National Affairs: THE IRON SICILIAN

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ARRIVED in Washington this week for a state visit: Mario Scelba (pronounced Shell-ba), 53, Premier of Italy.

Early Life. The son of a poor Sicilian sharecropper on land owned by Don Luigi Sturzo, Italy's great political priest, Mario Scelba was Sturzo's godchild and protege. At 15 Scelba began politicking in his home-town Catholic youth movement at Caltagirone. He became secretary to Don Luigi, who founded what is now Scelba's Christian Democratic Party. When the Fascists forced Sturzo into exile (in Brooklyn, part of the time), Scelba remained in Rome as his agent.

Career. A lawyer, he wrote for the underground paper // Popolo during World War II. Arrested by the Germans, he was—ironically—released within three days as a worthless catch. On the day of Rome's liberation, he joined the new five-man national directorate of the Christian Democrats. He served in seven Cabinets under Italy's Premier Alcide de Gasperi, wrote the Scelba law, formally banning Fascism, and for six years as Interior Minister directed national security against Communist insurrection. When he first took over, the police were so shoddy that Lawyer Scelba exclaimed: "If I were Communist, I'd start a revolution tomorrow." The Reds tried force eventually, but by then Scelba had 200,000 well-trained men (including the jeep-riding Reparto Celere riot squads) who squelched the troublemakers with some shooting and 7,000 arrests. His hardfisted record earned him the nickname "Iron Sicilian." Premiership. Out of office for five months after De Gasperi's last Cabinet, Scelba emerged as a prospect for Premier in early 1954. To a reporter who came to his office, just as a forlorn lemon tree on the terrace began to bear fruit, Scelba remarked: "I didn't think this lemon tree would ever blossom, but ..." A few days later, he was Premier. He has survived for 14 months through nine votes of confidence (winning margin only last week: 67 votes) despite his shaky Christian Democrat coalition, slim margin and the devious opposition of party Secretary-General Amintore Fanfani. After attending a Commons session in London this year, Scelba, who must contend with tossed insults, ink pots and punches in Italy's Chamber of Deputies, sighed and said of Britain's Parliament: "It's like a family gathering!" Under his administration, Italy ratified the Western defense treaties for German rearmament, took part in the Trieste settlement, firmly aligned itself with the U.S.

Personality & Private Life. Married, and the father of a daughter, he moved recently from his modest four-room apartment to the ornate Renaissance Premier's palace, Villa Madama. Pink-cheeked Premier Scelba likes good food and good wine, seldom smokes. Courteous, canasta-playing, flower-loving, he has a lawyer's respect for the letter and spirit of the law. When a high-placed Roman tried to get a government job for a friend, Scelba replied with icy politeness: "Dear Count, with full respect I must beg you to consider that I cannot take any account of your recommendation. I cannot contravene the law. Scelba." on Digg


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