De Gasperi, Alcide (Italy)
Alcide De Gasperi served as Italy’s prime minister from 1945–53, leading eight successive coalition cabinets, all of which were dominated by his Christian Democrat Party. He is regarded as the architect of Italy’s post-war recovery programme and was responsible for overseeing his country’s entry into NATO.
De Gasperi was born on 3 April 1881 in the village of Pieve Tesino in Trento province. At the time this region was annexed to the Austro-Hungarian empire, and from a young age De Gasperi was active in defending the cultural values of its Italian-speaking population. Voicing his opinions in the journal Il Nuovo Trentino, he became a member of the Christian Socialist movement in 1896. In 1905 he took a degree in philology from the University of Vienna. In 1921, after Trentino was incorporated into Italy, he helped found the Popular Party and was elected to the Italian Chamber of Deputies. Initially the party joined a coalition government with Mussolini, but De Gasperi soon came into conflict with the fascists and was imprisoned in Nov. 1926. When he was released 2 years later he took a job as a cataloguer in the Vatican library where he worked until July 1943 when the Fascist regime was toppled from power. During this period of political exile he wrote extensively about his ideas for the country’s restoration, and drew up a manifesto for a new Christian Democrat party. He was able to put some of these ideas into practise, when after a brief term in office as foreign minister, he was elected Prime Minister in Dec. 1945.
In 1946 Italy voted to become a republic, and a year later De Gasperi signed a peace treaty with the Allied forces, thus ensuring Marshall Plan financial aid for Italy’s reconstruction. De Gasperi then devised a new constitution which became law at the beginning of 1948. In April that year the Christian Democrats retained a majority in the parliamentary elections, a victory enabled De Gasperi’s government to press for Italian membership of NATO. This was granted in 1949. In domestic politics, De Gasperi was responsible for a land reform programme in the impoverished southern and central areas of Italy.
In the early 1950s, De Gasperi was active in organizing several European political bodies, including the Council of Europe and the European Coal and Steel Community. By this stage the left wing had grown increasingly intolerant of De Gasperi’s centrist politics and although the party membership endorsed his leadership in 1952, his influence declined. In 1953 his government fell from power and he became general secretary and then president of his party, a post he held until his death in Aug. 1954.