Francesco Cossiga has died. A man with sharp intelligence and a biting sense of humor, he was a veteran politician and a leading figure in the Christian Democrat party that ruled Italy for most of the post-war period before collapsing in disgrace in the early 1990s. He was also a staunch backer of the US during the Cold War, and remained such until his death.
He once described himself as a “wildcat that it is better not to scratch,” and possibly he was right. But he was, first and foremost, a gentleman and an old-fashioned Christian. As president from 1985 to 1992, he used the largely ceremonial, head-of-state role to publicly lambaste—through legendary and fiery interviews and speeches that earned him the nickname of the “picconatore” (literally somebody wielding a pickaxe)—parliament and the judiciary in what the best part of public opinion saw as an effort to spur reform in an increasingly inefficient, moribund postwar system of revolving door coalition governments. Thus he paved the way for the new conservative governments of Italy, but he also became a point of reference for the Italian “riformisti” (the moderates of the Left, unfortunately a species threatened with extinction …).
Emblematic of both his sense of humor and his anti-leftism, commenting in 2007 on the September 11 attacks and on a video attributed to Osama Bin Laden, he wrote on the Corriere della Sera newspaper that “all of the democratic circles of America and of Europe, especially those of the Italian center-left, now know well that the disastrous attack was planned and realized by the American CIA and Mossad with the help of the Zionist world in order to place the blame on Arabic Countries and to persuade the Western powers to intervene in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Many will miss him, including myself, here in Italy. Rest in peace, Mr. President, and thank you for all you have done. We will never forget you.