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Cavorting with Capitalists : Italy's Communists Hold a Festival--Yuppie Style

September 15, 1986|DON A. SCHANCHE | Times Staff Writer

MILAN, Italy — In a display of bourgeois showmanship that includes dancing under the stars, gourmet dining and scores of capitalist sponsors and guests, Italy's unorthodox Communist Party has spent $10 million on an end-of-summer jamboree that ended here Sunday, an extravaganza that party stalwarts hoped made them look as fun-loving, democratic and unthreatening as the yuppie next door.

Although not unprecedented as Italian political bashes go--each of the country's political parties holds an annual festival--the Communists' Festa dell' Unita (Festival of Unity) adopted so many of the trappings of capitalism that the party's red hammer-and-sickle flag looks almost out of place.

Even the dialogue during the nightly debates that highlighted the 18-day festival has been so unorthodox as to make some old hands wonder what ever happened to Marxist dialectic.

A debate on Tuesday, for example, was entitled, "Tonight, Let's Talk About the Art of Seduction," and featured three self-described feminists who leaned more toward giggles than a stern party line.

They agreed, in the words of leftist journalist Silvia Neonato, that women are breaking away from "years of rather austere feminism" and "beginning again to play on the theme of seduction in dress and behavior."

The tent auditorium in which the seduction debate was held adjoined the elegant Cafe delle Donne (Women's Cafe), one of 49 eating and drinking establishments that was set up on the festival grounds in downtown Milan's vast Sempione Park. It was packed with a distinctly middle-class crowd of what appeared to be young urban professionals.

An occasional old party member clumped in, listened briefly, then clumped out shaking his head.

"We are trying to portray the reformed party image here," explained Tonino Mulas, the festival's communications director, when asked about the profusion of high-tech pavilions and elegant restaurants that were erected especially for the jamboree.

"We chose Milan to do this because it is the most European of Italian cities, the capital of the fashion, publishing and advertising industries with branch offices of all the multinational companies."

It was the first party festival ever, he said, to have both a fashion pavilion, sponsored by the city's distinctly upper class fashion industry, and an advertising pavilion under sponsorship of a wholeheartedly capitalist national advertising association.

Giants of Industry

Among other corporate sponsors who paid for space to install product promotional displays in more than 100 large temporary pavilions were such giants of Italian industry as Fiat and Olivetti, as well as some firms with names more familiar to Americans such as the local affiliates of Esso and Coca-Cola.

The numerous dining pavilions were a delight to cosmopolitan gourmets. They offered both fine cuisine and traditional cooking from Italy, France, East Germany, Hungary, Yugoslavia, China, Vietnam, Cuba and the Soviet Union. When newspapers throughout Italy reported that the Cuban restaurant at the festival was serving inexpensive lobster dinners, the otherwise ordinary dining pavilion was packed with out-of-towners. But when the lobster ran out, many of the Cuban restaurant's 600 seats went empty.

The most "in" of the dining tents, particularly popular among the fashion and advertising crowd, has been "Decio Carugati," operated by a noted Milan chef of the same name as a temporary festival branch of his regular restaurant. Carugati, whose prices begin in the $35-$50 per plate range, said that he wanted to bring his restaurant to the Communist Party festival because "Italian cuisine is the people's cuisine."

"It's different from the French, which started with kings and queens and foie gras," Carugati explained with a disdainful shrug in the direction of the "Ristorante Francese" nearby. Both of the high-priced eateries appeared to have done a thriving business among the Communist rank and file.

Elite Patrons

The list of guest speakers also mirrored the party's growing discomfort with the old "Workers of the world, unite" image. They included Nerio Nesi, chairman of the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, Italy's biggest bank; Guido Carli, former governor of the Bank of Italy; Giovanni Spadolini, the country's Republican defense minister, and Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's richest and most aggressive private television magnate.

Traditional Communist guests from abroad were not much in evidence. The Soviet Union sent only two relative unknowns, both from the Soviet Academy of Sciences, to answer questions about the nuclear accident at Chernobyl.

Instead the guest list leaned toward political figures more acceptable to the non-Communist left, such as George McGovern, the 1972 U.S. Democratic presidential candidate. McGovern made a brief and uncontroversial speech calling on the major powers to call off the arms race.

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