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European Times Bologna: Butcher carves the left out of its citadel

AT THE Festa dell'Unita in Bologna things look pretty much as they always have, more like a provincial agricultural fair than a political fund-raiser. Hundreds of stands sprawl over a northern city park, interspersed with stages for bands, theatre performances and political debates.

Restaurants run by supporters of what was once the Italian Communist Party (PCI) vie with each other to produce the best tortellini, cappelletti and other delicacies. Craftwork from developing countries has replaced the shoddy Eastern Bloc trinkets once on show. Red flags still abound, though the hammer and sickle has vanished

But the mood at this celebration of Italian left-wing values - solidarity, lively debate, and fine cooking - is verging on gloomy. For the first time since the war, Bologna is no longer red. In June's local elections Bologna voters ditched the left-wing candidate, Silvia Bartolini, in favour of Giorgio Guazzaloca, a butcher.

Ostensibly he ran on a non-party ticket, but his campaign was supported by parties of the centre-right Polo delle Liberta. Many people voted for Mr Guazzaloca to give the previous council a fright but never expected he would be elected.

Paolo, a clean-cut young architect, said: "I was fed up with the arrogance of the left-wing administrators. They took our votes for granted yet they were incompetent, and we in Bologna are used to good administration. I voted Guazzaloca and now we have to live with the consequences."

The Bolognesi are waiting anxiously to see what change is in store. Mr Guazzaloca left school at 15 to be an apprentice butcher and went on to become president of the Bologna Chamber of Commerce. He knows the city well, is politically astute and disinclined to rock the boat. The week after his election the new mayor came under pressure from right-wing supporters to ban a rave party with gay parades. Instead he invited the organisers to his office, and asked them to "lower the volume near the hospital and not to scare the old or children".

But the right-wing parties who have spent decades in opposition want their pound of flesh. In summer most of the new mayor's statements were correcting or denying outbursts by his councillors.

The idea that made the most waves came from a councillor of the right- wing party Alleanza Nazionale, who called for a limit on the number of non-EU people in town.

Many Bolognesi saw it as a sounding out of opinion for a tough line on illegal immigrants. While the offensive proposal and zero-tolerance recipe make the normally sympathetic citizens squirm, many admit that criminal elements among immigrants are a problem.

One senior PR executive said: "We have always been proud of the fact that things that were normal in other big cities like Turin or Rome just didn't happen here. That someone could be stabbed under the porticos in the city centre was shocking. But the city has become unsafe and the previous council didn't seem interested in tackling the problem."

Some attribute the decline in public safety to the pedestrianisation of much of the historic centre, saying it led to a decline in business, the closure of many shops and allowed it to become the domain of the dispossessed.

While people working in social services fear funding cuts, others in the health and education sector are less pessimistic. "Bologna has always been an exceptional community health service," said Gianni, a local health service doctor. "But in recent years, the council rejected our input regarding strategy."

In the year 2000 Bologna will be the European capital of culture. Yet with just a few months to go, no one knows which of the projects approved by the outgoing council will go ahead. Jovanotti, a popular rap artist who had been appointed as a consultant, mayabandon the role because of "differences of vision" with the new culture barons.

Valerio Monteventi of the hard-left Refounded Communists said: "The mainstream projects will probably remain intact but the most vibrant sector, that of independent, avant-garde artists is at risk."

The Democratici di Sinistra, (DS) are having to analyse where they went wrong. Most people agree on their first mistake - the mayoral candidate, Silvia Bartolini, neither well-known nor a good communicator. "Fifteen years ago the party would have sent a powerful figure up from Rome to select a strong candidate," said Enrico, a bearded teacher who did not hide his nostalgia for the PCI, once Europe's biggest Communist party.

But the fact that so many voters changed sides showed that the city rulers had lost touch with their supporters. "This generation of forty- somethings is unconvincing. They didn't take part in the Resistance, they were kids in the turmoil of 1968, and they have often done nothing but politics," said Enrico, munching a mortadella sandwich.