Italian who fought for votes for emigres dies

December 30, 2011 - 2:36 PM
Italy Obit Tremaglia

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 10, 2005 file photo, Minister of Italians abroad, Mirko Tremaglia, waves a Italian flag during the 61st Annual Columbus Day Parade in New York. Tremaglia, a right-wing politician who successfully battled for the right of Italians abroad to vote in Italian elections, has died. He was 85. President Giorgio Napolitano and other Italian leaders issued tributes to mark the death Friday, Dec. 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Adam Rountree, File)

ROME (AP) — Mirko Tremaglia, a right-wing politician who won a decades-long battle for the right of Italian emigres to vote in Italian elections, died on Friday. He was 85.

Italian news agencies and Sky TG24 TV said Tremaglia died at home in Bergamo, northern Italy, after a long illness.

Tremaglia was a co-founder of the Italian Social Movement, a neo-fascist party built on the ashes of Benito Mussolini's political legacy. But he gradually moved toward what is now Italy's center-right — first as a leader of the National Alliance and then as a prominent member of Silvio Berlusconi's conservatives — before breaking with the media mogul in 2010 to defect to a new center-right party.

In a condolence message to Tremaglia's family, President Napolitano, a former Communist, noted that the late lawmaker and himself had "different experiences" and ideological positions but they shared a "sense of national responsibility."

"Particularly strong remains the mark of his commitment to give voice and representation to Italians abroad," Napolitano said.

Tremaglia campaigned tirelessly in Parliament for rights for millions of Italians who had emigrated, or who were born to emigre parents, to cast ballots in Italian elections. His dream became law in 2001, the same year he became minister for Italians abroad, in one of Berlusconi's governments.

In spring 2006, campaigning for Berlusconi in parliamentary elections, Tremaglia energetically worked the crowds in South America, where many of the 3.5 million Italian voters abroad lived. The law also gave Italian emigres the right, for the first time, to have representation in Parliament.

Tremaglia had served as a lawmaker in Parliament's lower chamber, the Chamber of Deputies, since 1972. Chamber President Gianfranco Fini, himself a former neo-fascist leader and former Berlusconi ally, hailed Tremaglia in a tribute Friday, as a "great political and personal friend."

Fini called Tremaglia a "great protagonist of the Italian right — a cause to which Tremaglia, right to the end, dedicated himself with coherence and loyalty."

Fini's defection, along with several lawmakers like Tremaglia, from Berlusconi's coalition after nasty bickering in 2010, weakened the premier's government. Berlusconi resigned in November amid criticism over his handling of Italy's financial crisis.

In 2004, as a minister in then-premier Berlusconi's government, Tremaglia caused uproar when he complained about what he called the influence of gays in the European Union and used a pejorative term for homosexuals in remarks carried by Italian media.

Tremaglia was commenting on a European Parliament committee's decision not to endorse an Italian nominee to become EU justice minister after the candidate, a former Christian Democrat with close ties to the Vatican, testified that he considered homosexuality a sin.