Obituary: Giuseppe Tatarella

GIUSEPPE TATARELLA never tired of explaining that he was not a Fascist. Thirty-plus years as a member of the neo-Fascist Movimento Sociale Italiano, and the post-Fascist Alleanza Nazionale party which he helped to create would seem to give the lie to this, but Tatarella was adamant: "I am a nationalist, a Catholic and a democrat," he said in his last interview, which appeared in Il Giornale the day after his death.

His choice of political affiliation, he insisted, was due not so much to right-wing leanings, but to his strong anti-Communist sentiments. It must have hurt, therefore, when, as Communications Minister in the short- lived government led by Silvio Berlusconi in 1994, he was snubbed by an EU colleague who refused to shake his hand, and when Italo-Israeli relations grew chilly because of his presence in the administration.

In Italy, this genial, dishevelled politician, his glasses forever perched on his balding pate, encountered fewer prejudices. He was credited with being the mastermind behind "la svolta", the turn-around which took the MSI out of the political doghouse and into the parliamentary mainstream in 1994 when the party was transformed into the Alleanza Nazionale. He was dubbed "Minister of Harmony" for his tireless mediating between the squabbling parties which made up Berlusconi's government. "He was a friend, a loyal ally, and a champion of the moderate, democratic right," said Berlusconi.

Tatarella was born in Cerignola, Puglia, a "red" enclave in Italy's poor south-east, and it was there that he took his first political steps, heading the local extreme-right youth movement in the 1950s and 1960s, and moving on to become the secretary of the regional branch of the MSI. In 1970 he was elected to the Puglia regional council and in 1979 became an MP, retaining his seat in parliament ever after. After his stint in government, he became Alleanza Nazionale whip in the Lower House.

In the 1960s, he founded the weekly Puglia D'Oggi ("Puglia Today"). In 1996 he took over the Naples-based daily Il Roma, which he edited until his death.

Unfazed by severe cirrhosis of the liver brought on by viral hepatitis, the indefatigable Tatarella continued his editorial work and political battles as he waited his turn - never pulling any strings to move up the waiting list, said his surgeon Mauro Salizzoni of the Molinette hospital in Turin, under whose knife Tatarella died - for a liver transplant. In his final interview, this right-wing moderate talked of "going beyond the Polo per le liberta", the centre-right alliance grouping of Berlusconi's Forza Italia, Alleanza Nazionale and myriad smaller parties, to attract the support of centrally-inclined wavering voters.

"I want to push ahead at all costs with my political work," Tatarella confided to Dr Salizzoni before suffering a heart attack. "I'm quite calm about this transplant: it will be the beginning of my rebirth."

Giuseppe Tatarella, politician and journalist: born Cerignola, Italy 17 September 1936; married Angela Filipponio; died Turin 8 February 1999.