Pannella, Marco

(1930– )
   The historic leader of the Partito Radicale/Radical Party (PR), Marco Pannella is a political showman who has nevertheless changed Italian history. He cut his political teeth as a student activist in the 1950s and was one of the PR’s founding members in 1956. He became leader in 1962 and for the last 45 years has been a constant presence in Italian political life, campaigning for changes to the divorcelaws, a more liberal abortion law, electoral reform, and action against a vast range of domestic and international abuses and injustices. The important constitutional role occupied by referendumsin Italy is largely due to Pannella’s singleminded use of the referendum as an instrument for achieving social reforms.
   Pannella was first elected to Parliament in 1976 and led the PR’s minuscule delegation in the Chamber of Deputies until the 1992 elections, which the PR fought under the name of the Lista Pannella. Under his leadership—though reign may well be a more fitting description—the PR was regarded as a libertarian fringe group, and as such it became popular with the urban, university-educated young. In 1994, however, after the collapse of the Democrazia Cristiana/ Christian Democracy Party (DC) and its system of dominance, Pannella allied his movement with Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition and engaged in a spirited defense of the indicted leaders of the old regime. This perverse move robbed the veteran radical of credibility with his electoral constituency, and Pannella’s fortunes ebbed visibly.
   Pannella nevertheless adds his own particular spice to the already highly flavored dish of Italian politics. His volcanic television monologues; his penchant for chaining himself to railings; his frequent hunger strikes; the Radical Party’s candidacy of Cicciolina, a porno star; and his cannabis “smoke-ins” have all made him one of Italy’s most recognized public figures.
   See also Bonino, Emma; Negri, Antonio.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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