November 22, 2011
Italy’s new government, headed by former European Union Commissioner Mario Monti, has an unlikely supporter in President Giorgio Napolitano, an ex-communist who once praised the Soviet Union for crushing the 1956 reformist movement in Hungary.
Napolitano, whose post is usually ceremonial, earlier this month emerged as the key Italian contact for foreign leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy as Italian bond spreads widened to a record during a deepening debt and political crisis.
As Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s majority unraveled amid plummeting investor confidence, Napolitano, 86, sounded out Italy’s political and business elites to build a consensus on the country’s future. Berlusconi resigned Nov. 12 and Monti was sworn in four days later.
Napolitano, who was part of the anti-Fascist resistance and helped publish Marxist writings during World War II, in July of this year backed a call by employers’ lobby Confindustria to make economic growth a pillar of policy alongside fiscal rigor. That kind of pragmatism led former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to once call the Italian politician “my favorite communist,” Napolitano told Corriere della Sera in a 2001 interview.