Despite the opposition of almost all of Italy's political parties, a groundswell of public support for the reestablishment of the death penalty appears to be forming.
A campaign launched last month by the small right-wing Italian Social Movement, a party most Italians refer to as neofascist, reportedly has resulted in the collection of about 600,000 signatures throughout Italy.
According to statistics released by the party, in many cities the number of signatures has been double or triple the party's votes in elections. These include cities governed by leftist parties that strongly oppose the death penalty.
Social Movement leader Giorgio Almirante began circulation of the "popular petition," one of the three methods of nonelectoral popular initiative provided by the constitution, on Jan. 11.
It deals only with the death penalty as applied to terrorists. But the general impression of observers in several cities -- politicians, journalists, workers and professors -- is that many Italians have been so frightened by the increased violence that they support the dealth penalty for murders other than assassination.
The petition, which leaders of the party say they see as an instrument of pressure on the government, calls for official recognition of a "state of war." p
The laws of the fascist government headed by Benito Mussolini four decades ago provided for capital punishment. But the 1947 constitution abolished it "except in cases foreseen by the military laws of war." According to public security laws and the military penal code, assassins convicted during a "state of war" would be executed by firing squad.
With the exception of the neofascists, all of Italy's parties are opposed to capital punishment, and all the major newspapers and periodicals are also against the death penalty on grounds of ideology, religion or moral principle. But the average citizen often does not agree, at least in regard to terrorists.
"People like that should be put up against the wall, no questions asked," said a civil servant in Naples -- where the highest number of signatures, 55,000, has been collected.
In Bologna, a traditional stronghold of the left where 85 people died last August in a right-wing terrorist attack on the railway station, a Communist Party member acknowledged that some of the 15,000 signatures collected undoubtedly came from communist voters as well.
"People are tired of all the bloodshed and would like to see the terrorists disappear, even if that means eliminating them physically," said a lawyer from Bologna. "Fortunately, our parties will keep this spirit of revenge in check."
Attempts in parliament by the Italian Social Movement to spearhead a law reestablishing the death penalty have failed, and any change in the present law is unlikely. On the other hand, polls here indicate that a proposal by the small Radical Party to abolish life sentences, through a referendum later this year, is likely to be resoundingly defeated.