted by the royal couple, the King by my side
and the Queen on his left. Before us was a vast window
through which the afternoon sun streamed – directly into my
eyes. With barely a glance, the Queen summoned a member of
her entourage and, with a minimal gesture that was instantly
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understood, indicated that the curtain should be moved so as
to protect me from the sun’s glare. The graciousness they
showed me while I was their guest was rare indeed. I had cars
that drove me all over the country, complete with military escort.
What impression did you get of the King as a person?
A fine young man who became a fine young king, one who
is making an effort in the Middle East that few others are making. Let’s not forget that he is a former officer of the British
army’s Second Armoured Battalion. With his energy and education he has managed to forge a strong character distinguished
by intellectual honesty and clarity of mind. He stands firmly as
a bastion against terrorism. We had a chance to talk about his
pastimes, and planned a visit to Milan so he could try an
Agusta helicopter in Varese and a Ferrari at the Monza circuit.
The following day you crossed the Jordan River at the Allenby
Bridge and went to Jerusalem, lodging at the American Colony,
but they didn’t give you T.E. Lawrence’s room.
I still envy Aldo Scarselli, the head of my Cabinet at the
time, who was able to enjoy that privilege. The great Aurans
Iblis, or “Lawrence the Devil”, as the Arabs used to call him,
has always been one of my heroes. A truly unique man who
led an amazing life; a figure of such genius, determination,
mystical conviction and capacity to get things done that he influenced the history of the world. With minimal means and
only his ideas, he succeeded in moving an entire people, like a
pebble bringing down a mountain. When he felt himself be-
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trayed by the western powers at Versailles, he retired to private
life, in part out of respect for Abdullah’s great-grandfather,
King Faisal.
In March 2006 you had one last chance as mayor to meet with
Abdullah and Rania in Amman, in March of 2006.
We had established a close friendship by that point, and I
was received in the royal residence. They were very attentive
during the meeting, and reiterated their trust and friendship
with Milan. They understood how much our city had invested
in promoting dialogue and working towards peace. They were
also interested in understanding the kinds of synergies that
might grow out of the process of urban development in
Amman. The Queen asked if we would be willing to share our
management and development models in the field of urban
planning, acknowledging the fact that Milan is at the cutting
edge of architecture and also engineering services. I communicated this request to the new mayor, Letizia Moratti, who welcomed it. The choice of Jordan as the beneficiary of our aid
and knowledge was a strategic one, insofar as Jordan is a moderate and well-governed nation. I was impressed by the excellent legislation that His Majesty passed with regard to tax
exemption for certain production areas and the reduction of
import duties for goods coming in from neighboring countries
– including Palestine – which are then re-exported to the
United States.
We should give credit to Antonio Ferrari, a reporter from Corriere della Sera, for having consolidated this friendship with the
Jordanian royal family.
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That’s true, he was essential. I owe the privilege of having
been brought into that friendship to him. He’s a great journalist, for whom none other than Indro Montanelli had words of
high praise. It was with genuine conviction that I bestowed on
him a well-deserved Ambrogino d’Oro.
So the mayor who described himself as an “apartment building
manager” nonetheless enjoyed privileged relationships with international statesmen. Yet at the beginning of your first term, your
image was closer that of Forrest Gump, for example when you
ended up by chance in that discussion with Bill Clinton and Helmut Kohl.
With the modesty that I was taught and which I strive to
practice, as Raymond Barre said, I am reminded of Jesus’s response when John the Baptist asked, “Are you the one who is
to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus exhorted John to
look around him at all the miracles of the world. Without beating around the bush, and hoping that God has a sense of humour, considering that as an alumnus of the Jesuits I should
take inspiration in Him, what I mean to say is that, in the end,
we are remembered for what we accomplish. Regardless of
what the scribes may have smeared onto their news pages, it is
my deeds that will be judged by posterity. And this holds true
for the international relations I cultivated in those nine years.
After having described myself at the beginning of my mayoralty as an ‘apartment building manager’, I can now point out
with both humility and pride the results I obtained during my
two terms. Obviously, as a citizen of Milan, I hope that the
same if not greater results will be achieved by my successors.
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Your years at the helm of the city corresponded with major international upheavals, not least the epochal change in the West’s relationship with Islam. As a member of the European Parliament,
you voted in favour of Turkey’s entry into the EU. After 9/11,
Milan drew attention, sadly, as a logistical base for Islamic radicalism, which was effectively dismantled by Stefano Dambruoso36.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the way things are going?
My view coincides with that of one of my teachers, Cardinal
Carlo Maria Martini. He spoke to me about the decades, not
years, that will be required to quell extremism and join the path
to peace and serenity in the Middle East and the rest of the
world. I strongly believe that this story will have a positive outcome, but the road that leads to this brighter future is long,
and history must be allowed to run its course – think of how
long it took for the totalitarian ideologies of the 19th century
to fade. Today in Europe, we’re all part of a single homeland,
but our fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers fought
on opposing sides. There was perhaps no more ferocious battle
during the World War II, both in terms of propaganda and
ordnance, than the one between Italy and Great Britain. And
now look at us. The conflicts of the 19th century amounted to
a European civil war, now we are united. It is my hope that the
same thing will eventually happen between the West and Islam,
though hopefully it won’t take as long. This process can begin
in our cities, which host every ethnic group and every religion.
Milan is an open city, a new city, curious to understand and
participate in the world; a city populated by the kinds of people
who, beyond what they produce economically, act from a position of conscience and awareness. Integration can and will
happen in Milan. But in order to remain true to the ultimate
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goal, subversion and violence must be suppressed and defeated
by cutting off the economic and organisational resources of
those who promote terrorism. In short, concede parum, nega
saepe, distingue simper – concede rarely, contest often and distinguish always.
During your first trip to Israel and Palestine in July 2000, you
were unable to meet with Yasser Arafat because he was at Camp
David with Ehud Barak, negotiating a treaty that eventually
failed. In compensation, you met Abu Mazen at the Mukata’a, a
man who could be called moderate..
Arafat’s successor received me as a representative of the city
of Milan. He told me first of all that, despite the conflict that
was underway and Hamas’s recent victory in the Palestinian
elections, it was essential that western aid continued to come
in at local level. He also emphasised that, while there was a
subversive element in the governance of the Palestinian territories, the ANP could not be left on its own. The alternative, he
explained, would be civil war and the expansion of terrorism.
Once again, the words of Cardinal Martini came to mind: if
you want to resolve a conflict, you need the help of a balanced
man, one with both wisdom and vision. At the meeting’s end,
President Abu Mazen presented me with a bottle of oil made
from Palestinian olives using the Italian method. I understood
then the challenge faced by a suffering nation that nevertheless
wished to compete in the global market, asking for assistance
and training from the West. He told me that he would try to
ensure the smooth assumption of responsibility for governing
the country by Hamas, but should they fail to rise above that
childhood disease otherwise known as extremism, their inabil-
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ity to govern would be exposed, new elections would be held
and Hamas would lose. All on the absolute condition that
peace would be pursued and that the state of Israel would be
recognised. There was then a departure from protocol, of
which I was witness, when Abu Mazen expressed his hope that
his friend Olmert win the Israeli election.
Nemer Hammad was also present at that meeting, a man well
known in Italy, now political advisor to President Mazen...
A intriguing person whose face reveals his sharpness of
mind; someone who can alternate between loyalty and a certain
opportunism. But yes, he is a great friend of Italy.
You met with Shimon Peres on two separate occasions, in 2000
and 2006. The first time was just a few days after he had lost the
presidential election. What were your impressions of that first trip
to the Holy Land – in the Jubilee Year, no less?
The encounter with Peres came at an odd moment, since I
was there to visit both Israel and Palestine and harboured an ardent hope for future peace. I told him that Milan, and more
generally the Italian economy as represented by our city, could
make an important contribution to development in the region.
He was instead convinced, wrongly, that the distribution of
wealth would exorcise the hostility, and that everything could
be resolved by satisfying basic material needs. Instead, hostility
and need were the premises behind the violence of the second
intifada and the suicidal fundamentalism of Hamas’s actions
in the months that followed. It seemed that, along with the excessive utopianism of Peres’s noble view, a new relationship be-
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tween the two communities was emerging. The same ideas had
come out of the meeting with the governor of Ramallah, who
happened to be a relative of Arafat. There we inaugurated
Milan Square, right in front of the city hall, which a few
months later would unfortunately become the tragic scene of
the lynching of two Israeli soldiers, killed and then thrown
from the window of the police station.
That was in October 2001.
Exactly. Just a year earlier we had been so hopeful, not because of any naïve enthusiasm, but because of what they were
telling us. I’m sorry that the square we designed and rebuilt, in
partnership with the Politecnico di Milano, became not a symbol of reconciliation as we had intended, but a theatre of
tragedy37. I had thought that a regeneration was taking place.
Perhaps I had allowed myself to be distracted by the Jubilee
Year, which for me lent a mystical air of holiness to the area. I
agree entirely with what Cardinal Martini told me two years
later in Jerusalem: the Holy Land is a strange place, where all
of the critical risks for a tragic future are present, and all of the
opportunities for a positive one. It should be a place where different civilisations, different histories can coexist; a place where
the world’s principal monotheistic religions can all have their
centre, and for that reason get along with one another. At the
same time, it is the paradigm of humanity and eternity. What
distracted me was the desire for peace that appeared to come
from both sides. When I met with representatives of the PNA,
everyone expressed their interest and enthusiasm for cooperation projects with Milan Fiera and SMAU. The Israelis gave
us the same impression, mindful of their greater production
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capacity and formidable stature with regard to technology and
R&D. I thought that a dialogue between the two cultures and
a stable peace might be achieved through economic well-being,
but instead it was base prejudice that prevailed. Deprivation
and humiliation were the driving forces behind what happened
subsequently, leading people to foolishly sacrifice their own
lives. I find it tragic that a man who chooses to die with a bomb
around his chest believes that this is his highest moment, when
in fact it is merely the confirmation of defeat. During all those
meetings, the only person who expressed any perplexity was
the mayor of Tel Aviv, my friend and colleague Ron Huldai,
who predicted a less rosy future with great clarity.
So it was Huldai who expressed himself lucidly, while Nobel
Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres was lost in an excess of optimism.
Yes, but his optimism was connected to what was happening around him. During that meeting I had the feeling that he
was preparing himself for the presidency of the state of Israel.
He had a great vision, particularly with regard to the thorny
issue of the status of Jerusalem. He saw cities as concentrations
of civilisation in the broadest sense, and believed that it is in
cities where individuals, cultures, nations and religions can get
to know and appreciate each other without clashing. Given
that he was talking with a mayor, he emphasised the urban
question, but in truth his vision was larger, strategic and historical, determined to re-evaluate what went on in his own country. His optimism was that of a man who wanted to be called
to a higher cause. He spoke of peace in the Middle East as
something within immediate reach, and perhaps he dreamt of
overseeing it as president. Apart from this, Peres is a man with
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all the experience, knowledge and credibility that comes from
decades in politics at the highest levels. For this reason, I interpreted his optimism as something he sincerely believed possible. He was like a man who watches from the height of a tower
and believes in the march of civilisation, which advances regardless of the men doing the marching. It was not blind optimism, but hope and vision. Huldai on the other hand – and
I would say the same thing about myself – was not much more
than an administrator, someone more grounded, with a more
direct perception of reality. I was nonetheless fascinated by the
depth and substance of Peres, both times I met him. Emanuele
Fiano, then city councillor and president of the Jewish community in Milan, now a member of Parliament, was with us at the
time. He was truly moved and “proud to be with Peres and to
meet the great architect of peace”.
Then Peres lost the presidential election by a handful of votes to
the conservative Moshe Katsav, whom you met on several occasions.
The fact that Peres didn’t reach the presidency then but two
years later doesn’t necessarily mean that his prophecy was less
valid. Perhaps it will still come true. And perhaps, as I said earlier, we should expect a wider and longer road to peace. If a
man shares and interprets the will of the people, like all great
statesmen he will realise the dreams of the nation he represents.
You met Peres again in March of 2006 in a political context
that had changed quite a lot since your first encounter five years
earlier – domestically with the birth of the new Kadima party,
and internationally with the global terrorism offensive. This gave
him a more realistic perspective.
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This time I realised the extraordinary extent of his lucidity;
he was no longer grooming himself for the presidency. Moreover, his relationship with Ariel Sharon, and perhaps the fact
that our delegation was not exactly leftist, made him more realistic. I was no longer standing before a statesman, but a wise
governor. This detachment – and I hope if he reads this he
won’t take it the wrong way – made him much more authentic.
I could see his pragmatism when he spoke of investing in moderate Arabs, particularly Abu Mazen. Peres met with him and
told him that the western world mustn’t withhold its support
for moderate Palestinians, specifically the men of Al Fatah. A
message that mirrored Abu Mazen’s expression of support for
Kadima. Unwittingly, or perhaps not, we were used to carry
this exchange of messages. To sum up, the Peres I met in 2006
was extraordinarily realistic, clear-headed and open-minded.
We should point out that you were one of the first Italian politicians, certainly the first from the centre-right, to visit the Yad
Vashem holocaust memorial and the Hill of Remembrance in an
official capacity.
That was surely one of the most moving experiences, along
with my visit to Auschwitz, that I remember from my travels
abroad as mayor of Milan. Yad Vashem makes a profound impression – the hall with the starry sky that represents the souls
of the children who died during the Holocaust is extremely
powerful, like the site at Auschwitz where the clothing and
crutches of crippled children are assembled. Six million people
were exterminated for the declared purpose of eliminating their
race, not because they were hostile or dangerous or even because they represented a conflict of interests. I still don’t under-
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stand the insanity that could have brought the civilisation of
Goethe, Hegel, Beethoven, indeed of Europe in general, to
conceive such an abomination. We are accustomed, wrongly, to
expect violent behaviour from barbarians, while we remain
dumbstruck when that same behaviour is manifested by a culture like Germany’s. The synthesis that it represents, between
modernity and sensitivity, was somehow transformed into a
heartless machine of death, coldly scientific in its operation,
truly evil in its purpose. Yad Vashem is deeply moving, and engages one’s moral conscience in a powerful way.
As in other circumstances, from the Kremlin to the White
House, you were a pioneer here as well, lighting the flame of Yad
Vashem and thus opening the door for a visit three years later by
Gianfranco Fini and Pier Ferdinando Casini38. At this point, the
Israelis had become more inclined to accept the Italian centre-right.
That’s true. There was a lot of attention focused on us by
the local institutions, and by Peres and the government as well.
Perhaps it was necessary, more so than in the past, to build a
bridge with a democratic Italy that was overcoming the errors
of its fascist past. This process was taking place among the Italian Jewish communities as well, though – understandably –
with greater difficulty, since they had lived through the absolute evil of the racial laws and then the deportations.
Let’s go back to your colleague, Ron Huldai.
I met Ron three times, once in Milan and twice in Tel Aviv.
Perhaps you’ll recall that in 1998 I led the City Council to ratify a bill that had been on hold for more than 15 years that
would have made Milan and Tel Aviv sister cities. The mayor
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at the time, Paolo Pillitteri, had signed it, but then it got lost
in the shuffle. When I met Huldai in his office, we were on
the very spot where Yitzhak Rabin had been killed, adjacent
to the town hall in the big square where the people of Tel Aviv
gather. Huldai is an interesting person, sympathetic to the left,
a former pilot of the Israeli air force, with an athletic build and
a pragmatic mind. He presents himself as what he is – it’s easy
to imagine him in a flight suit stepping down from a Phantom
during the Yom Kippur War, the same one in which Ariel
Sharon outsmarted the Egyptians and captured a bridgehead
on the Suez Canal. He is a pragmatic, dynamic man with a
sensibility similar to my own, and with whom I therefore felt
immediately at ease. Despite being a military man, his approach to civil governing is managerial. As I said, during our
first meeting in 2000, the issue under discussion was how to
subdivide Jerusalem, sacred city of the world’s three great
monotheistic faiths. Huldai, having listened to our account of
the attestations of faith and hope that we had seen, looked at
us with a mixture of prudence and scepticism and explained
that the situation wouldn’t result in the desired outcome for a
number of reasons, not least of which was the extremism of
both Palestinians and Israelis alike. Let us not forget that it was
in the square next to his office where General Rabin, the great
champion of peace, was assassinated by an Israeli extremist. I
left a bit disappointed by this skepticism, but it proved over
time to have been quite realistic.
In 2002 you met another mayor who would later rise to the
Cabinet and then prime minister, Ehud Olmert, the heir of
Sharon. Perhaps now would be a good time to tell us about your
adventure crossing the Israeli border at Allenby.
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It was June 2002, and I had just come from the World Economic Forum on the Dead Sea in Jordan, and was about to
cross the border at Allenby to reach Jerusalem. Two interesting
things happened, one of which was particularly striking, and
that was a phone call from, I believe, the Israeli Embassy in
Rome as we approached the border crossing at Allenby. We
were in the middle of the desert, nothing around us except perhaps a couple of camels; the Jordanian escort had long left us
to proceed on our own through this no-man’s land. And then,
with unnerving precision, the phone rang and we were welcomed to Israel and advised that we would reach the border in
200 meters. Once I had got over the unsettling feeling of being
surveilled, I appreciated this efficiency very much, if only for
the fact that it saved us long hours of waiting. We received an
extremely warm welcome at the border, despite the inevitable
heavy security measures. We were allowed to enjoy air conditioning and other comforts while our papers were being
processed for the crossing. At that point, the second episode occurred: in the wide open area surrounding the border post, I
saw a motorcade of three black SUVs with tinted windows approaching – clearly someone important. The motorcade
stopped at a distance, but close enough for me too see several
armed soldiers get out of the cars, and then a figure I recognised as Ehud Olmert, Sharon’s vice-premier at the time. I had
known him as the mayor of Jerusalem, and we had had a great
meeting in Milan, one of those that I won’t forget because of
the intellectual affinity we discovered, particularly on the subject of Israel’s security. Olmert had said to me, “There are as
many different civilisations in Jerusalem as you can imagine,
yet there are no terrorist incidents because we’ve managed to
control extremism there, to isolate it. With force, yes, and with
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a wall, but that’s how we prevent violence”. Despite his rigorously conservative politics, he did not exclude the possibility of
opening diplomatic channels with moderate Arabs, a sign of his
great intelligence. For this reason he had been invited to speak
at the World Economic Forum. His subsequent political evolution which, along with Peres, saw him as leader of the new
centrist party Kadima, is probably no accident. Anyway, getting back to the border post, I was glad to see him and decided
to go and say hello. I walked towards him rather quickly, almost running, and as I was doing so it dawned on me that I
was not being perceived as a colleague, indeed a friend of
Olmert I was a was a potential threat, to the extent that they
suddenly drew their weapons! For a second, I feared the worst.
A rather reckless move I’d say!
Reckless is exactly the word. And it could have been truly
dangerous. Fortunately, Olmert recognised me, ordered his
men to stand down and came over to greet me. We embraced,
exchanged pleasantries, and that was that.
On your most recent trip to Israel, you were hosted by the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger.
He was a gracious host, and our conversation was interesting. Though he is one of Israel’s highest religious authorities,
he is attentive to the most modern developments. We concentrated largely on China and the opportunities and challenges
it represents. I had actually met him earlier in Milan after he
had been in Rome for his first official meeting with the new
Pope Benedict XVI. The occasion was the inauguration of the
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Merkos School, to which the city had bequeathed a building in
via Forze Armate. Rav Metzger invoked a benediction for the
city and its mayor, which I took as an honour. The school is a
perfect example of the synthesis of identity and integration, an
experience that should be extended to other communities.
After your meeting in Jerusalem with the Chief Rabbi, you
went to see President Moshe Katsav.
There was a thunderstorm, a misunderstanding regarding
the distance, and the Palestinian drivers were not accustomed
to the traffic and roads of west Jerusalem, so for the first time
in nine years I was late for an appointment. My staff knew my
obsession with punctuality all too well, and to arrive 30 minutes late was unthinkable. When we finally got to our destination I was mortified: the meeting had been cancelled. When I
met the Milanese Rabbi Hazan that evening, I recounted my
embarrassment and he lifted my spirits by reminding me that
we were approaching Purim, and explained that it is written
in the scriptures that if God makes you renounce something
the first time, it is because He holds something better in store
for you the second time. And that is exactly what happened,
thank Yahweh: a few hours later I was informed that President
Katsav had scheduled another appointment for Sunday morning.
What kind of man is he?
The first time I met him was in Milan for a breakfast at the
Marriott. Once again I felt completely at ease – Katsav does
not put on pompous or professorial airs, and our conversation
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was engaging, perhaps in part because he had also been a mayor
of a little town called Kiryat Malachi. Another key to our immediate sympathy was that the President is an historian with
a great passion for Italian culture. He told me that his experience as a mayor had taught him how to manage the relationship with his constituents, to see their needs and listen to their
views. He was well informed, as he should have been, about
what we were doing in Milan with the Jewish community and
the Merkos School; more generally, he was aware of our city’s
friendship with Israel. When I saw him again in Jerusalem, he
treated me like a head of state. He explained that in the preceding five years, Italy had proven to be Israel’s best friend in Europe, and that our relationship had never been so vital.
What about the political concept of ‘equiproximity’: that Italy
should be at an equal and parallel proximity to both Israel and
the PNA? Do you understand what that’s about?
To tell you the truth, no.
The Supreme Order of the Most Holy Annunciation (Ordine Supremo della
Santissima Annunziata) was the primary dynastic order of the Kingdom of Italy,
which ceased to be a national order when the kingdom became a republic in
Stefano Dambruoso (born 15 March 1962) is an Italian prosecutor and writer.
The Politecnico di Milano University is the largest technical university in
Gianfranco Fini (born 3 January 1952) is an Italian politician, currently President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies and member of the centre-right party
People of Freedom. Pier Ferdinando Casini (born 3 December 1955) is an Italian politician and former President of the Chamber of Deputies.
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Chapter 7
Wherein are recounted tales of the Eternal City, the Holy
Land and the spiritual teachers who live there.
Legend has it that fellow Milanese Henri Beyle, better known
as Stendhal, intended The Red and The Black as a record of his
military and religious experiences. Without presuming to compare
anyone present to the great Stendhal, I would like to hear about
your various experiences in ecclesiastical contexts, including those
with non-Catholic religious figures. We can start in 2000, year of
the pilgrimage to Rome and the Giubileo Ambrosiano – Milan’s
own Jubilee – which culminated in St. Peter’s Square in the presence of John Paul II. What impression did you have of the previous
pope, and what do you recall about the Jubilee year?
My most intense and moving memory of John Paul II is
not associated with those particular circumstances, during
which I had the opportunity to exchange a few words with His
Holiness, but with an earlier episode dating back to 1997. It
was the very first ceremony where I wore the official sash as
mayor of Milan, a celebration of the anniversary of the Fondazione Don Gnocchi39. In fact, among the most precious mementos I have is a photograph of that moment, which I keep
behind my desk. In comparison with the ceremony of 2000,
the group was much smaller, and our audience with the Pope
was held in a room inside the Vatican. There were just a few
dozen of us, and the meeting with the Pope was quite intense.
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I remember having the clear impression of the ‘double reality’
of the Holy Father. He approached us as an elderly man who
reminded me of my grandfather at the age of 90. He walked
without lifting his feet from the ground, taking tiny steps, all
hunched over with an expression of great suffering on his face.
He was the very picture of the fragility that comes with advanced age. Then, when we were introduced to him, he perked
up and his expression changed, as if to say ‘Ah, the mayor of
Milan is here’. I felt a surge of pride, for his change of bearing
indicated that he acknowledged the greatness of our city and its
history. I drew closer to him and said, “Holiness, I am here before you without ever having remotely thought that I would be
entrusted with such responsibility. I ask for your prayer that I
might be able to carry a burden that is greater than my own
strength”. The Pope looked at me with an intense expression,
revealing an inner force and energy that nearly knocked me
over. And then, in a more vigorous voice, he said, “Then I shall
bless you and your fellow citizens. And because you said that
you need help, perhaps from on high, in carrying what you
cannot bear alone, I give this blessing so that you may find the
strength to do so”. He conveyed the intensity that was his faith
and conviction, but also an energy that only great personalities
are able to transmit to the lesser men they meet. When I saw
him again in 2000, the ceremony was entirely different, far
greater in scale. He sat on the throne of St. Peter and observed
the square, teeming with the faithful who had made the pilgrimage from Milan. For this occasion, Cardinal Martini had
obtained a special concession to celebrate Mass according to
the Ambrosian rite, which was extraordinary insofar as the only
time a cardinal can celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s Square is when
a pope dies; otherwise it is the exclusive prerogative of the sit-
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ting pontiff. I had the pleasure of delivering one billion lire –
about half a million euros – to His Holiness as a contribution
to the Jubilee on behalf of the city of Milan, and asked him
once again to bestow his blessing on our city and its needs. He
not only gave us his blessing, but also thanked Milan for the
generous gift. At that moment I had to decide how to carry
myself before the successor of St. Peter: I was torn between
what I would have done as an alumnus of Leo XIII, which was
to kneel and kiss the papal ring, or to limit myself to a handshake and a reverent bow, given that the Holy Father was seated
and I was standing. The second, more secular gesture came to
me instinctively, since I was there representing citizens of every
faith, as well as agnostics and atheists. In the end it turned out
well, with no breach of protocol.
That choice was much appreciated by the media and by the
people of Milan.
It was generally appreciated, yes. The presence of 20,000
people at that ceremony created an extraordinary sense of community. There was the sensation of being part of a single, harmonious organism. The architecture of the square transformed
the vastness of the space into a sort of maternal uterine embrace, a metaphor that is seconded by the rotundity of the
dome, such that the area, though delimited, is not at all oppressive. When music is added to the recipe, which it was during
the Ambrosian pilgrimage, I felt a pervasive sense of shared
thoughts and intentions. It was a delightful experience. As I
crossed the square, people recognised me and applauded, and
there was an altar boy who asked, “Why don’t you adopt me?”
I replied by explaining that he had to ask his father if he agreed
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with the idea. And that exchange, in that place and in those circumstances, gave me cause for reflection. We all tend to wonder what the purpose of our existence is. The responses are
many, but the question of fatherhood is one that makes you
really stop and think. Those who are fathers try to grasp the
meaning of paternity and to judge their own behaviour as fathers. Those who do not have children, like me, ask ourselves
how we can repay society the debt we owe them for perpetuating the species. And everyone wonders about the meaning
of passing on life to another, and what it means for the future
of our civilisation. Thinking about the pope and what our religious faith represents, there are many possible responses, perhaps none of them truly definitive. There is a universal
purpose, valid for believers and non-believers alike, and that is
to conduct ourselves in a way that the space we occupy in the
world and what we are able to accomplish through our work,
our families, our responsibilities and our intelligence ensures
that humanity will progress towards a better future – in politics, society, science, art, the economy, everything. Going back
to John Paul II and his gaze, I saw there the strength of a man
who believes in his faith and its values.
A personal question, if I may. Apart from your Jesuit education,
one gets the impression of an alternation between a firm faith and
a more secular, even agnostic view, and sometimes there seems to
be a sort of syncretic overlapping with the protestant outlook. How
would you define yourself in religious terms?
I’ll respond first with an anecdote and then with a proper
explanation. The anecdote is this: Pier Paolo Pasolini was once
asked if he was a believer, and he replied that it would be im-
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polite to answer that question, citing the view of Monsignor
Giovanni Della Casa, who felt that it was bad manners to recount one’s dreams, for they matter only to the dreamer40. Like
dreams, beliefs are intimate details, expressions of the unconscious, of one’s own world of ghosts, of the aspirations and
thoughts that assail us from within. Wishing to know someone
else’s dreams is a morbid kind of curiosity.
Nevertheless, I admit that I was a believer, to the extent that
at a certain point I intended to become a Jesuit. During my
adolescence I went through a crisis of faith and for a while afterwards I even felt the calling. Since I went to a religious
school, I had very close relationships with my teachers and spiritual fathers, and one Sunday I visited a Jesuit seminary, thinking that perhaps one day I would complete my studies there.
Then my life took another direction and over the course of
time I found myself questioning my faith again – to believe, or
not to believe, if you will. I’m not sure I can give a simple response to the question, and I think that’s why you detected an
alternation between faith and agnosticism, because it’s true.
Sometimes I’m convinced that religion, as Jorge Luis Borges
said about theology, is humankind’s greatest invention. Atomic
energy, the polio vaccine, the technological innovations of our
own time are nothing compared with theology. One need only
think of the geniuses who worked so hard to protect us from
the fear of death: Aristotle, Plato, St. Thomas, St. Augustine,
Blaise Pascal. And I must confess that it sometimes intrigues
me to think that religion is just a big, extraordinary invention
designed explicitly to defend us against the fear of death.
Whenever I spoke with Cardinal Martini, or even with the
Pope, I would wonder, if only for an instant, do they really believe what they preach? Or do they only believe in the need to
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believe, and then preach eternal life to protect us against fear?
Almost every religion, with the occasional variant that is hostile
and aggressive toward the ‘infidels’ who are considered potential enemies of its beliefs, teach that one must behave well in
order to achieve eternal life. So, to answer your question as best
I can, I admit that I’m still searching. I no longer have the certainty of my adolescence, but neither can I claim to be completely atheist, because I live in doubt.
Let’s talk a bit, given that you’ve mentioned him several times,
about Cardinal Martini, both as a religious leader and as a man.
My favorite ‘version’ of the Cardinal is from an episode I
have recounted often, and dates to the beginning of my experience at Palazzo Marini, towards the end of June 1997. I had
met him earlier, but we hadn’t spoken, just a simple handshake
during the election campaign at a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Alumni Foundation of my alma mater, Leo
XIII. As I said, a month later I understood for the first time the
difference between the Cardinal as he appears and the Cardinal
as he really is. Sitting in his office, I asked him a question that
has remained unaltered over time: why did I become mayor?
For what extraordinary and strange reasons had I reached that
position without ever having had the propensity, desire and,
above all, the will to do so? I had never cultivated the dream of
being mayor, yet there I was, feeling all the weight of the responsibility that I had to bear. But I’d been put there by others.
I had tried to push it away, not believing it possible, and it was
only when President Silvio Berlusconi asked me to run for office for the fourth time that I finally accepted. How was it that
a man of such importance and stature and responsibility could
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implore such a small fish as myself to bring the values of corporate governance, propriety and organisational capacity to the
public sector? My dilemma between not accepting the President’s invitation and thus feeling like a coward, and the serenity
of staying where I was at the helm of Federmeccanica41 fascinated the Prince of the Church. I could see that he was listening with interest, that he sympathised with my dilemma. At a
certain point he decided to bare his soul and said, “The same
thing happened to me. Like you, I never wanted this immense
responsibility. I am a scholar, former rector of the Università
Gregoriana, a man of few words and much thoughtful study.
A man who loves the silence of reflection, of the elaboration of
a text, who wanted only to focus his attention on the few élite
students of his school. Then all of a sudden I found myself
with the responsibility of this important diocese”. His words
were both stimulating and comforting. He continued by citing
a passage from Augustine’s Civitate Dei: “Otium sanctum
quaerit caritas veritatis; negotium iustum, scilicet vitae activae,
suscipit necessitas caritatis. Quam sarcinam si nullus imponit, percipiendae atque intuendae vacandum est veritati. Si autem imponitur, suscipienda est, propter caritatis necessitatem. Sed nec sic
omnino veritatis delectatio deserenda est; ne subtrahatur illa suavitas, et opprimat ista necessitas”, and then translated it for me:
“The love of truth seeks a holy leisure; the calls of charity compel us to undertake the labours of justice. If no one lays on us
this burden, then must we devote our leisure to the search for
and study of the truth. But if such a burden be imposed upon
us, we must shoulder it at the call of charity. Yet we must not
wholly abandon the delights of the truth, lest the latter’s sweetness be withdrawn from us, and the burden we have taken up
overwhelm us”. Our meeting went on for so long that his sec-
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retary had to knock on the door to remind him that he had
another appointment. As would happen later with Putin and
John Paul II, I had the pleasure of discovering the difference
between the exterior image of a man and his essence. On the
one hand, Martini had a hieratic appearance, the physique du
role. A proper cardinal couldn’t be otherwise: tall with an austere gaze, handsome in his dignified assertion of authority and
depth of thought, his face etched with intelligence and culture,
a man of few but essential and articulate words that inspire the
most profound respect. On the other hand, our personal encounter was intimate enough for the Cardinal to look for the
commonplaces in our respective roles and to share episodes of
his life with a directness and confidentiality that, for a first
meeting between strangers, made a deep impression on me. As
with Montanelli, to whom I later turned for his view on a
number of issues, the Cardinal’s advice was conveyed using the
same method – that is, he never gave me an explicit reply, but
instead guided me to a point where I could figure it out for
myself, socratically, maieutically. He was able to show me what
deserved greater attention, where to find the arguments on
which to base and defend a decision. He showed me how to
winnow the essential from the futile, the important from the
marginal. He also urged me to enjoy this moment of joyful
victory and electoral consensus, with my staff motivated by the
exciting challenge of governing Italy’s second largest city, but to
prepare for the criticism and the jealousy that would soon arrive. He told me I would suffer for these responsibilities, that
from what he was able to see in me, I wasn’t the type of person
who could adapt to ethically compromising situations without
resentment; that I was a man who believed unambiguously in
what he thought and who did what he said, an outlook not
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necessarily compatible with a world of roles and appearances.
For these reasons, he told me, he wasn’t entirely sure that the
job I had taken was suited to someone like me. He wished me
good luck because, he said, he found me different from my
predecessors. Years later, he told me that of the four mayors of
Milan he had known, I was the best.
Anyway, going back to the Augustine quote, a few day after
this extraordinary encounter I found myself in one of those alltoo-frequent situations that make one want to tear one’s hair
out with frustration over some malfunction or other in the machine of municipal government. At that point I stopped to take
a breath and wondered if it wouldn’t be helpful to reread that
passage from The City of God that Cardinal Martini had cited
and that had brought me solace. So I phoned his secretary and
said, “Don Gregorio, during our conversation the other day,
Cardinal Martini cited a beautiful passage from St. Augustine.
I remember the gist, but I’d like to have the exact source so I
can read it in moments of difficulty”. There was a long silence
at the other end of the line, so I continued, “Excuse me, father,
perhaps my question wasn’t clear…”. And Don Gregorio
replied, “I understand perfectly. The fact is the Cardinal has
just signed a letter which I’m sending to you this very moment,
in which he includes the passage you request”. I asked to be
put through to the Cardinal so I could share with him the emotion I was feeling. After this splendid coincidence, I framed
the letter, which I still keep in my private office.
So, to conclude this portrait of Cardinal Martini, his public
image is the exact opposite of his private identity. He took
refuge in that image to protect himself, to keep his depth of
character, his sensitivity and his intellectual acuity intact. Other
people in the same role invert Martini’s strategy by appearing
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to be open and honest in public while remaining formal and
distant in interpersonal relations. For me, Cardinal Martini
was a great teacher, like the Jesuit fathers had been in my
youth, and I am grateful to him for having acknowledged in
me what I hope is a certain intellectual honesty, a lack of interest in power and a genuine devotion to serving the community.
He is certainly a man of great charisma. Didn’t you meet the
Cardinal again on your last trip to Jerusalem, in his new position
at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, otherwise known as the Biblicum?
Yes, and I remember every second of that encounter. I met
him at the Biblicum not long after having presented him with
the Gold Medal of the City of Milan on 28 June 2002, when
he gave a memorable speech before the City Council. After retiring from his official role, he had returned to his beloved
Jerusalem, one of the three cities represented in his coat of
arms, along with Rome, Milan and the beautiful motto Pro
veritate adversa diligere – embrace adversity to reach the truth.
When we arrived he was already at the door, punctual as always, with Suor Germana. Then, indicating that my retinue
should remain in the garden with Suor Germana, he invited
me into the Biblicum, where we had a long and cordial talk. I
told the Cardinal what I was doing in the Holy Land, and who
I’d met among the leaders of Jordan, Palestine and Israel. There
was an amusing episode as well, when I recounted the story of
how the Italian ambassador had refused to participate in the
ceremony in Jordan where I had been honoured by the the
King, on the grounds that such honours were reserved exclusively for heads of state and people of consequence. Then, with
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a wry smile, the former Cardinal said, “Very interesting. It reminds me of a dream I had the other night that involved you.
I was in a public hall, a conference room of sorts, when at a certain point someone asked, ‘Who is the president of the republic?’ There was much discussion among the audience and the
panel members, then someone stood and said, ‘Is it Bossi?’ ‘No,
no!’, everyone replied. Someone else ventured, ‘Berlusconi?’,
but he was shouted down by the group. Then I stood up and
exclaimed, ‘Albertini!’, and everyone agreed – ‘Of course, Albertini! He is the president of the republic!’, and so forth”.
Once again I saw how an apparently distant man with a rare
and profound mind could also be immensely likeable, capable
of an equally rare simpatia. We then talked about my possible
candidacy for the European Parliament, and he encouraged me
to get involved at the international level, emphasising what a
positive experience it would be to work in the European legislative assembly after having governed a complex city like Milan.
We talked at length about a number of other topics, including
his health and how he was getting along in Jerusalem. He then
introduced me to the dean of the Biblicum and took me on a
tour of the institute, during which we admired a mummy in a
glass case and other exhibits that revealed the Cardinal’s typically Jesuit love of history.
Tell us about your spiritual experience walking through the old
city, and the prayer at the Holy Sepulchre.
We entered and recited the Pater Noster together on the site
that represents the core of Christian belief. It was truly unforgettable crossing the souk, talking about how much was happening in that historic moment. We were the ‘condominium
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of the world’: on one side the Wailing Wall, on the other the
Great Mosque, and all around the shops and stands of merchants of every race and religion. Then you’d walk another few
steps and find yourself in another world entirely. And all of
this packed into a tiny space, the umbilicus mundi. Cardinal
Martini, responding to the journalists accompanying us, explained that what happens here is the distillation of our civilisation and our history, like a rehearsal for what can happen in
the world as a whole. Jerusalem has its problems, and solutions
to those problems. It is the centre of all civilisations, histories
and ethnicities, the symbol of all humankind.
Do you think that this sympathy between you and Cardinal
Martini has anything to do with your shared Jesuit background?
I do. With all due respect for the vast difference in our respective levels of study, I think it’s true what the Jesuits say:
“Give us the child for seven years, and we will give you the
man”. There really is a unique power in their educational approach – that is, if you stay with them. Some children can’t
handle it.
They also created atheists and revolutionaries.
I can think of two extreme examples – Fidel Castro and
Charles de Gaulle. But even in the case of atheists, they have
strong personalities. An episode from my school years comes to
mind – I was 11, and the school newspaper had a column
called “Our Youth”, which occasionally featured articles written
by students, usually those in their final years of high school.
Although I was only in my sixth year of elementary school, I
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had written a little article in which I presented a series of arguments against the compulsory participation in Mass, my central point being that it should be a choice rather than an
obligation. I essentially said that it could not be considered an
act of piety, nor an authentic expression of faith so long as it
was not a free choice. I submitted the article just before the
Easter vacation, and while I was at home, perhaps it was Holy
Saturday, I received a phone call from the Father Rector, the
school’s highest authority. The school had 1,200 students, and
I was no one special, just one of many. I didn’t stand out, insofar as I was neither first nor last in my class, but a decent student who got decent grades. Yet here was the Father Rector,
calling me. My mother answered the phone and took theatrical
pleasure in handing it to me, saying , “It’s the Father Rector”.
I took the telephone with a trembling hand, and heard the following words: “Gabriele, I read your article – bravo, written
well in proper Italian, a nice fluid style. You not only know
how to write, but the content is well argued. I can see that
you’ve learned what we’ve taught you. And what you say is correct – an act of faith cannot be imposed, it has to be voluntary.
Religious practice must be an act of choice. Well done”. By
now I was bursting with pride. “However, we won’t be able to
publish it”, he continued, “and I’ll tell you why. Starting next
year, on 1 October, the school will adopt this principle of free
choice. But we don’t want those observing us, who are many –
religious and secular people, teachers, students, families – to
think that we were influenced by an article written by an 11year-old. We are doing it because we think it’s right. I don’t
know what the future holds for you. Your father is an industrialist, so perhaps you’ll have the responsibility one day of governing people and resources. If so, you will need to think about
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what you do and how you do it, because it will affect the lives
of others, their existence, their destiny. So remember, always
reflect, as I am doing with you, on how your decisions can be
interpreted by others”. The conversation ended there, and I
was left, at 11 years old, with quite a lot to think about. As I
hung up the phone I realised that the Father Rector had not so
much denied publication of my article as shown me an act of
great educative compassion. He had found time in his busy
schedule to telephone me, one of 1,200 students, and he had
done it with consummate skill and understanding, praising me
by letting me know that my teachers thought as I did. While
vetoing my article, he had also shown me that I was capable of
reasoning at the same level as him, the maximum authority,
which naturally dwarfed the issue of my article.
Let’s continue our discussion of the Princes of the Church. You
were once the guest of the Italian ambassador to the Holy See,
Raniero Avogadro, and you had a long conversation with Cardinal
Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine
of the Faith and now Pope Benedict XVI.
Cardinal Ratzinger was there as the Pope’s representative to
officially nominate Cardinal Martini as an associate of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Apart from the role, which lent
him a certain air of intransigence, reinforced by the collective
assumptions about his German origins, he quickly revealed
himself a warm, spontaneous and attentive man. I was surprised when he said, “I see you often on television”. This struck
me as odd, since I wasn’t on television very often at all.
Are you sure he didn’t mistake you for Teo Teocoli, the comedian
who impersonates you?
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I did wonder. But I don’t think it was the case, given that
Ratzinger had kind words for me, and that I had a good reputation as a mayor. Later on we witnessed a spectacular dialogue
between Ratzinger and Martini that reminded me of the incomparable repartee between the Count Zio and the Guardian
of the Capuchins in The Betrothed, with the running commentary by Manzoni. Here were these two cardinals of the same
age, both extremely important figures and of exceptional intelligence, whose views didn’t always coincide. Every topic was
an opportunity for wry observation, a velvet-gloved jab, a spiritual caress, a criticism veiled in praise.
To complete this carousel of prestigious prelates, tell us about
the visit to Palazzo Marino of Jean-Louis Tauran, then the Vatican’s secretary for relations with states, now a cardinal.
Having judged him open and intelligent, a high-calibre
diplomat and a modern man of faith, I ventured onto a topic
that was perhaps a bit out of place. In several interviews I’d
posticipated around that time, I had spoken of the need to get
prostitution off the streets and perhaps return to what used to
be called ‘houses of assignation’. I declared myself in favour of
prostitution being removed from public spaces – for one, to
eliminate the indecorous spectacle of it, but for other reasons
too, including health concerns. Confident of my position, I
began my conversation with Monsignor Tauran by recalling
that in Rome, at the time of the State of the Church, there
were brothels not far from St. Peter’s, pointing out the paradox
between the Church government’s more secular approach so
many centuries ago and its current strategy. At that point I noticed his expression, at once puzzled and bemused, and I re-
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alised that what had been my overactive thoughts were actually
coming out of my mouth, and that perhaps I’d put my foot in
it. I did a quick calculation of just how much what I had said
might have offended my interlocutor, and decided that it was
quite a lot. But instead of distancing himself from me or the
topic, he accepted my reasoning and intelligently engaged me
as a person with a specific job to do, with concerns necessarily
different from his own, and who might therefore be prone to
say things that seem inopportune or outside papal protocol,
but who is nevertheless absolutely direct and sincere. He understood that where there is authenticity, there is truth. That
same evening we met again for dinner in the beautiful Tiepolo
Room of Palazzo Clerici, and we exchanged a toast. This time
I told him about a very moving episode that took place in the
Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The Mass was in Arabic,
but when it came time for the Pater Noster the situation became truly Pentacostal, in that everyone recited it in their own
language. There were Arabs, Englishmen, Frenchmen and of
course Italians. The words were different, but the cadence and
the tempo were the same, and we all finished together at
‘Amen’. I recounted this episode to Monsignor Tauran, and of
how it reminded me of the hope that his diplomatic efforts in
the Holy Land inspired in me.
One last question about two people you met several times in
Jerusalem. First of all, Monsignor Michel Sabbah, Patriarch of
Jerusalem and highest ranking Catholic authority in the region, a
man who plays a prominent political role as well. And then your
friend Father Michele Piccirillo of the Franciscan Custody of the
Holy Land, a great archaeologist who has directed digs in Jericho
and Jerusalem.
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In pulchritudine pacis is the motto of Monsignor Sabbah,
which means ‘in beauty, peace’. But I found very little of this
sentiment in the Patriarch. He voiced a string of protests and
ferocious criticism of the Israeli armed forces, who had pushed
as far as the inner courts of the Church of the Nativity. The first
Patriarch of Palestine did not hide his hatred for the Israeli military. I did not find in him the style one would expect from a
prelate, but instead anger and strong language. In pulchritudine
pacis has connotations of comfort and optimism, whereas I
found myself standing before a combatant, a man of strong
He expressed something approaching absolution for Hamas and
its social and political role.
His point was that the unspeakable suffering, crushing
poverty and almost ontological desperation of a people without
a homeland can justify certain extreme acts. He then offered a
brutal criticism of the Israeli government. In the end, he
seemed to me perhaps too politicised for the pastoral position
he held, although he was very cordial with me. I was nevertheless struck by the decidedly un-priestly and highly political
stance. It should be said that Father Michele Piccirillo’s view of
the Israelis was no less harsh, but his attitude was more serene42.
In fact I would say that the religious figures I met in Jerusalem
are much more pro-Arab than pro-Israeli. Father Piccirillo was
a deeply cultured man from whom words flowed forth like a
torrent. His room at the Convent of the Flagellation was
jammed with books – a modest medieval cell, swollen with history. There is a contrast throughout the entire convent between the starkness of the space and the richness of the history
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contained therein. There’s even a small, selective archaeological
museum curated by Father Michele, predictably with very
‘Franciscan’ furnishings.
Is it possible to draw a parallel between the Jesuits, the true intellectuals of the Church, and the Franciscans, who are both scholars and activists? We’ve spoken extensively of the former, but you’re
also familiar with the latter – Father Eligio, for example43.
Whenever I see Father Eligio he ribs me for belonging to
the Jesuits, because in his view, while they are men of faith, the
flame of charity and love does not burn brightly enough within
them; they are small-minded, rigid and oppressive educators.
He basically considers me one of them, though our relationship
is friendly and he is always generous with me. So yes, there is
a difference between the Jesuits and the Franciscans that can be
seen in the very spaces in which they live and work – between
the Biblicum and the Convent of the Flagellation, it is immediately apparent which is occupied by intellectual spiritual fathers and which belongs to the shepherds of a flock.
Could it be said that, in Marxist terms, over the centuries the
two groups have concerned themselves with different social classes
as well?
That is the canonical distinction, and I think it is more or
less true. There’s no denying that from the time of St. Ignatius
Loyola to the 18th century, the Jesuits were the spiritual fathers
of the rulers of Europe.
The greatest danger, as the example of Henry VIII proves, was
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not so much the popular heresies but the rulers who moved away
from the Church, taking entire populations with them.
Yes, if an entire state became apostatic that presented big
problems for the Church. So the Jesuits invested in the ruling
classes. Then and later, their schools were traditionally attended
by the children of the bourgeoisie. This distinction even extended to the physiognomy of the lives of those in the Jesuit
orbit – their homes, their clothing, their speech and bearing.
We’ve been talking mostly about the Church. But Jerusalem is
also the sacred heart of Judaism and Islam.
I’ll never forget the Wailing Wall. As I walked past it, my
gaze fell on that gallery to the left where rabbis read the Bible
and the Talmud, against a skyline that bristles with minarets.
All these things are sentinels of prayer and faith, and Jerusalem
is a mystical city that seems to go on forever.
You experienced something similar at the Sultan Ahmet Camii,
otherwise known as the Blue Mosque, in Istanbul, as the guest of
Mayor Kadir Topbas.
That was another case of an encounter with another civilisation, a different world: Turkey which, in coming years will
probably become part of the European Union. Don Giovanni
of Austria will perhaps roll over in his grave, and the ghosts of
the Battle of Lepanto may require some consolation, but
Turkey will inevitably join the EU. Despite the fact that the
would-be assassin of Pope Wojtyla was a Turk, this is the great
challenge of the coming decades and this is why I voted at the
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European Parliament in favour of Turkey’s entry. My visit to
the Blue Mosque in Istanbul was moving, if only for the privilege of being invited inside the prayer area, an honour not normally granted to non-Muslims. There was a great respect on
our hosts’ part for our diversity and on our part for their faith,
their rites, their dignity and their convictions. Apart from this
honour, I glimpsed the universal sense of humanity, united at
the moment of common prayer. While the monotheistic religions may be hostile towards one another, the fact is they are
the reason for hope, indeed for life for billions of people. In
places like this, one can see that it doesn’t matter if you believe
in Yahweh, Christ or Allah: God is truly one. I felt this more
intensely at the Blue Mosque than at the Mosque of Omar in
Jerusalem, which I had visited more or less as a tourist. But the
beauty of the Sultan Ahmet and the architectural dignity of its
spaces cannot fail to convey a sense of unity among faiths with
respect to a single God.
A catholic NGO.
Pier Paolo Pasolini (5 March 1922 – 2 November 1975) was an Italian poet,
intellectual, film director, and writer. Giovanni della Casa (28 June 1503 – 14
November 1556) was an Italian poet and cleric.
See note 10
Michele Piccirillo (18 November 1944 – 26 October 2008) was a Franciscan
monk that devoted his life to archeological and biblical studies in the Holy
Angelo Gelmini aka Father Eligio (born 31 July 1931) is an Italian priest
that founded the NGO Mondo X.
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Chapter 8
Wherein it is recounted the lost memory of ancient battles
and the exploits of footsoldiers, sailors and winged horsemen.
This chapter is dedicated to another series of encounters and
experiences that can generally be classified as military. Three events
in particular deserve to be recounted: the 60th anniversary of the
Battle of El Alamein; your voyage on the American aircraft carrier
USS Enterprise; and your recent missions to Afghanistan. Let’s start
with El Alamein.
I must still atone for my initial resistance to the prospect of
that mission. My days in Milan were full, my appointment
book overflowing and at first the trip seemed a waste of resources. In hindsight, being there for the 60th anniversary of
the battle turned out to be one of the most moving experiences
of my life. When I entered the El Alamein shrine, I instantly
felt its unique atmosphere – it felt as though the air were dense
with spirits, a flux of intermingling thoughts that reminded
me of the scene from Wings of Desire where the angel enters
the state library and listens to the thoughts of everyone there,
which he hears as whispers. Similarly, at El Alamein I had the
sensation, emotional and physical, of intimate contact with the
throngs of heroic spirits who had sacrificed themselves, along
with an underlying feeling of intense patriotism. Present at the
ceremony were the survivors of the battle and the families of
the fallen. This was the first day of the celebrations, which were
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national, while the following day was the international commemoration, attended by the then president of the republic,
Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. The ceremony evoked the time, 60 years
earlier, when Europe was torn by a war fought between countries of the same civilisation, the same world. Now, just a few
decades later, we have the European Union, the survivors of
both sides joined in respect and honour. Unfortunately, despite
my repeated invitations, no such similar ceremony has yet to
be held at the Field of Glory in Milan’s Monumental Cemetery,
where the fallen partigiani, or resistance fighters, are buried.
Nor does anyone want to remember those of the Italian Social
Republic buried at the Field of Honour, for no one wants to acknowledge that World War II was, for Italy, essentially a civil
war44. But then wasn’t the war fought in the Egyptian desert between Germany, Italy, France and England a civil war as well,
only on a continental scale?
Why has reconciliation been possible in Spain – notwithstanding the recent revisitations of José Luis Zapatero – whose civil war
was perhaps even more devastating?
That shouldn’t come as a surprise. In Italy, we still have
communism, either under a different guise or openly championed by those who wish to reestablish it. Let’s not forget that
the communist voting bloc has hovered around 30 percent of
the Italian population for more than 40 years. Going back to
the dunes of El Alamein, I was moved by the tombstone of a
young Milanese lieutenant who had received the Silver Medal.
It had been pointed out to me by a parish priest, who asked
for a photo of the mayor of Milan for the son of this fallen
hero. A big surprise awaited me when I entered the shrine – an
enormous burst of applause which I was initially unable to in-
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terpret. Then I understood: for decades, these soldiers had been
forgotten by the institutions and now, finally, they saw in me
a civic authority who had bothered to come and pay tribute to
them. Those soldiers sacrificed their lives for their country in
a war that was lost, instigated by a dictatorship with which no
one associates themselves anymore. For decades they were
ghosts, dismissed as fascists, as ‘revanchists’, pariahs. They were
disdained despite the heroism they’d shown in obeying a legitimate government. When I understood the reason for that applause, I also understood the value and meaning of having
elected to go El Alamein. The minister of defense Antonio
Martino gave a speech that, to my way of thinking, was inopportune. Speaking to survivors and the families of the dead, he
spoke of the justice of losing an unjust war and the error of
having participated in it. Why he wanted to slap them in the
face, I don’t know. I understand that not everything can be glorified, but it is our duty to remember the honour, commitment
and unspeakable suffering of our forebears.
In addition to commemorating the battle, that trip was also
intended to mark the tenth anniversary of the death of an illustrious fellow Milanese, Paolo Caccia Dominioni: architect, combatant in two wars, secret agent. It was he who built the shrine at the
entrance of which a memorial plaque was placed, which you unveiled with Minister Martino and the architect’s widow, who died
just a few months later.
Indeed. Soon thereafter, two excellent exhibitions of his
drawings were held in Milan, at Palazzo Dugnani and the Fondazione Stelline. Getting back to the way the Italians fought
the war, I recall an extraordinary passage from Caccia Dominioni’s Alamein 1933-1962, which I cited several months later,
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on 4 November, Armed Forces Day, in the Sala delle Colonne
of Palazzo Reale, comparing Italian humanitas with the inflexible rules of the Germans45. The story goes that a mixed patrol
of Italians and Germans, commanded by a young German lieutenant, was on a night reconnaissance mission. They had infiltrated past enemy lines in order to determine possible access
points to the enemy trenches. As fate would have it, the German commanding officer stepped on a land mine. Though he
was seriously injured, he was still alive, but the so-called ‘rules
of engagement’ forbade the members of the patrol from bringing him back, as this would have subjected everyone involved
to further risk. A German sergeant gave the order to return to
the base, leaving the wounded lieutenant to meet his maker.
Our soldiers obeyed the order and returned to their quarters.
Once there, the two of them began to discuss ways to go back
and save the lieutenant, unable to sleep after what had happened. So, with a typically Italian interpretation of the rules,
they thought outside the box and determined that they had
obeyed orders until now, but were no longer in service and
could therefore devote themselves to ‘personal’ endeavours. So
they left the trenches and crawled on their bellies until they
reached the barbed wire where the lieutenant lay dying, and
they brought him back to the base. They had risked their lives,
but their consciences were clear.
But it didn’t end there.
They returned to camp, went to sleep, and not long after
were woken by a German colonel. They probably expected a
reprimand, but instead the officer removed an Iron Cross from
his own breast, along with another medal for valour, and bestowed them upon the two young Italians. A nice little parable
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about what heroism really means. Heroism is taking care of
one’s companions in arms, the people who suffer alongside
you. Heroism is not breaking this pact, not leaving your
brother when he falls.
It’s also a great example of the Italian ability to improvise, in
contrast to the German obsession with rules that prevented them
from saving a fellow soldier, an officer no less.
The story can be read in a number of ways – historically, anthropologically, emotionally. It reminds me of Steven Spielberg’s excellent Saving Private Ryan, but this story was told
much earlier. It would make a good film, come to think of it.
Before recalling other episodes from that trip to El Alamein and
Alexandria, I’d like to emphasise that Caccia Dominioni, following the armistice of 8 September 1943, became an important figure in the Milanese resistance. Though a monarchist, he was also
intensely anti-fascist and was imprisoned at San Vittore46. He had
never been able to accept the alliance with Germany; he saw the
war, like the behaviour of the Germans, as extremely arrogant. In
the same book mentioned earlier, he narrates how Erwin Rommel,
by ordering the retreat at El Alamein, broke the front and left tens
of thousands of Italians to fend for themselves on foot. I think that
Caccia Dominioni, after decades of searching the desert for the remains of his fellow soldiers, wanted to pay homage to those who
had fought, even if it was on the wrong side. One gets the feeling
from these stories that Italy’s ally wasn’t much of an ally at all…
Yes, perhaps Caccia Dominioni, like Galeazzo Ciano, was one
of those Italians whose family heritage left them with a sort of
diffidence toward the Germans, both militarily and politically.
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There’s a great photograph that shows you standing next to the
commemorative plaque marking the maximum Italian advance
on Alexandria, alongside Filippo Berselli, undersecretary of defense
at the time. The inscription reads, “Fortune lacked, but not valour”.
It’s true, and later at the the Al Bateen military base in the
United Arab Emirates, I met again with the head of the undersecretary’s cabinet; I think he was an Air Force officer.
At a certain point during the El Alamein celebrations, you were
with President Ciampi at Quota 33, and eight parachutists landed
within a few metres of the tribune.
They were incredible. They jumped from 2,000 metres,
perhaps higher, because we could barely see the planes. Then
they used directional parachutes to land not more than 10 metres from the tent that hosted the president and other authorities. The last to land was the commander of the Brigata
Folgore, General Marco Bertolini, who landed without so
much as a compensatory step and saluted us impeccably, at full
attention. I saw one of these parachutists again several years
later in Kabul.
Tell us about the evening you spent in the port of Alexandria
aboard the San Giusto.
There was a reception hosted by the Department of Defense
General Staff on the warship San Giusto. The event was packed
with ranking officers and the highest military authorities, along
with Defense Minister Martino and Undersecretary Berselli.
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The dinner was fabulous, a greatest hits menu of Italian gastronomy. A general, or perhaps he was an admiral, invited me
to a table where the heads of all three branches of the armed
forces were seated, with whom I’d flown in on the prime minister’s aeroplane from Ciampino. I think the commander general of the Carabinieri Corps was there, too. Many of these
high officials had been to Milan during the course of their careers, so we talked about my city. Then there were others who
saw me at that table and came to say hello. After the third general or so, Minister Martino joked, “Fine, I’m glad they’re all
so keen on talking to you, but I’m the minister of defence and
you’re just a mayor. Why isn’t anyone talking to me?” We all
had a good laugh, and I assured him that I had no intention of
becoming defence minister – at least not any time soon. Who
knows, though, perhaps in another life, given my passion for
all things military… Anyway, at that point General Rolando
Mosca Moschini, whom I’d known when he was commander
general of the Finance Guard and was now the chief of defence
General Staff, said with great aplomb, “Minister, sir, you must
understand that our friend is only half mayor; the other half is
a general”. He had clearly noticed my passion for the military,
or perhaps he was thinking of the flight from Rome, during
which I had beaten all the heads of the armed forces at the
game of matches taken from L'Année dernière à Marienbad by
Alain Resnais. The only ones who had wisely not accepted the
challenge were Mosca Moschini and Martino, having already
seen me rout the commanders of the Army, Navy, Air Force
and Carabinieri.
Let’s move from the San Giusto to the USS Enterprise.
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My 24 hours on the Enterprise date back to May 2001. I
had just been reelected as mayor, so I indulged myself, thanks
to the kind invitation of the American embassy in Rome, in a
sort of Mediterranean ‘cruise’ on an American aircraft carrier.
We left from Linate on an executive flight piloted by two
American Navy officers. I was accompanied on my adventure
by Vice-Mayor Riccardo De Corato and journalist Beppe Severgnini, the latter of whom had been introduced to me a while
back by Indro Montanelli. In fact, the trip took place just a
few months before the passing of that titan of Italian journalism on 22 July. I admire Severgnini, who has turned out to be
an astute observer of the Anglo-American world. So the three
of us arrived at Sigonella, where we were welcomed by two Italian officers from the Air Force. A few minutes later we boarded
an American military twin-prop plane and took off for an unknown destination in the Mediterranean. I figured out that we
were heading north-west, and the flight took more than an
hour, so we may have been somewhere near Sardinia. The only
difficult part was the landing on the carrier deck – because of
the limited runway, the plane is violently hooked by a cable,
making for a very abrupt stop indeed. When I stepped out of
the plane I didn’t get the chance to take in the reality of being
on that majestic ship, for we were immediately led into a steel
building and up a series of staircases to the officer’s quarters,
where I was introduced to a man who struck me as extremely
young. He wore a jacket without any indications of rank, so I
didn’t recognise him as the commander. I understood his importance only when he presented me to his closest collaborators, all of them equally youthful. The commander of the
Enterprise was in fact just 43 years old, and had been a ‘top
gun’ Navy pilot. During this first friendly chat, the officers ex-
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plained how the first American nuclear aircraft carrier worked,
and Severgnini gave the commander a copy of his book about
America and Americans. The commander evidently enjoyed
it, for by the next day he had devoured more than half. We
then climbed the command tower and I noticed a room next
to the command deck – it was a gym, complete with every
imaginable piece of equipment. Then we entered the command room proper and I was invited to sit in a sheepskin armchair, from which I had a perfect view of a magnificent show:
the take-off of about 20 aircraft – F-18 Tomcats, A-10 Intruders and two prop planes – which then flew in formation in my
honour. The squadron then buzzed the tower by way of saluting their guest, who I realised was me, the mayor of Milan. For
a moment I thought I must be on a movie set. Fortunately Severgnini took some photos, so I can back up this incredible story
with evidence.
I spent the rest of the day touring the ship, visiting places
like the sound-proofed radar rooms bathed in ultraviolet light,
full of screens that allowed them to track the location and flight
path of every aircraft in the Mediterranean. The American
squadron was flying missions over Tunisia and the carrier was
heading south at a speed of 25-30 knots, which is about 60
kilometres and hour, like a giant motorboat. I was impressed
by a number of other things as well – for example, by the physical and psychological differences between the lower-ranking
American troops who did the repair and maintenance jobs and
their commanding officers. The latter were more or less as we
see them in the movies – lean and fit, extremely polite and respectful, with a sharp glint of intelligence and determination in
their eyes. The others – and here I must say that this isn’t the
case in our armed forces – evinced something like social hard-
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ship, and it was clear that they belonged to what Marx called
the Lumpenproletariat. They were overweight, indolent in their
movements, and seemed almost dazed. They were trained to
think in terms of procedures and rules, and gave the impression
that one could not expect much improvisational thinking from
them. The officers obviously belonged instead to an élite. I
don’t know if this holds true for the American army as well,
but a friend of mine, a lieutenant in the Col Moschin parachutist regiment whom I’ll call Skif just in case he’d prefer not
to be named, had a chance to work with the US Army on a
number of occasions, particularly in Mogadishu in 1993, and
he explained to me that American soldiers operate in a way
that prioritises procedure, which leads them to commit avoidable errors. This, I think, is the biggest difference between them
and us.
The organisation of space and time on the aircraft carrier
was another thing that struck me. The ship is a technologically
advanced structure, powered by a nuclear reactor, that houses
around 8,000 men who live, work, sleep and eat three meals a
day there. There were bunks, dining rooms and kitchens everywhere, and every square centimetre is utilised in the most efficient way possible. Everything seemed relatively comfortable
despite the scarcity of space, and as far as I could tell, no part
of the ship was claustrophobically cramped, as one might imagine. That same evening, after having dined in the officers’ quarters as a guest of the commander, we went out onto the take-off
deck as night fell. They made us wear heavy jackets to keep us
weighed down, as we were only a few meters from where the
jets were taking off. An officer from the flight deck crew presented me with the gift of a nail from the catapult, which I still
keep like an amulet. Before going to sleep, we were taken to the
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logistics bridge below, where they were simulating a scenario
whereby a plane, instead of landing on the deck, crashes
through the hull, causing fire and serious damage. So we witnessed this exercise as the rescue teams moved through the
smoke-filled area. I was then led to a four-bed cabin that had
been reserved for me alone. I managed to sleep well enough,
but only because I had earplugs, since the take-offs and landings continued through the night. Well, I thought, they’re patrolling for us, too. The next morning’s activities featured an
opportunity to fire a machine gun. Our departure, at which I
was proclaimed an honorary pilot, was quite an experience:
while landing on an aircraft carrier is violent because of the
rapid deceleration, the take-off is amazing for the acceleration
– in just a few dozen meters, the aircraft goes from zero to takeoff speed, which I think is 297 kilometres per hour.
All you’re missing is a night on a nuclear submarine. You’ll have
to ask to a US president to host you.
In compensation I had the privilege of flying in a Macchi
MB339 and an F-16, thanks to our own Air Force. I must
thank General Giulio Mainini for those experiences. On the
first, which is a training plane, we did a low-altitude flight in
August 2002. We took off from Istrana with two fighters towards the Tre Cime of Lavaredo and Cortina, an area that suffered the tragedy of Cermis several years ago and is therefore a
sensitive spot for low-altitude military flights. Flights disturbed
the residents and the authorities of Belluno, and on their request I opened an investigation, but the procedure was shelved
because the radar records confirmed that the manoeuvres took
place within the altitude norms. The plane’s altimeter must
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have been poorly calibrated, because I could see how the people
below us were dressed. The landing on our return flight was especially exciting because we buzzed the base tower in the style
of a fighter jet before touching down. Even the leftist newspaper l’Unità devoted an article to me by Carlo Brambilla entitled “Top Gun Albertini? ‘It wasn’t me on that diving plane’”,
which read, “He stepped from that plane delighted as a child,
showing the same smile as last year when he disembarked from
an American aircraft carrier. That’s how he is. Since he can’t
play with toy soldiers any more, he relaxes for a few hours by
doing ‘something military’. Who knows if the child in him
didn’t whisper into the ear of his pilot general friend, ‘Can we
do a nose-dive? Can we?... vroom, yippee!’” I confirm that it
wasn’t me on that diving plane, but my thoughts were precisely
those described by the journalist from l’Unità.
At the Farnborough International Air Show, you had a chance
to try the cockpit of the prototype of the training craft that will replace the MB-339: the M-346, the first digitally-commanded Italian aeroplane, which has enabled Italy to close a significant
technological gap. Generally though, thanks to our leadership in
helicopters, the Italian aeronautics industry is doing well.
There was a time when it was the jewel in the crown of Milanese and Lombard industry, when the concentration of manufacturers between Milan and Varese was extraordinary. Then
it went through a rough patch, but I think it’s coming back
now, Agusta-Westland being a case in point. And I have to say
that Aermacchi, thanks to the efforts of my friend Massimo
Lucchesini, is no less noteworthy.
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Afghanistan, in December 2005 and May 2006, gave you the
opportunity to see the important work of the Italian armed forces
on peace and reconstruction missions abroad – forces under the
‘Milanese’ command of the International Security Assistance Force,
the ISAF VIII of General Mauro Del Vecchio, now a senator with
the Partito Democratico.
When I left in August 2005, I had promised General Del
Vecchio that I would come to see him, but I didn’t think that
it would happen twice. The first was a pre-Christmas visit to
the troops stationed there, the second for the adventurous delivery to the Afghan authorities of 40 buses and 10 trash compactors donated by ATM and AMSA respectively. Del Vecchio
was the first Italian commander of such a large international
force, which incorporated troops from 36 countries and covered a vast operational zone – nearly two-thirds of Afghanistan.
The fact that the command was our own city’s NRDC was further reason to be proud. When the command unit left on its
mission, I had presented it with the flag of Milan, which we
saw flying at ISAF command building in Kabul. That first trip
was especially interesting because I was able to get to know the
chief of defence General Staff, Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola,
a little better. Which is to say that I had the privilege of talking
with a brilliant personality, a renowned expert on international
scenarios and highly respected by the military commands of
other NATO nations. A man able to alternate the cold numbers of armaments and the defense budget with an extraordinary humanity and ability to communicate. Thanks to him, I
was given permission to ‘pilot’ the C-130 we took from the Al
Bateen base in the Emirates to Kabul – another memento for
my personal collection of boyish thrills. The Kabul trip also
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showed me once again the great professionalism of all our military personnel – our pilots and technicians, our ground troops,
volunteers, lower-level officers, reservists, career officers. Our
armed forces have made enormous progress in recent years. Referring back to the comparison with our main ally, the United
States, I saw in the faces of our soldiers both professionalism
and humanity. A sense of duty, intelligence, but also flexibility,
which is essential when working in contexts that are always
changing, with missions ranging from routine to delicate to
dangerous. Less procedure and greater spirit of observation.
Our standards are improving to the level of the élite. And I
think that this commitment in Afghanistan, like Cavour’s deployment of 15,000 men to the Crimea, is gaining us back respect at an international level. In Kabul, Del Vecchio
demonstrated not only great command skills, but notable
diplomatic and political gifts as well. I also have good memories of some of the officers working with him, like the commander of the Taurinense Alpine Brigade, Claudio Graziano,
and the two ‘Milanese’ generals, Giordano and Li Gobbi.
These human and professional characteristics of the Italian
forces were confirmed by all the Afghani civic leaders, from President Karzai to Vice-President Massoud, from the former king and
father of the country Zahir Shah to his nephew Prince Mustapha
Zahir, who played a key role in the liberation of Clementina Cantoni, one of Milan’s own47.
In gratitude for having liberated Clementina, I presented
the prince with the ‘Ambrogino d’Oro’ in May 2006. The
proof of the importance of the Italian presence in Kabul was
seen upon the troops’ return, when a big parade was held in
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Piazza Duomo on 12 May 2006. That was also the last official
appearance of Minister Martino, who spoke of the valuable
contribution our troops had made around the world over the
last five years and the solidarity that Milan, a secular city resistant to facile demagoguery, has always shown with regard to
the sacrifice of our armed forces. This was a particularly proud
moment for me, given that Italy had recently lost some of its
standing in the world.
Except when we won the World Cup... You mentioned the delivery of 40 buses and 10 compactors to Kabul in early May 2006.
That was quite an odyssey.
It certainly was. We had promised the equipment to the
civil authorities of the Ministry of Transportation and the city
of Kabul. After obtaining the generous consent of our two service companies, ATM and AMSA, we thought that the biggest
hurdle had been overcome. Little did we know that we would
have to face adverse conditions at sea, a strike of the port workers in Karachi, and an Islamic terrorist attack that caused more
than 50 deaths, all of which generated a delay of nearly two
months. And that’s not all. The Afghani drivers entrusted with
bringing the vehicles and compactors from Karachi to Kabul
had to deal with crossing the legendary Khyber Pass on roads
that were little more than mule tracks at elevations of 1,300
meters. I arrived in Kabul the day before the official presentation was scheduled, at which point the buses were only 80 kilometers outside the capital. It appeared we had pulled it off, but
during the night a bridge collapsed. So, along with Italian Ambassador Francesco Ettore Sequi and his escort of carabinieri,
we decided to go and meet the stranded vehicles. It was quite
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incredible to see that convoy of familiar orange Milanese buses
trapped in an Afghan gorge. We talked with the leader of the
Afghani drivers, who was exhausted, but after convincing them
of our faith in their ability to resolve the problem, the drivers
rolled up their sleeves and worked all night replacing the collapsed bridge with gravel and earth, using only their hands.
The vehicles arrived in Kabul the next morning, thanks to the
sturdiness of the Italian buses and the ingenuity of the Afghani
We’ll close this chapter by commenting on the importance of a
civic presence in places like Afghanistan. In addition to troops and
diplomats, there are prominent Italians in the field of international cooperation as well.
Ambassador Sequi is certainly among our most competent
young diplomats. Then there are two fellow countrymen who
definitely deserve mention: Alberto Cairo and Gino Strada.
Two very different personalities, two different stories and two
different realities. Dr. Cairo, a slight and modest man, has
silently spent the last 16 years performing miracles in his laboratory in Kabul. With mind-boggling effectiveness and generosity, he has provided artificial limbs, single and multiple, to
73,000 people, and with them the possibility of surviving the
unspeakable suffering of war, poverty and unimaginable sanitary conditions. Cairo gives the impression of a man consumed, like the mystics of yore who fasted among the outcasts
and unfortunates. But he has combined this with the ingenuity
of a technician, finding different reconstructive and rehabilitative solutions for every problem. And he also has the pragmatism and organisational skills of a good manager. My first
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question upon meeting him was “What do you need?”, and he
said, “Send us shoes”. A condition for employment in his clinics is that everyone has to be disabled – or rather, newly abled
after having been treated by Dr. Cairo’s organisation. And all
of this is done very matter-of-factly, without drama or noise,
such that very few people in Italy even know about his work.
Those involved with the Red Cross, yes, but otherwise there is
very little awareness of the amazing work being done. For this
and other reasons, I was proud to present him with an ‘Ambrogino d’Oro’ upon my return.
Gino Strada48 is another story, a media star known to all
and associated with all wars. The general image of his Emergency NGO is a structure with excellent doctors with wartime
experience and a number of hospitals in various crisis zones. I
admire Strada’s marketing ability: by dramatically deploying
the imagery of the horrors of war, he manages to raise piles of
money. He mentioned something in the vicinity of eight million dollars. It’s interesting when I compare my encounters
with the two Italian doctors. Cairo was very informal, in fact
after introducing himself he had to ask which of us was the
mayor because he didn’t recognise me. After that he was most
cordial, explaining to me how his operation functioned as he
guided me around the facilities. A down-to-earth, pragmatic
man whose distinguishing trait is his authenticity. When I went
to see Gino Strada, carrying a tribute from the city of Milan for
his hospital, I was met instead by an assistant who told me with
conspicuous indifference that Strada was in the middle of an
operation. I said I didn’t want to disturb him and that I’d come
back another time. I understood it would probably be better to
have someone else show me around the hospital. At that point,
one of Strada’s assistants asked the soldiers accompanying me
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if they could help fix an electrical generator, but they had to
keep it quiet to preserve Emergency’s reputation for being
against soldiers, uniforms, weapons and the like. When we entered the operating room, we found Strada suturing a child in
serious condition, and he left the patient to an assistant, took
off his gloves, greeted me and fired up a cigarette. He explained
that Emergency had done a million treatments in the Kabul
hospital, whose dimensions quite frankly didn’t strike me as
being up to such numbers, but perhaps he was including the
dispensation of medicine. Equally impressive were the results
of a what he called a comparative analysis of the treatment success rates between the Emergency hospital and several of the
best American emergency surgery facilities. To hear Strada tell
it, his numbers were a little better, but the Americans were
keeping up. I had no wish to question his claims, if only out of
politeness. He then asked me when the next elections would be
held in Italy, and though he comes quite often to Milan, he
pretended not to know the candidates for mayor. When I told
him, he urged me not to vote for Moratti and to abstain from
any electoral campaigning because, he said, he and I were
members of a civil society.
Nevertheless, while he may be a bit of a demagogue, we should
acknowledge the fact that Strada holds the flag of Milan up high.
But then he makes the curious claim that all the American and
British NGOs operating in Afghanistan are really working for the
secret services. If that were true, wouldn’t it be secret?
Yes, that is rather curious. Meanwhile, I’ve learned something else I didn’t know, which is that Emergency no longer
operates in Afghanistan. After being accused by the Karzai government of collusion with Taleban, Strada left the country.
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The Italian Social Republic (RSI) was the fascist puppet state that sided with
the German Third Reich during the last two years of World War II.
Palazzo Reale, Palazzo Dugnani and Stelline Foundation are cultural locations
in Milan.
San Vittore is the main prison in Milan.
The NGO operator Clementina Cantoni was kidnapped in 2005 by an illegally armed group in Afghanistan.
The MD Gino Strada is the founder of the NGO Emergency that ran a number of hospitals in Afghanistan.
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Chapter 9
Wherein are recounted tales of great architects, new urban
alchemists and potentially perfect condominiums.
This final chapter sets out, perhaps ambitiously, to explore your
thoughts on the workplace of mayors, the cities, and the role played
by great contemporary and past architects in leaving defining
marks on the cityscape. Perhaps the best place to start is with Sir
Norman Foster.
I have to say that I admire Sir Norman Foster greatly, and
not just because, among all the great living architects, he is the
one I have got to know best, having met with him more frequently than any of the others and having had more time to
talk, once in his incredible studio, Foster and Partners, overlooking the Thames. Over the years we have visited many of
the world’s cities and countless architectural works. In terms
of style and my own personal taste, Foster’s work is my
favourite, both for its intellectual allure and for the technical
quality of the buildings themselves. This is true for the new
London town hall, the Reichstag in Berlin, and the Beijing airport, to mention the ones I am most familiar with. I am sorry
that he has not been able to express himself more significantly
in Milan, apart from the undeniably important Santa Giulia
And then there is Daniel Libeskind, who is perhaps even
more daring. And yet, prior to meeting him, I had not been
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particularly impressed by his works. But I spent some time
with him last year in New York, both in his studio and during
a gala dinner where he was the guest of honour. When I got the
chance to talk to him, I perceived a sensitivity that is rooted in
his personal history, a splendid human tale and professional
story: a young Polish Jew who fled Poland together with his
parents to escape communist persecution, which, if you will,
picked up where the Nazis had left off. Equally tragic times,
though not marked by the violence of the death camps. The
Libeskind family moved to the United States, where they
found, as did many others, a route to redemption and success.
Libeskind told me the story of his arrival in the New York harbour when he saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time. Fifty
years later, the same boy, now a successful man, won the international design competition for the construction of the Freedom Tower on the site of the former Twin Towers. This story
as a man and an architect condenses all the essence of American
society and America, the land of opportunity. But also the
more subtle irony of the fate of a foreigner, a refugee fleeing
from persecution, who is now perfectly integrated and is rebuilding something that was destroyed by Islamic fundamentalists. I believe that every now and then we see the hand of
destiny in the course of things. And he will also have the opportunity to express himself in the city fairgrounds with Milan’s
Citylife project. That limited area – it can’t be more than
255,000 square meters – will contain a skyscraper by Libeskind, a naturalised American Polish Jew, alongside the work of
another great visionary architect, the naturalised British Iraqi
Zaha Hadid, as well as that of the Japanese Arata Isozaki. This
pluralism of designs, which places Milan at the forefront of international architecture, should silence those voices that mutter
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about the minimalism and provincialism of our city. I had the
chance to study the overall project, and in spite of the contrasting biographies of these three great architects, I find it harmonious: there will not be three towers of Babel speaking different
The architects Massimiliano Fuksas and Mario Botta have
completed works in Milan.
In Milan’s limited area (182 square kilometres, one seventh
the size of Rome) we feature all the great names of world architecture. This is the achievement of the landlord and of someone who kept a low profile. So whether this happened by
chance or by luck, I couldn’t say. But even Napoleon was indulgent with his generals, whether they were valorous or merely
We have already talked about architecture and politics in the
case of the CELAP building in Shanghai and the Berlin Reichstag,
but also indirectly when we discussed the Basilica of Saint Peter
and the memorial buildings in Washington. Can we return to this
interesting concept? You often tend to associate the theme of ideals
and values with the function of governing the city and, more generally, with the noble, civic aspect of politics.
In the history of art, I believe that architecture, more than
any of the other forms of expression, demands something extra.
Let me explain: all you need to paint a picture is a painter, but
it took both Michelangelo and the pope to build Saint Peter’s.
I believe that it is from this dialogue between art and power
that the most impressive works are created. And then I must
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say that architecture, unlike the other arts, is immediately visible and usable. It can be appreciated by all walks of society,
even by those who never set foot in museums, but simply travel
the streets.
Architecture orientated “didactically” to the entire population
has been used by the great democracies, for example in the United
States, and also by Mitterrand with the Bibliothèque Nationale
and the Louvre pyramid. And it has been used by dictators, as we
see with Stalin’s “teeth”, the various towers he had built in different
parts of Moscow.
The same was true for fascist Italy and nazi Germany, although little of the latter architecture has remained. In any
case, I find it is only in architecture that ideological planning
plays a dominant role, for better or for worse. It is thought
transformed into physical space that in turn transforms society.
Well, regarding what little has remained in Berlin: vae victis.
In June 1998 there was a mission to the German city during which
it was possible to observe the progress of the Alexanderplatz designed by Renzo Piano, as well as the ruins of the Italian embassy,
a gift from Hitler to Mussolini, prior to the recent restoration work.
For over 50 years it was a ruin that symbolised the end of World
War II and that unfortunate alliance, and it bore the wounds of
the Soviet entry into the city in April 1945. The Italian embassy
stood next to its Japanese counterpart, which was equally majestic
because, in the rather simplistic designs of Albert Speer, architect
of the Führer, at the end of the war there would have been only
three great powers.
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Speer was the only high-ranking Nazi who managed to conserve a significant amount of dignity and preserve the allure of
his work as an architect. In the dialogue between him and
Hitler we observe a very unusual relationship, another manifestation of what we talked about before regarding the way that
political institutions express themselves through architecture.
The same thing that happened in Moscow with Stalin also
should have taken place in Berlin with the millennium dome.
The only thing still standing prior to the FIFA World Cup was
the Olympic stadium built in 1936.
Getting back to the embassy, I had a chance to visit it again
in 2003. It had been completely restored and was fully functional, since Berlin had been restored to its role as capital. As
with the Reichstag, this was a demonstration that the European
civil war has definitively come to an end, that Europe is rising
again, a bit enlarged, and that Europeans have reason to trust
in the future. I was very pleased to see our embassy in such
good condition when we organised the roadshow for the reopening of La Scala. The only thing that left me a bit concerned was the total removal of some of the distinctive signs of
the fascist regime, an act of iconoclasm towards emblems guilty
of evoking the 1940s. There were countless other possible
methods: a curtain, doors, stuccowork that would hide those
symbols from overly sensitive eyes. Instead, the radical, typically Italian solution of total removal was adopted, the diametric opposite of what Foster did with the Reichstag that provides
a historical narrative, for better or for worse, of Germany and
Europe in the 20th century. This testimony to the past must
not be exhibited ostentatiously, but I believe it must be rigorously conserved. When one looks at things through the eyes
of history and with the quest for memory, one must step back
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from participating as partisans in a civil war which we now
hope has ended. During the nine years that I visited the Field
of Honour, celebrating the fall of the Republic of Salò, the Italian Social Republic49, I was never once accompanied by a representative of ANPI, the national association of Italian
partisans. We cannot, 60 years later, still nurture the pain and
fury of those times. Certain things have to stay where they are,
that is, a part of history. I think it is infantile to go on erasing.
Moreover, this “democratic” removal often occurs in a more
totalitarian manner than the worst dictatorships.
The same thing did not happen in Moscow with Soviet monuments.
Let’s take Lenin’s tomb as an example, or other vestiges of
the Soviet Union, which help us to understand better what
happened and remind us of the words of Santayana: “Those
who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Something similar also happened in Milan at the turn of the
last century, the turn of the millennium. Milan was transformed
from an industrial city, with its citadels and factories, to a centre
of services.
Yes, but our history was saved, as in the case of the Bicocca
degli Arcimboldi, the smokestack, and the old Pirelli headquarters. In the Bicocca district, one finds one of the most beautiful
works of modern architecture that I have ever seen – the new
Pirelli headquarters, with a post-industrial core surrounded by
steel and glass, a work of supreme beauty. We cannot erase our
industrial past, even if it does represent the “bosses”. It must be
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exalted and given a modern setting. The same will happen for
the Milan city fairgrounds, which will be rebuilt, but Giò
Ponti’s buildings will be preserved50.
In recent times, there has been a rather typical, “autarchic” debate on the need to give less work to great foreign architects and
more to young Italian architects. What is your position on this?
I believe that now that the first phase has been completed,
responding to the accusation of provincialism and the lack of
prestigious landmarks, we are ready to turn to young Italian
architects, provided that they can produce competitive solutions. But this must not come about under a veil of protectionism. The same thing holds for capital: it is desirable that
major redevelopment projects involve both Italian and foreign
There are great works and projects dedicated to social functions
in Milan as well. Do they arouse satisfaction or disappointment in
Let’s take this step by step. Certain indelible traces have
been left. First of all, there is the Teatro degli Arcimboldi,
which I still like, in spite of its critics. I also feel that the design
of César Pelli’s Cittadella della Moda in the Garibaldi-Repubblica area is very attractive. The problem with projects for social
or cultural purposes that require public financing lies entirely
in coming up with the funds and in managing them. Other
cases include David Chipperfield’s Città delle Culture in the
former Ansaldo area or the Biblioteca Europea at Porta Vittoria, designed by Bob Wilson. The restoration of an old work-
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ing-class district, Ponte Lambro, with designs by Renzo Piano,
is a different case. Work has been done, and work is continuing, but things are beginning to drag. I believe it is due to the
difficulty in convincing families to move: we are not in China
where they deport millions of people when they want to build
a dam.
In conclusion, is there a perfect condominium?
Apart from Milan where, during my “guard duty”, I oversaw the transformation of the city from post-industrial to neourban, I can think of only one other city that, despite all its
difficulties, might be perfect: Jerusalem. There, rabbis read the
Bible just a few meters from Arab merchants in the Levantine
charm of their souk, where brilliantly colored fabrics, handcrafts, and characteristically scented spices are sold, where pilgrims arrive from all corners of the world, where the sentinels
of prayer are found on the walls of the old town. A difficult
condominium, with millennia of history and conflict, but also
a workshop of hope for a future of peace among the world’s
See note 44.
Gio Ponti (18 November 1891 – 16 September 1979) was an important Italian architect and designer.
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A true leader*
It is a great and true pleasure for me to depict here the figure
of Raymond Barre. Internationally renowned economist, professor at the Institut d’Études Politiques in Paris, vice-president
of the European Commission for Financial and Economic Affairs, prime minister of the French Republic, I limit myself to
mentioning just some of the positions assumed by this grand
personage of the political history of recent decades, who must
also be considered one of the founding fathers of Europe. Others have extolled this brilliant representative of European culture more aptly than I am capable of doing.
On the other hand, I feel the need to express a few words
about Barre as a man and a friend, a colleague and mayor of
Milan’s sister city. It was in our role as mayor that we were
united and that I was able to appreciate his great ability, his
extraordinary courtesy, as well as his savoir-faire. I was struck
by his perspicacity, his elegance, cordiality, culture and his
deeply pondered convictions.
It was he who suggested to me the letters that I sent on various occasions to my fellow Milanese citizens. This unique relationship that connects a mayor directly to his or her city was
especially dear to him, a relationship via which opinions could
be asked or a balance sheet illustrated. I also used this method,
for example, regarding problems of pollution due to automo-
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bile traffic, the renovation of La Scala and issues of security.
During our conversations we talked about the disparity between the responsibilities attributed to a mayor by his fellow
city dwellers and our real power. We exchanged ideas on the
many problems that a mayor has to address and deal with. His
advice has always been precious to me.
Today, the image of Raymond Barre that I retain is that of
a man of great serenity and inner equilibrium. This gave him
exceptional lucidity without the slightest trace of pride. He is
thus for me the model of a true leader of unquestionable honesty who must remain a beacon for his collaborators.
For me, Raymond Barre has always had the strength of a
conscience marked by moral rigor and balance, a conscience
of enduring solidity.
*Article published in Lyon Mag, “Raymond Barre, 30 personalités témoignant”,
hors série, September 2007, p. 32.
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Index of names
Abdallah II, King of Jordan 11,
Abraham, Murray 106
Abu Mazen (Mahmud Abbas) 11,
120-121, 125
Ahmadinejad, Mahmoud 94
Albertini, James 72-73
Albertini, Joseph 72-73
Alessandrello, Rosario 77
Alexander the Great 33
Alvarez del Manzano, José María 35
Andreotti, Giulio 50, 59n
Andrew, Duke of York, prince
Arafat, Yasser 120, 122
Aragona, Giancarlo 75-76, 110
Aristotle 137
Augustine, saint 137, 139, 141
Avogadro, Raniero 146
Aznar, José María 95
Barak, Ehud 120
Barre, Raymond 47-48, 57-58,
118, 181-182
Bartholomew, Reginald 103
Beethoven, Ludwig van 126
Benedict XVI, pope 129, 146-147
Berija, Lavrentij Pavlovic 76
Berlusconi, Silvio 10, 24, 74, 81,
85, 94, 97, 108, 110, 138, 143
Bernheim, Antoine 47, 51-53
Berselli, Filippo 158
Bertolini, Marco 158
Blair, Tony (Anthony) 34, 93-95
Bloomberg, Michael 108
Blum, Léon 20, 37n
Boccaccio, Giovanni 69
Borges, Jorge Luis 137
Bossi, Umberto 143
Botta, Mario 175
Brambilla, Carlo 164
Bush, George W. jr. 75, 95, 97,
101, 107, 109-111
Bush, George W. sr. 98, 101-106
Caccia Dominioni, Paolo 155, 157
Cairo, Alberto 168-169
Cantoni, Clementina 166, 171n
Carmagnola (a.k.a. Francesco Bussone) 75
Casini, Pier Ferdinando 126, 131n
Castro, Fidel 144
Cattaneo, Carlo 16
Chipperfield, David 179
Chirac, Jacques 50
Chrétien, Jean 33-34
Churchill, Winston 30, 95
Ciampi, Carlo Azeglio 22, 154, 158
Ciano, Galeazzo 157
Cingoli, Janiki 12
Mayor X ALE
Pagina 184
Clinton, Bill (William Jefferson)
12, 16-18, 21-22, 24, 31, 95,
98-100, 105-106, 118
Clinton, Hillary 17, 100
Cofferati, Sergio 79, 82n
Colbert, Jean-Baptiste 53, 59n
Craxi, Bettino 106, 111n
Cuccia, Enrico 52, 59n
D’Alema, Massimo 73-74
Daley, Richard 16
Dambruoso, Stefano 119, 131n
Dante Alighieri 69
Davis Reagan, Nancy 105
De Benedetti, Carlo 101, 111n
De Corato, Riccardo 65, 70-71, 160
De Gaulle, Charles 144
De Niro, Robert 46
Del Vecchio, Mauro 165-166
Della Casa, Giovanni, monsignore
137, 152n
Di Paola, Giampaolo 165
Diepgen, Eberhard 35
Eligio, padre (Antonio Gelmini)
43, 150, 152n
Elizabeth II, Queen of England
83-86, 109, 111
Evangelisti, Franco 50, 59n
Falcone, Giovanni 41, 59n
Faysal, King of Syria 117
Ferrari, Antonio 114, 117
Fiano, Emanuele 124
Fini, Gianfranco 126, 131n
Ford, Henry 110
Formigoni, Roberto 85
Foster, Norman 49, 87, 91-92,
173, 177
Frederick II, King of Prussia 68
Fuksas, Massimiliano 175
Gadonneix, Pierre 55
Gergiev, Valery 80
Germana, sister 142
Giordano, Sergio 166
Giuliani, Rudolph 34, 39-49,
Godard, Jean-Luc 69
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von
Gorbachev, Mikail 70, 102
Gordon, Charles George 88
Gore, Al 31-32
Gramsci, Antonio 39, 59n
Graziano, Claudio 166
Grouchy, Emmanuel 111
Hadid, Zaha 174
Hadley, Stephen 97, 107
Hammad, Nemer 121
Hart, Gary 99
Hazan, Avraham 130
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich
32, 126
Henkel, Hans-Olaf 15
Henry VIII, King of England 150
Heraclitus 9
Herostratus 46
Hitler, Adolf 176-177
Ho Chi Minh 70-71
Huldai, Ron 123-124, 126-127
Hussein, King of Jordan 113
Hussein, Saddam 103-104
Hyde, Henry 21, 98
Ignatius of Loyola, saint 41, 150
Isozaki, Arata 174
Ivanov, Igor 77
Jedrkiewicz, Stefano 115
John of Austria, prince 151
John Baptist, saint 74, 118
John Paul II, pope 101, 133-134,
136, 140
Mayor X ALE
Pagina 185
Julius Caesar 52, 97, 100
Karzai, Hamid 166, 170
Katsav, Moshe 11, 124, 130
Kelling, George 42
Khrushchev, Nikita 81
Kipling, Rudyard 51
Kitchener, Horatio Herbert 88
Kohl, Helmut 12, 15-18, 21-22,
24, 118
LaGuardia, Fiorello 34, 44
Lawrence of Arabia (Thomas Edward Lawrence) 12, 116
Le Carré, John 75
Le Kha Phieu 70
Ledeen, Michael 97, 106-108, 111n
Lenin, Nikolaj (Vladimir Ilich
Uljanov) 39, 41, 71, 74,
76-77, 178
Leonardo da Vinci 17, 85
Letta, Enrico 83, 96n
Letta, Gianni 78, 82n
Lewinsky, Monica 98
Li Gobbi, Alberto 166
Li Zhaoxing 67, 69
Libeskind, Daniel 173-174
Livingstone, Ken 87, 90-92
Lucchesini, Massimo 164
Luzhkov, Yuri 81
Machiavelli, Niccolò 107
Mainini, Giulio 163
Major, John 93
Manzoni, Alessandro 147
Mao Zedong 62
Maranghi, Vincenzo 52-53, 59n
Marino, Tommaso 85
Martini, Carlo Maria, cardinal
11, 13, 14n, 41, 73, 119-120, 122,
134, 137-138, 140-142, 144,
Martino, Antonio 155, 158-159,
Marx, Karl 65, 162
Massoud, Ahmad Zia 166
Mazzi, Antonio 43
McGovern, George 98
Merkel, Angela 23
Metzger, Yona 129
Michelangelo Buonarroti 175
Mitterrand, François 176
Montanelli, Indro 9-10, 14n, 87,
107, 118, 140, 160
Montgomery, Bernard Law 88
Moratti, Letizia 81, 90, 113, 117,
Moro, Aldo 107
Mosca Moschini, Rolando 159
Mountbatten, Louis 88
Mountbatten, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, prince 83-84, 86
Muhammad 113
Mussolini, Benito 176
Muti, Riccardo 75, 80, 84
Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of
France 68, 111, 175
Nixon, Richard 98
Olmert, Ehud 11-12, 121, 127-129
O’Toole, Peter 111
Parisi, Stefano 22, 79
Pascal, Blaise 41, 58, 137
Pascoli, Giovanni 13, 14n
Pasolini, Pier Paolo 136, 152n
Pelli, César 179
Peres, Shimon 11, 121, 123-126,
Piano, Renzo 176, 180
Piccirillo, Michele 148-149, 152n
Piermarini, Giuseppe 46, 59n
Pillitteri, Paolo 127
Mayor X ALE
Pagina 186
Plato 137
Ponti, Giò 179, 180n
Porta, Giorgio 28
Prodi, Romano 21-22
Putin, Vladimir 12, 70, 73-75,
77-81, 95, 109-111, 114, 140
Putina, Ludmilla 80-81
Rabin, Yitzhak 127
Rania, Queen of Jordan 10,
113-115, 117
Ratzinger, Joseph, cardinal, see
Benedict XVI
Raynsford, Nick 34
Reagan, Ronald Wilson 101-102,
105-106, 111n
Resnais, Alain 159
Romiti, Cesare 22, 37n, 53, 64
Rommel, Erwin 157
Roth, Luigi 35
Roth, Petra 15, 17
Rutelli, Francesco 61, 82n
Sabbah, Michael 148-149
Salleo, Ferdinando 110
Sarkozy, Nicolas 47-48, 51
Scarselli, Aldo 116
Schily, Otto 49, 92
Schröder, Gerhard 22-24, 95
Sellers, Peter 78
Sequi, Francesco Ettore 167-168
Severgnigni, Beppe 160-161
Sharon, Ariel 12, 125, 127-128
Short, Claire 106
Smith, Adam 55
Spassky, Nikolai Nikolaevich 74,
76, 110
Speer, Albert 176-177
Spielberg, Steven 157
Stalin (a.k.a. Josif Vissarionovic
Dzugavili) 74, 176-177
Stendhal (a.k.a. Henri Beyle) 133
Stone, Robert 31
Strada, Gino 168-170, 171n
Strozzi Guicciardini, Irina, princess
Tauran, Jean-Louis, cardinal 12-13,
14n, 147-148
Teocoli, Teo 146
Thatcher, Margaret 26-28, 93
Thomas, saint 137
Tiberi, Jean 34, 47-48, 50-51
Tiepolo, Giambattista 148
Togliatti, Palmiro 74, 82n
Topbas, Kadir 151
Tremonti, Giulio 19
Truman, Harry S. 104
Tschang, Mario 66
Valentini, Valentino 81, 110
Veltroni, Walter 43-44
Vento, Andrea 10
Vento, Sergio 47, 94
Volontieri, Ettore 75
Wellesley, Arthur, Duke of Wellington 88
Wilson, Bob 179
Wilson, James 42
Woolsey, Jim 63-64, 98, 107
Wright, Orville 88
Wright, Wilbur 88
Xi Jie Ren 68
Yeltsin, Boris 70
Zahir, Mustapha 166
Zahir, Shah 166
Zapatero, José Luis 154
Zemin, Jiang 61-62, 109, 111
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“I personally witnessed some of the international meetings ‘the first citizen of
Milan’ held during his nine years in office. Now, in this book, he collects and
recounts these episodes in collaboration with interviewer Andrea Vento. And it
is precisely here, on the international stage, far from the flattery and trappings
of Italian politics, both national and local, that the ex-mayor achieved enviable
goals, ably weaving and cementing friendships that have become part of the
city’s heritage”.
(Antonio Ferrari)
Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, cities were not concerned with international
visibility: the process of “twinning” was merely a response to the post-war need
to reconstruct relations, carried out in a vaguely ideological manner and limited
to cultural activities. Gabriele Albertini changed all this.
More than 40 heads of state and government visited Milan; the number of visiting ministerial delegations exceeded 100; numerous mayors and regional governors were received; tens of city-twinning agreements were signed or
consolidated, as well as international exhibitions, roadshows and theatre tours.
Such themes are touched upon in this book as Albertini recounts curious events
and episodes, offering unedited portraits of well-known personalities, original
and amusing observations on the serious scene of “international politics”… of a
global city.
Gabriele Albertini (born 1950) was mayor of Milan from 1997 to 2006. He has
been a member of the European Parliament since 2004. He was vice-president
of the Committee for Transport and Tourism and, in 2009, he was elected president of the Committee for Foreign Affairs. Together with his brother Carlo Alberto, he ran the family business. Until 1997 he was president of the federation
of Italian mechanical industrial entrepreneurs (Federmeccanica). He has also
published The Mayor’s Office (Milan 2006).
Andrea Vento (born 1967) is a journalist and historian. Since 1997 he has worked
as a director of the City of Milan, reporting directly to Mayors Albertini and
Moratti. He is also a reserve officer of the Italian Army and an enthusiastic pilot.
Cover: Gabriele Albertini and Queen Elizabeth II, Milan, October 2002
(Archive of the City of Milan)
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