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The happy face of democracy.

Modern Italy and its political system after the fall of the Monarchy (1946) to the present day.

1945-1947: Prologue

By the end of World War II, Italy was in ruins: the war reduced most factories to rubble, roads & railways were unusable and millions of people were left without a home. The last years of war saw Italians from both sides, Fascists and members of the Italian Resistance, fighting each other. There was also bitter resentment against the King and the monarchy, fueled by Victor Emmanuel's support of Fascism and the Royal Family's hasty escape from Rome during the German occupation of Italy.

The Communist Party, meanwhile, gained consensus and another civil war seemed inevitable.

The old King — in the (admittedly, vain) hope to restore the Royal Family's reputation — abdicated in favour of his eldest son, Prince Umberto, who was crowned on 9 May 1946 as Umberto II and remained King of Italy for just over a month, which is why he was nicknamed il Re di Maggio ("the King of May"). During his incredibly short reign, he had to defuse the various sources of tension within the country which could have led to another unnecessary bloodbath; at that time, some Sicilian factions were pushing for independence (thus threatening the unity and the stability of the whole nation), while the Yugoslavians wanted to annex much of North-Eastern Italy. However, Umberto — showing the good sense his father lacked — promptly granted Sicily fiscal and political autonomy, making the independence campaigners run out of steam; sent fresh troops to the border; and called for a referendum which would hopefully strengthen his position.

The Referendum

On June 2, 1946, the first free referendum since 1921 took place, the first time Italian women were allowed to vote. Electoral results showed a nation almost split in two, with Northern Italians voting en masse for the Republic while Central and Southern Italians were willing to keep the monarchy; however, there were also widespread accusations that the anti-monarchists rigged the result, with the new government proclaiming the victory of the Republic well before the counting of the votes had even finished or repressing manifestations in support of the King (as it happened in Naples' via Medina on 11 June 1946: the Police was instructed to fire upon the protesters, leaving nine dead and a hundred people wounded). Umberto II, fearing that the country could plunge again into a civil war, chose not to contest the result and joined part of his family in Portugal.

Italy had become a Republic, and a couple of years later the 2nd of June became the (mildly controversial) Italian national holiday.

Enrico de Nicola was elected the first President of Italy, while the new Constitution was promulgated on 22 December, 1947 and came into force the next year; all the male members of the House of Savoy (including the now-ex King) were banished from Italy and exiled to Portugal (the ban was eventually lifted in 2002).

The Peace Treaty of 1947

Italy had already signed an Armistice with the Allies in 1943, which would later lay the foundation for the Peace Treaty. In brief — Italy was, by virtue of the Treaty, obliged to disband a good part of the Navy (most of its vessels were ceded to the Allied powers) note  and the country was not allowed to deploy the Army (which was reduced in size) outside its borders; minorities had their status recognized. Finally, Italy had to pay hefty economic reparations and was forced to relinquish all its overseas possessions along with parts of its North-Eastern territory, as follows:

  • Libya was first split between the UK and France, only to become independent in 1951;
  • Italian Somaliland became a U.N. Trust Territory managed by Italy until 1960, when it was merged with British Somaliland and granted independence;
  • Ethiopia had already been liberated by the British in 1942;
  • Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia as a form of compensation;
  • The Italian Concession in Tianjin was handed over to the Republic of China;
  • The Dodecanese was ceded to Greece;
  • The regions of Istria and Dalmatia were ceded to Yugoslavia;
  • The city of Trieste was declared a "Free Territory" under U.N. protection.

The First Republic: Italy from 1948 to 1992

Eventually, the Cold War partly loosened some of the treaty's provisions and Italy greatly benefited from the European Recovery Program (better known as the Marshall Plan); between 1948 and 1951 over $1,204,000 was invested in food aids, factories and other important public works. For the following 30 years, the country would be dominated by the centre-right, Vatican-and-US-backed Christian Democracy (with the Communist Party being the largest opposition party), which led to Italy's entry into NATO in 1949; from the late 40s to The '50s, Italy experienced signs of economic growth.

In 1954, the city of Trieste — after a series of lengthy negotiations involving the United States, Britain and Yugoslavia — was finally reunited with Italy; television was introduced and the national broadcasting company, RAI, created. However, Italy had all the stability of a Banana Republic; the premiership changed hands more than 40 times in 50 years and endured short-lived governments (average shelf life: around 11 months; shortest: 21 daysnote ). The main reason for this was that the important parties ended up playing a game of dividing important posts in government and important state conglomerates between themselves on purely strategic considerations as opposed to, say, competence — a practice known, for the cabinet, as Manuale Cencelli from a popular guest manual of the 1950s; state conglomerates were subject to lottizzazione, that is, they were split between parties. These methods led to the situation of party chairmen actually being more powerful than Presidents or Prime Ministers, a fact illustrated by the way Prime Minister Mario Scelba was forced to resign in 1955 by his inner party rivals instead of for parliamentary reasons.

The Other Wiki's list of PMs illustrates this game of musical chairs rather well, and Italian politicians were generally engaging in Strawman Political-level corruption and nepotism: the constant reshuffles were meant to preserve the Balance of Power and accommodate their "clients" and, above all, the United States. The prevalence of nepotism and corruption did not bring any positive contributions to Italy's reputation, and within the country itself it fostered a climate of isolation between the political élite and Italian citizens, whose increasing dissatisfaction and revulsion with the system fueled widespread political apathy. This period provided such shining examples of public service as Giovanni Leone, who was forced to resign as President in 1978 after being caught in the Lockheed bribery scandal; Antonio Segni, who was accused of having participated in planning a coup d'état nicknamed "Piano Solo" to suppress the popularity of left-wing parties; and the government of Arnaldo Forlani, which raised $40 billion in reconstruction funds after the Irpinia earthquake but succeeded in only spending $9.6 billion of it on actual reconstruction, pissing the rest away in the form of bribes, primarily to the Camorra, and enriching their supporters in the region.

One of the arguable side effects of the corrupt establishment was that the Italian Communist Party (PCI) became the most popular and largest Communist party in Europe (beating even the French Communist Party in its heyday, when they were still the largest left-wing party in France), earning a reputation for being Reasonable Authority Figures and competent administrators at the regional level who cared more about improving public services and taking measures to improve people's livelihoods than enriching themselves from bribes. However, the PCI were never "allowed" to seriously challenge the system and be more than the opposition since the Cold War was in full swing (the USA poured what we could call "a lot" of funds into aiding Christian Democracy during the infamously hysterical, Scare Campaign-dominated 1948 election), coming closest to doing so in the 1976 election (which fueled hopes of a "historic compromise" that would lead to a DC-PCI coalition government), leading to a system some analysts have called "imperfect bipolarism" since it didn't really allow for a proper variation in office between different parties: the DC had a stronghold as the largest party in Italy and its coalitions with other parties (the Italian Socialist Party, Italian Democratic Socialist Party, Italian Republican Party and Italian Liberal Party) were more often than not cosmetic instead of substantial, while the PCI's support was usually restricted to the "Red Quadrilateral" regions of Emilia-Romagna, Umbria, Tuscany and Marche. The resulting lack of accountability served to entrench further the corrupt, self-serving political system that the country became infamous for in the period.

On March 25, 1957, Italy, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and West Germany signed the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community — the ancestor of The European Union.

From the late 50s to the mid-60s, Italy enjoyed a period of unprecedented economic growth and prosperity, despite surreally widespread levels of corruption and state inefficiency — the so-called Italian Miracle. The country's GDP doubled, while industrial production skyrocketed; new highways, dams, power plants, schools and hospitals were built; Italian films and pop music became well known. Cars such as the Fiat 500, along with Vespas, became symbols of that period of unprecedented prosperity.

Italian brands, too, became fashionable: Olivetti, Fiat, Piaggio, Ferrari, Lancia, Alfa Romeo... you name it, not to mention the several designer clothing and furniture firms that begun exporting all over the world. The factories of Northern Italy experienced a dramatic shortage of manpower and millions of workers from Southern Italy emigrated there in search of a better life — unemployment was virtually non-existent — and social services were extended while a raft of measures were adopted to improve Italians' livelihoods. Italy seemed prosperous as never before: a hitherto poor, agricultural country became the fifth most industrialized nation in the world.

The happy days wouldn't last long, however...

1968 and the "Years of Lead"

In 1968, the Italian Miracle came to an abrupt end. In that year, students were rioting in every major Italian city and the so-called autunno caldo ("Hot Autumn", a series of massive strikes) took place. As if that wasn't enough, a long period of tension and terrorism dubbed "The Years of Lead" broke out after the 1969 bombing of piazza Fontana in Milan, and culminated with the kidnapping and murder of the Italian PM Aldo Moro at the hands of a communist terrorist organisation known as the Brigate Rosse ("Red Brigades") in 1978. The assassination ended the "historic compromise", though the PCI, led by Enrico Berlinguer, condemned the Red Brigades and adopted a policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorist groups (the "Front of Firmness").

Meanwhile, trade unions became increasingly stronger and the Communist Party's popularity further increased when, under Berlinguer, they broke off from the Soviet Union and criticized its invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan and the crackdown on Solidarity in Poland, accepting Italy's membership of NATO and moving towards a Eurocommunist stance (which netted them their best election result in 1976, coming only four percentage points behind the DC). In 1975, tensions between Italy and Yugoslavia were defused by the Treaty of Osimo, which officially defined the borders between the two countries: the treaty, however, caused an uproar within the Italian public opinion which considered the (Italian) signatories as traitors.

Between 1974 and 1978, two important referenda were held — one on divorce and another on abortion — and despite the pressure from the Catholic Church, Italian voters chose to retain these two rights.

All in all, the Cold War-era "strategy of tension" with its assorted intrigues (Operation Gladio and the Propaganda Due lodge) and links to the "Years of Lead", the government's failure to alleviate the North-South divide (most of the money sank thanks to corruption, and incompetent planning led to factories being plonked down in less than optimal places), a string of governments so incompetent or irresponsible with economics that Italy ran a gigantic budget deficit all throughout the Cold War accumulating an enormous amount of public debt and the power of the Mafia in Southern Italy, just for starters, made the First Republic look like a very resilient Crapsaccharine World, where Italians enjoyed a high standard of living despite all the aforementioned pervasive problems. The collapsing value of the lira as far back as 1957 led the government to pass various laws mandating the indexation of wages to inflation, which was extended in 1975 to create the "moving staircase" system whereby workers received an additional flat fee to automatically compensate them for three months' of price increases and quarterly wage revisions, making wages rise faster than prices. Combined with Italy's extremely generous welfare provisions, this meant that Italian workers were among the best paid, most protected, and best treated in Europe; the costliness of this system and state inefficiency later forced Italy to adopt harsh austerity measures to cope with the resulting rise in public debt. There was a brief reprieve in the late 1980s with il sorpasso, when Italy's GDP was momentarily valued higher than Britain's.

Have you washed your hands? Italy from 1992 to 2013: the Second Republic

After the Cold War ended (and thus the United States' interest in keeping left-wingers out of power vanished), the nepotism- and corruption-laden political system, dubbed Tangentopoli (Italian for "Bribeville") was exposed by the ''Clean Hands'' investigations of 1992. These involved a big part of the Senate and House and caused the collapse of the old dominant parties, except the Italian Republican Party (the only party that survived and kept its name to this day), the Communists, who changed their name to the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) for other reasons (chiefly the fact that "Communism" had become passé, though this wasn't as apparent to the minority of members who instead created the considerably less popular Communist Refoundation Party, which in turn spawned the splinter Party of Italian Communists) and the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, who also changed their name to National Alliance (also because fascism was passé, and because it wanted to get rid of its fascist heritage, although just like with the communists there were those who did not agree, such as Pino Rauti's Tricolour Flame), the emergence of new parties in their stead, the adoption of a mixed member proportional representation electoral system after the 1993 referendum, and generally had such a large impact that the period afterwards is called the "Second Republic".note 

The Mafia was also very active during this period, routinely threatening the safety of the country. When magistrates began a maxi-investigation that led to over 400 convictions in 1987, the (Sicilian) Mafia was certainly not happy about it; between 1992 and 1993 a series of bombings and the murder of two Sicilian magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino prompted the Italian authorities to actively fight the Mafia, often with very good results.

In 1994, the TV magnate Silvio Berlusconi (richest man in Italy and proud owner of three national TV channels as well as the AC Milan football club) won that year's general election and became PM for the first time, in an uneasy simultaneous coalition with the separatist Northern League and the nationalist, neo-fascist National Alliance. His government, predictably, only lasted nine months and was succeeded by the technocratic Lamberto Dini in 1995 (for fifteen months) and then by left-winger Romano Prodi in 1996, who adopted fiscal policies that successfully allowed Italy to join the Euro in 1999. He wasn't actually in office when this happened though, as he was ousted by his five-party coalition government when the Communist Refoundation Party withdrew support, and was replaced by Massimo D'Alema in 1998, who became the first former Communist to be the Prime Minister of a NATO country (he was in office during Italy's participation in the NATO bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo War) and was, in turn, thrown out in 2000 in favour of former Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, a Long Runner who had previously been Prime Minister in 1992-1993 during the Clean Hands investigations. Moral of the story? In Italian politics, the more parties are involved in a coalition, the shorter the length of a Prime Minister's term.

Berlusconi was reelected in 2001 along with the Northern League and became the longest-serving post-war Prime Minister by making it through a five-year term without being backstabbed by his coalition, but was defeated fairly narrowly in the 2006 elections and replaced, again, by Romano Prodi. Prodi proceeded to ignore the abovementioned moral and form an eight-party coalition government, which predictably imploded quickly. In 2008, Berlusconi became Prime Minister again despite numerous controversies and gaffes, which leads one to wonder why (and how the hell) it happened; in 2011 he referred to Italy as "this shitty country" and people were not happy (even moreso than usual). He resigned on November 14, 2011 in favour of independent Mario Monti, who chaired a transitional government tasked with implementing urgently-needed reforms to stave off a debt crisis. Then, he announced that he would run in the new elections after Monti's government collapsed due to a vote of no confidence on December 21, 2012. Despite the short-lived governments and Monti's footnote to history, the Second Republic was characterized by an alternance of power between the two main parties (Berlusconi's "Forza Italia", FI — which was later renamed the "People of Liberty", PDL — and the various left-wing coalitions, which were merged in 2008 into the [Italian] "Democratic Party", PD), making it automatically an improvement over the First Republic.

A Third Republic? We hoped so.

The elections of 2013 ended with a clusterfuck, as the centre-left coalition won a majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies but nobody won an outright majority in the Senate, making the formation of a government nearly impossible; the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) asserted itself while the two traditional parties (PD and PDL) lost thousands of votes; the PDL itself, following the conviction of Silvio Berlusconi (who was then kicked out of Parliament), was dissolved and another party — the "new" Forza Italia — took its place. Mr. B's ex number two (Angelino Alfano) broke up with his master and founded the Nuovo Centrodestra (NCD), while members of the far-right wing of the PDL formed Fratelli d'Italia (FdI; the name comes from the first words of the Italian national anthem). The Northern League nearly collapsed after a series of scandals involving its founder, his quasi-illiterate son, a fake PhD and green underwear, although they've since recovered thanks to a new, media-savvy secretary and the discontent over the immigrant crisis, to which Italy is strongly subject. The clusterfuck election also led to the Parliament failing to vote in a new President, so Giorgio Napolitano, who had just served a seven-year term, offered himself as a candidate again and was reelected overwhelmingly. Enrico Letta (PD) was appointed PM on April 2013 but resigned after less than a year. His successor Matteo Renzi (PD) enjoyed high popularity earlier on but, due to some unpopular policies and strong opposition even from inside his own party, it went down and he ultimately resigned in December 2016, following the defeat at a referendum on which he bet everything. Paolo Gentiloni (PD) was sworn in immediately after; the majority in the parliament hadn't changed however, so much so that more than half of the previous government's ministers were either reconfirmed or shifted to other positions by Gentiloni.

The February 2018 general election saw a triumph for the Five Stars, a strong affirmation of the League, which removed the "Northern" from its name to (successfully) extend its appeal as a populist/sovereigntist party on a national level, and an historical defeat for the PD. However, as PD and League got almost equal votes and seats in the Parliament, it caused a stall regarding the formation of a government and it took May for the Five Stars and League to agree to forming a majority; Giuseppe Conte, a lawyer and university teacher with sympathies for the M5S and no previous political experience, was sworn in. The following months saw the approval rating of the M5S dropping rapidly as their inexperience became evident now that they could govern, while League leader Matteo Salvini, also appointed Interior Minister, took advantage by using his position to forward his party and political agenda. In August 2019 Salvini, wanting to bank on his rising popularity, decided to retire the League's support to the government, expecting elections to follow. In a surprise move, the PD offered themselves to help form a new majority despite years of previous enmity (the Five Stars' communication machine mostly targeted and demonized them). A second government, with Conte at the helm again, was sworn in and the League found themselves at the opposition. Around the same time Matteo Renzi and some of his followers broke off from PD and formed a new party called Italia Viva (IV), although they still supported Conte's government.

Italy was struck by one of the first and worst outbreaks of the COVID-19 Pandemic in the West, also becoming one of the first countries to go into a full lockdown. Conte enjoyed great popularity during those difficult months. A referendum strongly wanted by the Five Stars to reduce the number of members of the Parliament was also successful. However as the second wave of the pandemic struck in late 2020, discontent over the management of the situation increased along with internal struggle within the government which ultimately led to Italia Viva withdrawing its support in January 2021. Conte decided to resign and, while the main parties of the coalition insisted on wanting to form a third government with him, not enough members of the opposition open to support a new majority were found. The President decided to appoint as PM Mario Draghi, the independent former president of the Bank of Italy and the European Central Bank, in order to create a technocratic government to manage the continued health emergency and the so-called "recovery fund" (a bunch of financial aids granted by the European Union to fix the economical and social damage caused by the pandemic and the lockdown). This move paid off as Forza Italia and even the League gave their support, as did Italia Viva, leading to the formation of a large coalition government.note 

Despite the continued health emergency and political instability, 2021 also brought some unexpected but much-needed levity for Italian people in international sport and entertainment arenas. Over the span of a few months, the nation won both the Eurovision Song Contest and the European Championship — being the first time ever that a country won both European competitions in a single calendar year — as well as a national record amount of 40 medals total at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, including the coveted gold medal in the men's 100m run. Of course, one side of the Italian population was quick to (somehow) attribute these successes in their entirety to PM Draghi, while the most cynical ones complained that they're just "bread and circuses" distracting from the more serious social and economical failures.

2022, however, started badly with the presidential election repeating the situation of 2013, causing a lot of discontent towards all parties and within them. The war in Ukraine and all its economic and political consequences only made the situation worse, especially as in the past some parties had expressed open sympathy for Vladimir Putin (and some, like the League, are suspected of having been financed by Russia). In the middle the Five Stars, now helmed by Conte, were the party suffering the most: despite the triumphant general election in 2018 they found themselves increasingly marginalized and divided within themselves, with dozens of elected officials leaving, and other elections went badly (they lost all the major cities they had managed to get in the 2010s, including Rome). Luigi di Maio, the former leader and once considered the frontman of the Five Stars who had assumed more moderate positions, left with a few dozen MPs to form a new party called Impegno Civico ("Civic Effort"; IC). Conte's 5S started to put more pressure on Draghi, with the League taking the chance to blow on the fire as well. While it was possible to still have a majority without one of those parties, Draghi decided he wouldn't deal with such a fragile coalition and resigned in July 2022, causing the call for a new general election the next September. All off this came in the middle of a new economic downturn, a severe heatwave and drought, and the continuing pandemic, while parties accused each other of having caused a crisis at such a delicate time.

The election saw a huge victory for FdI (a quarter of the votes cast alone) and its leader Giorgia Meloni, PD not managing to get different results from 2018, M5S more than halved, and the League heavily reduced due to Salvini's waning popularity, although League and FI still got enough votes to form a strong right-wing majority with FdI. The biggest "party" however was vote abstention, showing a growing disillusion. With little doubt about her leadership, a government with Meloni at the helm was appointed less than a month later.

The current President is Sergio Mattarella, who was first elected by the Parliament in January 2015 after his predecessor Napolitano decided to resign after serving less than two years of his second term. Unlike last time, the election went very smoothly: after many discussions between the parties, most of the members of the parliamentary majority left a blank ballot during the first three votings — which require a majority of two thirds rather than half plus one. Mattarella was then elected at the fourth vote, and with almost two thirds of the total votes anyway. In January 2022, however, a repeat of 2013 happened: too fragmented even within themselves, no parties were able to express a candidate capable of getting enough votes. In front of the possibility of the election of a successor stalling the Parliament for a long time, Mattarella ultimately decided to accept being candidated for a second mandate, which led to him being elected with over two-thirds of the votes.

Modern Italy can seem quite odd; a land of contrasts. Besides the obvious North-South Divide, there is also the lack of competitiveness (an aging workforce plus high unemployment) coupled with the fame and high value of their brands (Gucci, Ferrari, Prada, etc). Much of this has to do with patterns of uneven development (the North-South divide again), a lack of resources needed for industrialization (outside of hydroelectricity in Central and Northern Italy) and lack of firm direction from the central government.

As a result of this, Italy's economy is, in many ways, an economy of regions. In some sectors, Italy is at or near the forefront, such as tourism, wine (Piedmont, Lazio and the Chianti region), motor vehicles (Turin, Milan), steel (Taranto), shipbuilding (Genoa, Chioggia and Monfalcone), design (Milan), film (Rome hosts the Cinecittà studios), services such as banking (Rome and Milan again) and textiles, particularly luxury textiles (Lombardy, which includes Milan...again). In other fields, the combined effect of high labor costs, government corruption, archaic regulations, constantly striking unions, lack of central government investment, and (controversially) an overvalued Euro, Italy is not particularly dynamic, with the pandemic and other crises only making things worse.

Modern Italy in fiction

Anime and Manga:

Film — Live-Action

Film — Live-Action

Live-Action TV:


  • Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love
  • The Don Camillo stories are set during the first trembling days of the Republic (and stop around 1966) in the Po valley. The first film and one of the first stories begin with the Communists having won a victory in the first public election in 1946.
  • Angels & Demons
  • The Inspector Montalbano series by Andrea Camilleri, set in Sicily.

Video Games: