346. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Italian Divorce Referendum

On May 12, Italian voters will decide whether or not to uphold or abrogate a 1970 law that made divorce legal in Italy. The outcome of the referendum can be expected to have a major impact on Italian political developments.

The referendum campaign has driven a wedge between the Christian Democrats who are campaigning hard for cancellation of the law, and their coalition partners, the Socialists, Social Democrats and Republicans, who are urging retention of legalized divorce.

The split in the coalition over divorce comes at a time when the parties are already at loggerheads over economic issues. Prime Minister Rumor’s coalition had been in office only eight months when it fell apart in early March over economic policy differences between the Socialists and the Republican Party. Rumor hurriedly patched together the current government, but the refusal of the Republicans to accept any cabinet posts indicates that the parties made no progress toward resolving their dispute over economic priorities. Rumor’s coalition is widely regarded as a stopgap affair contrived to get the country through the divorce referendum.

The Communist Stake. Communist leader Enrico Berlinguer had been pushing since October for an “historic compromise” between his party and the Christian Democrats—a clear bid for admission to the national government. Berlinguer thus tried to get Christian Democratic leader Amintore Fanfani to go along with a plan to cancel the referendum in order to avoid an open battle between the two parties. Fanfani’s refusal to cooperate, however, gave substance to the concerns of more [Typeset Page 1061] militant Communists who doubt the wisdom of Berlinguer’s search for a modus vivendi with the Christian Democrats.

It is unlikely that even a major Communist victory in the referendum would lead to their immediate participation in the government. More probable alternatives include: a) an all-Christian Democratic caretaker government to preside until the dust settles; b) the eventual reforming of the center-left coalition (both the Christian Democrats and Socialists have stressed during the divorce campaign their desire to continue governmental collaboration); c) the outside possibility of a “technocratic” government designed to deal with the country’s severe economic problems.

Elements of the Italian military are probably concerned over the potential for increased Communist influence but are not now proceeding with any concrete plans for action. This might change, however, if it appeared that the Communists were on the verge of winning a major government role in the immediate future.

  1. Summary: Kissinger discussed the upcoming Italian divorce referendum.

    Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 696, Country Files, Europe, Italy, Vol. V, Jan 74–. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. Scowcroft initialed the memorandum on Kissinger’s behalf. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it. On May 12, a majority of Italians voted to maintain the divorce law. On May 27, Leone told Volpe “that he had wanted to avoid the referendum and that it had not turned out the way he wanted it. He stressed to me the need for DC party unity. This is no time for squabbling and the party cannot afford internal battles. It was clear however that the economic situation is the problem he finds most worrying.” (Telegram 7280 from Rome, May 28; ibid.)