The History of the First & Second Republics of Italy

The History of the First & Second Republics of Italy
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  • 0:01 A New Republic
  • 0:57 The First Republic
  • 3:01 A Major Shake-Up
  • 4:00 The Second Republic
  • 5:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will explore Italy's history from the end of World War II to the modern day. We will pay special attention to the establishment and characteristics of the First and Second Republics.

A New Republic

In 1946, Italy was a country shattered by war. Its fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, was dead, and its king, Victor Emmanuel III, was trying desperately to regain and retain power. The king quickly discovered that he was fighting a losing battle. In the spring of 1946, he abdicated in favor of his son Umberto II, but Italy's people were ready for a big change and willing to take the next step in a new direction.

On June 2, 1946, Italy's citizens decided in a referendum that their country would be a republic rather than a monarchy. Umberto II fled into exile, and a Constituent Assembly gathered to write a new Italian Constitution, which officially took effect on January 1, 1948.

The First Republic

With the adoption of the Constitution, a new era began that came to be known as the First Republic, which lasted from 1948 to 1992. Italy's Christian Democratic Party won the majority of seats in Parliament after the new republic's first election in April of 1948 and remained in control for most of the First Republic with the Italian Socialist Party and the Italian Communist Party offering a stiff opposition.

During the 1950s and 1960s, things were looking up for Italy. Its economy boomed as the job market grew, incomes rose, and reforms in agriculture and finance stabilized the system. Italy received a good share of foreign assistance after the war, which helped it rebuild and grow stronger. It even joined NATO and the United Nations.

Not everything was rosy, however. Italy's government, even though firmly under the sway of the Christian Democrats, tended to be rather unstable. Prime Ministers and their accompanying governments came and went rapidly as loyalties shifted and priorities changed. In fact, between 1948 and 1970, Italy was headed by 14 different Prime Ministers.

Also, as the decades passed, social unrest grew. Northern Italy thrived, while Southern Italy languished, and naturally, Southerners moved north in droves, creating tension, strain on the job market, and eventually, violence.

In fact, violence was one of the primary characteristics of Italy during the 1970s and 1980s, which are sometimes called the Years of Lead (as in bullets). Assassinations, bombings, massacres, violent strikes, and Mafia wars broke out on all sides, reaching a climax in 1978 when Prime Minister Aldo Moro was kidnapped and murdered by a far-left terrorist group called the Red Brigades. Changes loomed on the horizon as the 1980s saw the Christian Democrats slip in power, even being replaced twice by other parties.

A Major Shake-Up

As the 1990s dawned, Italy was ripe for a major shake-up. Scandal broke in 1992 when the Tangentopoli, which loosely translates as 'bribesville,' came to light, exposing wide governmental corruption, strong Mafia influence, and extreme national debt. In response, the Mani Pulite, or 'clean hands,' investigation began. Politicians, political party leaders, and businessmen were arrested in large numbers, and the three major political parties eventually had to dissolve.

Italian voters took matters into their own hands, as well. In a 1993 referendum, they approved major changes to the nation's election system. The next year, they voted out 452 of the 630 members of Parliament's Chamber of Deputies and 213 of Italy's 315 senators. A new era was about to begin.

The Second Republic

Italy's Second Republic, although technically established in 1992, took root firmly in 1994 with the appointment of Silvio Berlusconi as Prime Minister.

Berlusconi, as the head of a conservative coalition that eventually took the name Casa delle Liberta, or House of Freedoms, held power until 1996. He was then replaced by leaders of the left-leaning Olive Tree Coalition, who represented a rather odd mix of socialists, ex-communists, centrists, liberals, and environmentalists and called for measures like educational reform, allocating more power to local governments, and providing public aid to struggling areas.

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