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ITALY: The Third Choice

4 minute read

For days beforehand, news stories went round the world direly reporting that nothing less than freedom itself was at stake in Sicily. And as the time came for Sicilians to elect a new regional assembly, Christian Democratic orators by the Fiat-ful raced about the island tirelessly echoing the warning of Italy’s Premier Antonio Segni: “We must be on our guard if we are not to awaken in the bear hug of Communism.”

Last week, in hundreds of arid mountain villages and scores of swarming coastal towns, the citizens of semiautonomous Sicily quietly went to the polls and made their much-ballyhooed choice. To the confusion of just about everybody except the Sicilians, the real victor was neither Communism nor Christian Democracy. It was “Sicilianism” in the orotund person of Silvio Milazzo, president of Sicily’s regional government.

Cheap at the Price. The emergence of rumpled, chubby Silvio Milazzo, 56, as the voice of his island’s traditional separatism had typically Sicilian origins. A Christian Democrat since early youth, Landowner Milazzo was a reliable party wheel horse up to the time ambitious former Italian Premier Amintore Fanfani (TIME, May 26, 1958 et seq.) began to slip his bright young men from Rome into Sicily’s Christian Democratic organization. Last October, outraged by this infringement on Sicilian autonomy (and threat to Sicilian patronage), Milazzo bolted the party. He managed to get control of the regional assembly by putting together a crazy-quilt coalition of Monarchists, Fascists, dissident Christian Democrats and Communists.

To punish Milazzo, and to regain dominance of Catholic Sicily, the Christian Democrats appealed to the Vatican. Armed with an ad hoc papal decree forbidding Catholics to vote for any candidate allied with the Communists, Sicily’s imperious Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini sent Catholic Action groups from house to house warning voters against Milazzo, even attempted in vain to prevent Milazzo from joining Palermo’s Corpus Christi procession fortnight ago. In the U.S., the Hearst press urged its Italian-American readers to shower Sicily with anti-Milazzo letters and telegrams; advising the use of night-rate cables, New York’s Journal-American pleaded: “Even $2.75 is a small price for preserving democracy.”

Noble Animal. President Milazzo, Jesuit-educated and a practicing Catholic, countered these attacks by naming his rump party the Christian Social Union, choosing as its emblem a map of Sicily with a cross planted on its southern tip —where St. Paul is said to have planted one 2,000 years ago. And from a thousand ancient balconies he appealed skillfully to the age-old Sicilian conviction that “foreigners”—whether Saracen, Norman or mainland Italian—have only one interest in Sicily: the amount of plunder they can take out of it. “They have called me a Trojan horse,” croaked Milazzo in a campaign-frazzled voice. “But I am not that. I am a pure-blooded Sicilian horse, a noble animal. I am an anti-Communist leading only a rebellion against the injustices of Rome.”

How Much? When the votes were counted in Sicily, the Christian Democrats learned the hard way the truth of the saying: “Never threaten a Sicilian; he has nothing to lose.” Despite their efforts to sell themselves as the sole alternative to Red ruin, the Christian Democrats wound up with only 34 of the 90 seats in the regional assembly—three fewer than they had before, and not enough to rule. The Communists (21) gained a seat; so did the Red-lining Nenni Socialists (11). But the biggest gains were made by Milazzo, who captured a pivotal nine seats.

“The question now,” said one Italian journalist at week’s end, “is how much does everybody want?” At least a month of close bargaining among Sicily’s eight parties lies ahead. Milazzo, the man with the balance of power, would scarcely be content with anything less than leadership of Sicily’s next coalition government.

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