L’Unità’s Demise

It felt to many as if an old friend had died. Rome’s L’Unità, the newspaper that served as the bible of the Italian left and the official mouthpiece of the largest Communist Party in the West, announced its closure in early August. Many Italians were shedding “crocodile tears,” according to Germany’s conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (July 29), “over this important, journalistically excellent, often brazen voice in the Italian press.”

L’Unità, which was founded in 1924, survived fascism, but not the Cold War or its aftermath. Its circulation dropped from 400,000 in the 1970s to 50,000, with an annual deficit of US$33 million.

Italian journalists mourned a great loss. “We are all poorer,” stated Umberto Folena in Milan’s Catholic L’Avvenire (July 29). “Those who read it, sometimes with pleasure, sometimes cursing it. And those who ignored it. Like it or not, the amount of freedom a democracy enjoys can be measured by the quantity, quality, and variety of its press.”

Readership may have plummeted, but interest in L’Unità’s ideas is alive and well, claimed the former head of L’Unità in the pages of Milan’s weekly Diario della Settimana (Aug. 8). “There are still 80,000 communists in Italy...who are very connected to L’Unità. They...witnessed fascism and war. Seventy percent will live at least another 10 years. They are retired and they read a lot. In general, they are in good health, and they refuse to die.”

Liberazione, published by the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista [the Communist Refoundation Party]—apparently seeing an opportunity in L’Unità’s demise—rejected the notion that communism might be a thing of a bygone era (July 29): “Curious boys and girls, who bought Liberazione for the first time after having seen your parents or grandparents
crying while looking at L’Unità’s blank pages, their voices choked with emotion while reading its final words: To all of you we offer our own honest little newspaper.”