Page 3, 19th May 1967

19th May 1967
Page 3
Page 3, 19th May 1967 — Dateline ROME

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Organisations: Italian Government
Locations: York, London, ROME


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When Batman met the Pope

ICAN'T speak from an A. international plane, but I must say local social communications got off to a jolly start when Pope Paul held his special audience in St. Peter's.

There were those rivals for public adulation, the Misses Claudia Cardinale (in a black mini skirt; I never thought I'd see the day!) and Gina Lollobrigida chatting away just to the right of the Pope, whom they had both met a few minutes earlier.

There was Batman Adam West breezily signing autographs—and still signing them after he had managed to get out of the Basilica into St. Peter's Square. "I've seen you on television," Pope Paul told him, thereby signifying that the winds of change, televisionwise, are whizzing through the Vatican.

There was the editor of the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano, Signor Raimondo Manzini, on the whole likely to be more despondent than indulgent about films and film stars, happily seated between Miss Lollobrigida and Amedeo Nazzari, known, I am told by those who keep track of these things, as the "Clark Gable" of the Italian movies.

There was Signor Luigi Barzini, author of "The Italians," which has made him a lot of money and a lot of enemies.

There were the inevitable prelates graciously making social contact with friends in various stands, asking them if they were happy with their seats and, if they weren't, loftily plucking them from among the goats and putting them with the privileged sheep.

There also, quite rightly, was Signor Dino di Laurentiis, producer of "The Bible." (I don't know what the Pope said to him.) And, for a really slick piece of public relations (which is, after all, pretty much the same thing as social communications), there was my friend and colleague, Curtis G. (Bill) Pepper, Newsweek's Rome chief, getting into the receiving line and, on reaching Pope Paul, popping into his hand a copy of his new book, "The Pope's Backyard" (Ferrar, Straus and Jiroux, New York).

As for my own social communications, when, in my anxiety not to miss the first edition of my London Sunday newspaper, I tried to make my way out of St. Peter's slightly ahead of the crowd, I found all exits barred until the Pope had left. I consoled myself with the thought that it was at least a novelty to be cut off, on Social Communications Day eve, from all communications with the outside world.

And in such edifying surroundings!

Humane gesture

Signor Guiseppe Saragat, the Italian President, a man of action, dig a humane, dramatic and significant thing when he went from Rome to Sardinia to attend the funeral of a policeman murdered by a bandit.

It was the first time a president had travelled so far on such a mission. The gesture was not lost either on the Sardinians themselves, or those an the Italian mainland concerned about Sardinia's growing drift into "isolationism," with its inherent evils.

On the surface, Sardinia's immediate problem is increasing banditry and violence. In the last 12 months, the island has been hit by a wave of brutality worse than anything in its turbulent history. The bandits, murdering, maiming and plundering, have terrorised locals and scared tourists away from what is one of Italy's most attractive spots. But the problem goes deeper than lawlessness and the economic backwardness from which this springs. It is also very largely psychological. For centuries, povertystricken peasants in the island's arid interior have built up in their minds a stultifying "them and us" mentality. They have developed a complex against the mainland, and, in particular, mainland authority. They have grown more and more into themselves, harbouring resentment and convincing themselves that they are merely tolerated by the rest of Italy. Theirs is a combination of pride and prejudice. The Italian Government has supplied financial and technical aid, but has never been able to convince the underprivileged islands that they are just as much a part of Italian life as the Romans, Florentines, Milanese and the rest.

President Saragat got to the root of all this. Speaking before the policeman's funeral, he appealed for a drive to improve social conditions as an essential step in the present campaign to restore law and order.

He implied what Italian commentators have been saying for a long time—that Italy's central government in Rome must strive to break down Sardinia's sense of isolation and suspicion of all authority with a properly planned pregranune of social, including educational and economic reforms.

Parts of Sardinia, symbolised by the Aga Khan's luxury resort, the "Emerald Coast," have benefited from land booms, super-highways, splendid hotels and superb new "paradises" for the wellheeled. But these also fan the resentment of peasants and shepherds who get no share of the economic benefits.

And while it is still possible for an Italian government publication to write: "Up the eastern Sardinian coast, it is now a common sight to see a sparkling new limousine parked in front of a dilapidated stone cottage," the trouble will continue,

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