Mattarella remembers Montanelli on 20th anniversary of death

President pays tribute to 'master of writing', journalism dean

(ANSA) - ROME, JUL 22 - President Sergio Mattarella on Thursday remembered Indro Montanelli on the 20th anniversary of the death of the dean of Italian journalism.
    "Remembering Indro Montanelli, 20 years on from his death, still arouses intense emotion, not only in those who knew him best but also in the many who appreciated his qualities as journalist, narrator, history populariser and polemicist who did not forgo strong tones even at the risk of disorienting his admirers," said Mattarella of the journalist, historian and writer who was a beacon for liberal conservatives in Italy and a model for aspiring writers.
    "Indro Montanelli's journalism traversed much of the 20th century. Having started his activity during the Fascist regime, he was war correspondent and distinguished himself in those years for the way in which he rounded out his work, ducking as far as possible the tight restrictions of propaganda.
    "Having become critical towards Fascism, he was impriosned in Milan in the last period of the Second World War. Having escaped from prison he reached Switzerland, where he awaited the end of the conflict.
    "The Italian Republic saw his commitment as journalist and writer intensify. He was one of the most prestigious names of Corriere della Sera. He founded Il Giornale and then La Voce. He chose new roads every time he saw, or f eared, invasions of the field or limitations to his autonomy.
    "The Red Brigades identified him as a target, and the attack that wounded him was a crime against the freedom of information.
    "He refused with stubbornness any pigeon-holing, claiming it due to his Tuscan character.
    "An intellectual of inexhaustible energy, a master of writing, an intransigent journalist in defence of professional autonomy, he was for decades a high-profile personality in Italian culture and public debate".
    Montanelli died on July 22, 2001 at the age of 92.
    Perhaps the most famous Italian journalist and the last example of the old-style hard-bitten reporter of the old-school who can still mix gritty story-telling with historical background and literary touches, Montanelli was also famous for being that Tuscan type: the contrarian.
    A Tuscan by birth but Milanese by choice, he was born on April 22 1909 in Fucecchio, a small town between Pisa and Florence.
    After earning two degrees, one in law and the other in political science, he went to Paris, frequented the Sorbonne and got a job on Paris Soir where he worked fro a couple of years as a court and hospital reporter.
    In 1935, just into his 20s, he decided to join the Italian expedition in Abyssinia. At the time Montanelli was a supporter of Fascism but would later denounce the regime.
    As soon as he got to Eritrea, he bought a 14-year-old girl who accompanied him throughout the campaign. He later described her as "my famous African wife." She was later chosen by General Porzio Biroli to be part of his harem.
    Montanelli's boastful description of this episode in his life last year saw a Milan statue of him defaced with paint by supporters of the #MeToo movement.
    Despite his youth, Montanelli led a band of mercenaries on scouting missions, flushing out enemies. He recounted his adventures in a best-selling war diary.
    But having seen the behaviour of the Fascist high-ups at first hand, Montanelli ended the war embittered and disillusioned with the party.
    His war writings earned him the promise of a contract with Corriere della Sera, Italy's leading newspaper. But in the meantime he went off to Spain to cover the civil war for Roman daily Il Messaggero and sent back a couple of reports which told the truth, as ever, and cast the regime in an unflattering light. He was expelled from the Fascist party, from the journalists' guild and was sent by a sympathetic Fascist cultural official to head the Italian institute of culture in Estonia for a year.
    On his return to Italy he got his journalist card back but refused the Fascist card. In 1938 he got the promised job at Corriere where he would remain for the next 40 years, writing memorable pieces from all over the world.
    He started in Albania, then Germany, then Finland and Norway. In Rome he went to jail for anti-fascist crimes and was sentenced to death but made a daring escape from the firing squad.
    His spell in jail prompted one of his best bhooks, General Dalla Rovere, which became a film that won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival.
    In the last days of the war he fled to Switzerland.
    After the war he returned to Corriere but initially only as film critic - only to soon resume his role as roving worldwide reporter.
    He was among the first to get into Budapest during the 1956 uprising and wrote, against the prevalent Italian line, that they were not bourgeois rebels but "antiStalinist Communists".
    In the early '70s he became estranged by the radical chic line the Corriere was taking and in 1974 founded his own Giornale, later receiving precious financial help from businessman Silvio Berlusconi.
    In it he warned that student and worker rebellion might sow the seeds of terrorism.
    In 1977 he himself was attacked by the Red Brigades, who kneecapped him. Il Giornale was a publishing success and became a leading maverick conservative daily, in which Montanelli's had a column, Controcorrente (Against The Tide, or just Maverick).
    In 1978 Berlusconi bought 30% of the paper and over the years to 1987 upped his stake to 70%, promising Montanelli complete editorial freedom (in 1992, formal control passed to Berlusconi's brother).
    But when Berlusconi interfered with the paper's editorial policy after the media magnate entered the political race in 1994, Montanelli left the paper he had founded and a few months later set up a new one, La Voce.
    After a promising start, the new venture foundered in April 1995 and a year or so later Montanelli was called back to Corriere to run a regular letters' slot and feature as a regular ediorialist, still one of the most trenchant observers of the Italian scene.
    Upon his death, tributes to the master poured from politicians of all stripes and Italy's leading journalists.
    European Commission President Romano Prodi, later leader of the centre left in Italy, said: "He passed through the history of Europe as a free man." Veteran journalist Enzo Biagi, a pretender to Montanelli's crown, said: "Something has passed away from the history of Italy." (ANSA).


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