These were the words of Enrico Berlinguer, self-proclaimed atheist and national secretary of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) from 1972 until his death in 1984, as he awaited his Catholic wife on a Sunday morning outside the Church.
Berlinguer was a significant figure in Italian politics, most widely recognised as the “father” of both Eurocommunism and the Historical Compromise.
Perhaps it was his total tolerance of others’ views, even in a political context, which made Berlinguer so loved by so many, even beyond the communist community.
Berlinguer was born in 1922 in Sassari (Sardinia) to republican and anti-fascist, Mario Berlinguer and his wife Maria Loriga.
The respected political figure was born into a noble family with Catalan origins which settled in Sardinia during the dominion of the Kingdom of Aragon, and which was extremely culturally evolved for the time.
Berlinguer’s father was a parliamentary socialist, while his grandfather founded the newspaper La Nuova Sardegna.
The politician was also related to Francesco Cossiga and Antonio Segni, both presidents of the Republic.
Already a member of the PCI upon completing his studies, and having met Palmiro Toglietti thanks to his father, a young Berlinguer was appointed as national secretariat of the Communist Organisation for Youth (FGCI), before moving to Milan where he collaborated with Giulio Longo and Carlo Pajetta until his appointment into the Central Committee.
Berlinguer was elected as deputy in 1968, and in the following year he was named deputy national secretary to Longo’s party.
In 1972, Berlinguer was appointed as national secretary, and he began to promote socio-economic reforms that he considered absolutely necessary, along with a new communism independent from the Soviet Union which would come to be known as Eurocommunism.
In 1976, the PCI reached a record high of support, receiving 34.4% of votes in the general election, thanks to a political position inspired by a dialogue between all of the great powers.
However, the support of the absolute majority was still out of the PCI’s reach, while a strong resistance persisted among the Christian Democratic Party (DC) and the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) against the formation of a possible coalition with the communists.
After the 1976 G7 Summit in Puerto Rico, the Sardinian leader pleaded the case for Eurocommunism, finding consensus among the Spanish and French communist parties.
This new solution supported the need to break free from the control of the USSR, and to create a type of socialism that respected religious and cultural freedoms (which was considered a heresy by Moscow).
The final break between the PCI and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (PCSU) occurred after Berlinguer’s speech during his visit to Moscow, in which he had set out principles starkly contrasting with the indisputable values of the PCSU.
Berlinguer became so hated by the authorities that his speech was even censured by Pravda before publication.
Morality became central to the PCI’s propaganda, as the party found an unexpected ally in the Italian Social Movement (MSI) against the DC, allowing Berlinguer to launch a campaign against the corruption of 1977.
Berlinguer’s ethical drive later led to the leftists’ involvement in the political debate following the Tangentopoli scandal.
In the second half of the 1970s, amid protests against the energy and financial crises, strikes and terrorism, the left was subject to several internal disputes.
A media campaign was launched in the US to prevent communist parties from taking part in European governments, and a few weeks later L’Unità (the official newspaper of the PCI) reignited discussion surrounding the secret Masonic lodge, Propaganda Due (P2).
The year 1978 began with a meeting between Berlinguer and Bettino Craxi, after which an official statement of “shared views” was released.
After researching possible strategies to allow the PCI partial access to the government, Berlinguer identified the ideal interlocutor in the president of the DC, Aldo Moro, and contact between the two parties led to the Historical Compromise project.
However, before they could form a government of “national solidarity”, Berlinguer withdrew support for the inclusion of two unwelcome ministers to the PCI on behalf of Giulio Andreotti.
The predicted battle between the PCI and the DC never occurred due to the kidnapping of Aldo Moro.
After the tragic death of Moro, the Leone case exploded, and the president of the Republic was forced to leave the Quirinal, being replaced by ex-partisan Sandro Pertini.
The resignation of Leone should have led to the renunciation of Andreotti, who instead maintained his position and formed a new government the following year which definitively excluded the communists.
On June 7, 1984, Berlinguer travelled to Padua during the general election, collapsing to the ground midway through a public speech.
The ill politician returned to his hotel, entering into a coma shortly after.
Hospitalised in a grave condition, Berlinguer passed away on June 11 after suffering from a brain haemorrhage.
Pertini was in Padua for State duties at the time of Berlinguer’s death, and carried Berlinguer’s body home with him on the presidential plane: “Lo porto via come un amico fraterno, come un figlio, come un compagno di lotta” (I carry him away as a close friend, as a son, as a comrade).
During Berlinguer’s funeral procession, his coffin was carried from the office of the PCI in Via delle Botteghe Oscure to Piazza San Giovanni, accompanied by around 1 million people.
The sheer size of the mass that paid their respects to Berlinguer was a clear indication of the love and admiration felt by the nation for the influential politician.
In an act that raised eyebrows, even secretary of the MSI, Giorgio Almirante, paid tribute to his deceased opponent.