Throwing coins and shouting “thief”: thirty years after the protest against Bettino Craxi, the culminating moment of Mani Pulite

Rome, April 30, 1993. About 200 people crowded into Long Phoebusa square located between the narrow streets that surround Piazza Navona. They expect Bettino Craxi get out of Hotel Raphaël.

In the environment there strain. The day before, Parliament had refused to remove the privileges of the then leader of the Italian Socialist Party, preventing the trials against him from advancing in the framework of the corruption scandal Mani Pulite.

The decision had sparked widespread rejection, with demonstrations all over Italy. The most important had been in the Piazza Navona from Rome. At the end of the meeting, many demonstrators moved in front of the neighboring hotel where the former prime minister had always had his Roman residence.

Around 7:30 p.m., a challenging craxi He walked out the front door. And the crowd exploded: “Here it is, here it is!”.

Former Prime Minister Bettino Craxi was greeted with a salute of coins by protesters in Rome on April 30, 1993.

Screams: “Thief! Thief!”. Others, waving thousand lira bills, sang to the sound of “Guantanamera”: Do you want these too, Bettino, do you want these too?

In addition to the chants, against the socialist leader who became an emblem of political malpractice, a rain of objects: cigarettes, stones, pieces of glass and, above all, coins.

Only a large cordon of riot police managed to preserve the safety of craxi. The sequence was only filmed by two cameras of the RAI and Rg4 and at the time it was not given much importance. It seemed like one more protest of the many that existed at that time. 30 years later, it is considered a pivotal moment in Italian political history. The symbolic transition from the First to the Second Republic.


Between 1992 and 1993, Italy was in chaos. In 1992, investigations Mani Pulite they had exposed widespread political corruption. Cosa Nostra unleashed terror with a series of bomb attacks in which, among other victims, were killed on anti-mafia Thursdays Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

May 23, 1992. The remains of the car in which anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone was traveling, killed by Cosa Nostra in a bomb attack (AP Photo/Nino Labruzzo, file)
May 23, 1992. The remains of the car in which the anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone was traveling, assassinated by Cosa Nostra in a bomb attack (AP Photo/Nino Labruzzo, file) (AP/)

The investigation Mani Pulite (Clean Hands) began in February 1992 with the arrest for corruption of Mario Chiesa, a socialist politician who managed a nursing home in Milan.

The prosecutors, led by Antonio di Pietrothey uncovered “Tangentopolis” (the city of bribes), bringing to light a massive and ramified network in which the politicians received large payments in exchange for helping the businessmen to obtain public contracts, works and state subsidies. The scandal especially affected the most important parties then in government, the Christian Democracy and the Italian Socialist Party of Craxi.

On July 3, 1992, in a famous speech before the Chamber of Deputies, the socialist leader had admitted the illicit financing, explaining that it involved all parties. Craxi hoped to be able to transform the problem of party financing on an exclusively political issue and that politics could stop the initiative of the judiciary.

“What needs to be said, and what everyone else knows, is that a large part of political financing is irregular or illegal. […] If a large part of it is to be considered purely criminal, then a large part of the system would be a criminal system,” he said in the speech.

Bettino Craxi
Politician Bettino Craxi speaks for the last time in the Italian Parliament, Rome 1993. (Photo by Archivio Cicconi/Getty Images) (Umberto Cicconi/)

However, Craxi was formally accused on December 15, 1992. On April 29, 1993, the Chamber of Deputies rejected the requests for removal of privileges from the Milan Prosecutor’s Office. The decision, a victory for Craxi, was rejected by the public and provoked a government crisis of the former governor of the Bank of Italy Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

The next day, the protest took place in front of the Hotel Raphaël.

That same night Craxi was interviewed on a television program: “They insulted me for two hours, they attacked my collaborators. They wanted me to go out the back door of the hotel at all costs, but I went out the front, to shouts of derision. For the first time in my life I experienced the squadronism first hand”.

Bettino Craxi
Italian politician Bettino Craxi at the National Assembly of the Socialist Party, Rome, Italy 1993 (Grosby)

Throughout 1993, the investigations in which he was involved continued and even increased. In the spring of 1994, the former socialist leader did not run for re-election and lost his privileges. However, Craxi had already fled to Tunisiain his house Hammamet. There he died, a fugitive, on January 19, 2000.

Raphaël’s legacy

In the thirty years that followed, that protest was remembered by many with pride, as a moment in which the corrupt political class was effectively and forcefully challenged by the citizenry.

For others, like the then leader of the Democratic Party of the Left achille occhettoInstead, it was “an example of barbarism unleashed by justicialist fury.” “That night,” he said to the Corriere della Sera“without a doubt, the path to populism was opened.”

The businessman Silvio Berlusconi and Bettino Craxi
The businessman Silvio Berlusconi and Bettino Craxi

The episode of Hotel Raphaël it also marked the end of the political parties that had formed in the first half of the 20th century and had governed Italy since June 2, 1946 the Republic was proclaimed.

In the 1994 elections, new formations would already participate, inherited by the old politicians and ideologies or born out of nowhere. It was the beginning to Second Republic.

An age that would be dominated by a man from whom craxi he had been a political godfather: Silvio Berlusconi.

Keep reading:

30 years after “Mani Pulite”, the political and judicial earthquake that changed Italy

Antonio Di Pietro: “The judge who does not fight corruption is because he does not want to, not because he is pressured by politics”