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TRIBUNE SPECIAL REPORT
Sushi and Rev. Moon
How Americans’ growing appetite for sushi is helping to support his controversial church
By Monica Eng, Delroy Alexander and David Jackson
Tribune staff reporters
April 11, 2006
On a mission from their leader, five young men arrived in Chicago to open a little fish shop on Elston Avenue. Back then, in 1980, people of their faith were castigated as "Moonies" and called cult members. Yet the Japanese and American friends worked grueling hours and slept in a communal apartment as they slowly built the foundation of a commercial empire.
They were led by the vision of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the self-proclaimed messiah who sustained their spirits as they played their part in fulfilling the global business plan he had devised.
Moon founded his controversial Unification Church six decades ago with the proclamation that he was asked by Jesus to save humanity. But he also built the empire blending his conservative politics, savvy capitalism and flair for spectacles such as mass weddings in Madison Square Garden.
In a remarkable story that has gone largely untold, Moon and his followers created an enterprise that reaped millions of dollars by dominating one of America's trendiest indulgences: sushi.
Today, one of those five Elston Avenue pioneers, Takeshi Yashiro, serves as a top executive of a sprawling conglomerate that supplies much of the raw fish Americans eat.
Adhering to a plan Moon spelled out more than three decades ago in a series of sermons, members of his movement managed to integrate virtually every facet of the highly competitive seafood industry. The Moon followers' seafood operation is driven by a commercial powerhouse, known as True World Group. It builds fleets of boats, runs dozens of distribution centers and, each day, supplies most of the nation's estimated 9,000 sushi restaurants.
Although few seafood lovers may consider they're indirectly supporting Moon's religious movement, they do just that when they eat a buttery slice of tuna or munch on a morsel of eel in many restaurants. True World is so ubiquitous that 14 of 17 prominent Chicago sushi restaurants surveyed by the Tribune said they were supplied by the company.
Over the last three decades, as Moon has faced down accusations of brainwashing followers and personally profiting from the church, he and sushi have made similar if unlikely journeys from the fringes of American society to the mainstream.
These parallel paths are not coincidence. They reflect Moon's dream of revitalizing and dominating the American fishing industry while helping to fund his church's activities.
"I have the entire system worked out, starting with boat building," Moon said in "The Way of Tuna," a speech given in 1980. "After we build the boats, we catch the fish and process them for the market, and then have a distribution network. This is not just on the drawing board; I have already done it."
In the same speech, he called himself "king of the ocean." It proved not to be an idle boast. The businesses now employ hundreds, including non-church members, from the frigid waters of the Alaskan coast to the iconic American fishing town of Gloucester, Mass.
Records and interviews with church insiders and competitors trace how Moon and members of his movement carried out his vision.
In a recent interview Rev. Phillip Schanker, a Unification Church spokesman, said the seafood businesses were "not organizationally or legally connected" to Moon's church, but were simply "businesses founded by members of the Unification Church."
Schanker compared the relationship to successful business owners-such as J. Willard "Bill" Marriott, a prominent Mormon who founded the hotel chain that bears his name-who donate money to their church.
"Marriott supports the Mormon Church but no one who checks into a Marriott Hotel thinks they are dealing with Mormonism," he said. "In the same way I would hope that every business founded by a member based on inspiration from Rev. Moon's vision also would be in a position to support the church."
But links between Moon's religious organization and the fish businesses are spelled out in court and government records as well as in statements by Moon and his top church officials. For one thing, Moon personally devised the seafood strategy, helped fund it at its outset and served as a director of one of its earliest companies.
Moon's Unification Church is organized under a tax-exempt non-profit entity called The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity. The businesses are controlled by a separate non-profit company called Unification Church International Inc., or UCI.
That company's connections to Moon's Unification Church go deeper than the shared name. A 1978 congressional investigation into Moon's businesses concluded: "It was unclear whether the UCI had any independent functions other than serving as a financial clearinghouse for various Moon organization subsidiaries and projects."
UCI as well as its subsidiaries and affiliates such as True World are run largely by church members, Schanker said. The companies were "founded by church members in line with Rev. Moon's vision,'' he said. "It's not coincidence."
Sometimes the links are more direct. The boatbuilding firm US Marine Corporation shares its headquarters offices with the church and lists the church as its majority shareholder, according to corporate records.
A portion of True World's profits makes its way to the church through the layers of parent corporations, Yashiro said, adding: "We live to serve others, and this is how we serve by building a strong business."
Moon predicted in 1974 that the fishing business would "lay a foundation for the future economy of the Unification Church." In fact, while Moon and businesses affiliated with him reportedly have poured millions of dollars into money-losing ventures including The Washington Times newspaper, the seafood ventures have created a profit-making infrastructure that could last-and help support the church-long after the 86-year-old Moon is gone.
Much of the foundation for that success has its roots in Chicago. True World Foods, Yashiro's wholesale fish distribution business spawned near Lawrence and Elston Avenues, now operates from a 30,000-square-foot complex in Elk Grove Village.
The company says it supplies hundreds of local sushi and fine-dining establishments. Even many who might have religious reservations about buying from the company do so for one simple reason: It dependably delivers high-quality sushi.
"We try not to think of the religion part,'' said Haruko Imamura, who with her husband runs Katsu on West Peterson Avenue. "We don't agree with their religion but it's nothing to do with the business."
Like Moon himself, who served a 13-month prison sentence for tax fraud in the 1980s, the seafood companies have at times run afoul of U.S. laws.
In June 2001, True World Foods' Kodiak, Alaska, fish processing company pleaded guilty to a federal felony for accepting a load of pollock that exceeded the boat's 300,000-pound trip limit. The firm was fined $150,000 and put on probation for five years under a plea agreement with prosecutors.
The company also has been cited for sanitation lapses by the Food and Drug Administration. Last year, after repeated FDA inspections found "gross unsanitary conditions" at True World's suburban Detroit plant, the facility manager tried to bar inspectors from production areas and refused to provide records, according to an FDA report. The plant manager told the inspectors that his True World supervisor was "a great man, that he was a part of a new religion, and that if we took advantage of him, then `God help you!'."
Later, according to that FDA report, an employee wearing a ski mask approached one female inspector, put his thumb and forefinger in the shape of a gun, pointed at her and said: "You're out of uniform. Pow!"
Saying they had been "hindered, intimidated and threatened," the FDA inspectors took the unusual step of securing a court order compelling True World to let them inspect the facility. Yashiro, chief executive of True World Foods, said in a written statement that the "isolated instance ..... arose from a miscommunication." The plant is now closed; Yashiro said its operations were consolidated into the Elk Grove Village plant in January, adding: "We maintain the highest standards of food safety."
THE OCEAN KING'S VISION
In the late 1970s, Moon laid out a plan to build seafood operations in all 50 states as part of what he called "the oceanic providence."
This dream of harvesting the sea would help fund the church, feed the world and save the American fishing industry, Moon said.
He even suggested that the church's mass weddings could play a role in the business plan by making American citizens out of Japanese members of the movement. This would help them avoid fishing restrictions applied to foreigners.
"A few years ago the American government set up a 200-mile limit for offshore fishing by foreign boats," Moon said in the 1980 "Way of Tuna" sermon. But by marrying Japanese members to Americans, "we are not foreigners; therefore Japanese brothers, particularly those matched to Americans, are becoming ..... leaders for fishing and distribution" of his movement's businesses.
Sushi's popularity had flowered enough by 1986 for Moon to gloat that Americans who once thought Japanese were "just like animals, eating raw fish," were now "paying a great deal of money, eating at expensive sushi restaurants." He recommended that his flock open "1,000 restaurants" in America.
In fashioning a chain of businesses that would stretch from the ocean to restaurant tables across America, Moon and his followers created a structure uniquely able to capitalize on the nation's growing appetite for sushi and fresh fish.
Some of the business start-up funds came from the Unification Church. In a seven-month period from October 1976 to May 1977, Moon signed some of the nearly $1 million in checks used to establish the fishing business, according to a 1978 congressional report on allegations of improprieties by Moon's church.
After acquiring an ailing boatmaking operation, Master Marine, Moon and his followers turned their attention to establishing the next link in the network. Church members who saw fishing as their calling took to the seas, many powered by Master Marine boats. Moon's Ocean Church would bring together members and potential converts for 40-day tuna fishing trips every summer in 80 boats he bought for his followers.
Many of the tournaments took place off the coast of Gloucester, Mass., by no coincidence one of the first homes to a church-affiliated seafood processing plant. Moon proudly declared in his "Way of Tuna" speech that "Gloucester is almost a Moonie town now!" (The church has since rejected the term Moonies as derogatory.)
Sometimes working surreptitiously, Moon affiliates and followers bought large chunks of the key fishing towns--in each case initially sparking anger and suspicion from longtime residents.
The church and its members created an uproar when they bought a villa that had been a retirement home run by Roman Catholic nuns. Moon was hanged in effigy in the local harbor.
Eventually, such resistance withered away. In Bayou La Batre, Ala., Russell Steiner was among community leaders who clashed with the newcomers. But like many in the town, Steiner has mellowed considerably since the church's arrival. "They have been very active in the community and are very nice people, actually," he said.
The Alabama shrimp business is among the largest in the Gulf of Mexico, and the nearby boat-building plant has not only built more than 300 boats, but also done repairs on the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy ships, according to federal documents.
And the fish businesses have thrived. Company officials say the wholesale distribution arm, True World Foods, had revenue of $250 million last year.
According to True World Foods, its fleet of 230 refrigerated trucks delivers raw fish to 7,000 sushi and fine-dining restaurants nationwide. Dozens of those trucks leave each day from the Elk Grove Village warehouse, one of 22 distribution facilities around the country.
True World Foods' Alaska plant processes more than 20 million pounds of salmon, cod and pollock each year, the company says. Its International Lobster operation in Gloucester ships monkfish and lobster around the world from a 25,000-square-foot cold storage facility that is among the largest on the East Coast.
And it is again in an expansionist mood. True World recently opened up shop in England and established offices in Japan and Korea, setting its sights on the world's biggest market for sushi.
When Takeshi Yashiro arrived in Chicago in 1980 to help set up one of the earliest outposts of the fishing empire, the area had just a handful of sushi joints. That number has ballooned to more than 200 restaurants statewide, and Yashiro's fish house has flourished.
The son of an Episcopalian Japanese minister, he immigrated to the U.S. and joined the church as a student in San Francisco. On July 1, 1982, Moon blessed Yashiro and his bride along with more than 2,000 other couples in one of his mass wedding ceremonies, in New York City's Madison Square Garden.
The Rainbow Fish House that Yashiro and fellow church members founded on Chicago's Northwest Side has become not only the city's dominant sushi supplier but also the nation's. The fish house became True World Foods, which buys so much tuna from around the world that it has seven people in Chicago solely dedicated to sourcing and pricing the best grades.
One of True World's advantages is that its sales force speaks Chinese, Korean and Japanese, making it easy for first-generation ethnic restaurant owners to do business with them.
"It's kind of tough to compete in this industry with a company that is so global, has a major presence in almost every market and that is driven by religious fervor," said Bill Dugan, who has been in the fish business for almost 30 years and owns the Fish Guy Market on Elston Avenue, near the original Rainbow shop. "We should all be so blessed."
But not all of True World's employees are church members. Tuna buyer Eddie Lin recently left True World for Fortune Fish Co., a local rival. Lin said his former workplace was not overtly religious, but he added that as a non-church member he felt his ability to advance was limited. "You can feel the difference between the way they see members and non-members," Lin said.
While disputing such assertions, Yashiro noted that new employees "have to know that the founder is the founder of the Unification Church. … It's a very clear distinction between joining the church or not joining the church. There's no discrimination, but I think our culture is definitely based on our faith."
It's that faith that makes some uneasy. Wang Kim, a Chicago-area youth ministry director and Moon critic, was certain he could find local Korean Christian sushi restaurateurs who didn't use True World because they might consider his views heretical. As Kim said, Moon "says that he is the Messiah, and we hate that."
But Kim called back empty-handed. "I checked with several of my friends,'' he said, "and they know it is from Moon but they have to use [them because] they have to give quality to their customers."
The sheer success of the venture has left lingering questions even in the minds of Moon's dedicated followers. Yashiro, the Chicago pioneer who now heads True World Foods, remembers dedicating his career and life 26 years ago to achieving Moon's dream, which included solving world hunger.
But that part of Moon's grand vision has yet to materialize. "I was wondering if we are really here to solve the world's hunger," Yashiro said. "Every day I ..... pray on it."
He still hopes True World Foods eventually will help end hunger. But until then, he said, his role will be to grow the business and make money.
A TRIBUNE SPECIAL REPORT
Church has made inroads
By Monica Eng and David Jackson
Tribune staff reporters
Published April 12, 2006
Two decades after serving time in federal prison, Rev. Sun Myung Moon had so effectively worked his way back into the political establishment that some congressmen attended his "coronation" on Capitol Hill.
In an unusual ceremony held in March 2004 in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) donned white gloves and placed a gleaming crown atop Moon's head. Moon informed the group that Hitler and Stalin had, from beyond the grave, proclaimed him "humanity's savior, messiah, returning lord and true parent."
Davis, who has since distanced himself from the Unification Church, said he thought the ceremony was an attempt to "bridge gaps" between different religions, and didn't learn until later that Moon interpreted the crowning as a symbol of his religious and political ascendance. "Did I think he was being incarnated into anything?" said Davis, a deacon in his Baptist church in Chicago. "No. I think it's ludicrous."
Inside the church, though, followers saw the coronation as evidence that world leaders were recognizing Moon as a messiah. "Members of the U.S. Congress gathered to crown me as the king of world peace," he said in a sermon in May of that year. "How can this possibly be a human work?"
The ceremony was an example of Moon's acceptance as part of the American mainstream, which has included having former President George H.W. Bush speak at the 1996 launch of a Moon-affiliated newspaper in Argentina, news accounts show. In 2005, another Moon-affiliated company donated $250,000 to President George W. Bush's inaugural committee.
While some religious scholars say Unification Church membership in the U.S. has stagnated at roughly 5,000, church officials contend it's stronger than ever, with 12,000 in the U.S. and several million members worldwide.
Derided as a cult in the 1970s and '80s that aggressively recruited young people to sell flowers in airports, the church changed its emphasis a decade ago to forming alliances with other faiths around issues such as abstinence and resistance to gay marriage.
Born in 1920 in what is now North Korea, Moon was raised as a Presbyterian, according to his official biography. When he was 16, he says, Jesus came to him in a vision and asked Moon to complete what he considered Christ's unfinished task; in failing to marry and have children, Jesus offered only partial salvation to the world--stances considered heresy by mainstream Christians.
The church's most spectacular rite remains mass weddings, which the church calls the way "fallen men and women can be engrafted into the true lineage of God."
In 1954, Moon registered his Unification Church under the official name, The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity. As his movement has matured, his church's members have moved away from communal living to more conventional family arrangements, and public criticism has quieted.
"It's been here for a generation," J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in California. "The concerns about it have just sort of drifted away."
Foster Parents in New Role as Population Slumps
TOKYO, Apr 13 (IPS) - A government plan to boost Japan's fledgling foster parent system as a means of stemming the population slide has revived the social debate on abortion and sex education for teenagers.
Starting this month, the ministry for health, welfare and labour will increase financial support for new foster parents, a step that is expected to encourage families to relieve the growing number of children in welfare centres and help stem the population decline.
Birth rates in Japan have dropped to 1.29 per woman making population growth a leading national issue.
''By increasing (the number of) foster parents we will be providing neglected children with a much needed home -- we also hope the success of this plan will extend the message that children can be nurtured by society to encourage more births,'' said Norikazu Hozumi, who is in charge of foster care at the ministry.
According to Hozumi, the government's aim is to increase the number of foster parents by 15 percent. On offer is an allowance of more than 300 US dollars per month per foster family plus the cost of hiring of new counselors as well as the availability of daily support services at each welfare facility run by local government.
''Foster parenting is a concept that has not taken root in Japanese society mainly because of cultural constraints. A plan to renew the system and link it to reducing abortions in a bid to increase the population is not acceptable,'' says Dr Kunio Kitamura, director of the Japan Family Planning Association.
Official statistics indicate there are currently 3,222 foster parents, which is Far from being adequate to meet the needs of more than 32,700 children now living in state-run homes.
Adoption remains a low-key option in Japan where blood ties are highly valued. "Foster parents", explained Kyoko Kitazawa, an expert on reproduction, "is attractive for officials who are looking for ways and means to prop up birth rates.''
Kitazawa, an author and activist, manages her own reproduction and sex education research institute. She advocates teaching children about sex to raise awareness of reproductive rights.
Foster parents in Japan, who have struggled alone till now, welcome the new trend pointing out, however, the importance of official support for successful parenting.
''When I became a foster parent 20 years ago, there was no official support in any form and I had to work hard to make ends meet. The new trend can be beneficial if the government supports parenting as a goal rather than focus on increasing the national population,'' explained Yuko Sakamoto, who looks after three children..
This April, Fukushima prefecture, located in northern Japan, became the first local assembly in the country to start a programme to encourage women seeking abortions to apply for foster care for their unborn babies.
Said vice-governor, Akira Kawate last month: ''We are offering women who are thinking about abortion an option and we hope as many as possible decide to have their babies. Society will raise them.''
The prefecture has newly employed family consultants and also set up services working with medical staff to provide support for women who decide not to terminate their pregnancies.
''The foster parent system is a creative way of encouraging people to raise children as it does not involve outright adoption. The system can involve short-term parenting care for mothers and fathers who need help for short periods before they are ready to take back their children,'' said a prefectural official who asked not to be named.
Fukushima's well-intentioned plans have raised a sharp debate in Japan where abortion is legal up to three months of pregnancy. National abortion rates are high among teenagers at 13 per 1000. Reproductive activists say sex education, that includes contraception choices, is a better way to reduce abortion rates than encouraging more women to give birth.
Kitamura is a leading critic of Fukushima's move to counsel women into having more babies.
''Foster parents should never be considered a substitute. The idea that foster parents can help increase the population by encouraging women to give birth and getting others to look after the children works against the right of a woman to make her own decision,'' he said.
Kazumi Irikoma, a nurse working in high schools in Iwate prefecture, agrees.
She recalls the years when she worked as a school nurse and had to console teenagers who would run to her desperately seeking help when they found out they were pregnant.
In 2002, determined to help young women, she launched in Miyako ‘Hapii' , a programme that focuses on peer counseling to raise awareness on sex in a bid to curtail the high abortion rates.
''When I realised that teenagers hardly had any knowledge on protecting themselves from getting pregnant or sexual diseases, I started Hapii. It was difficult at the beginning to start such sex education programmes, but people are much more open to the idea now,'' she explained.
More than 34,000 abortions are performed in Japan annually, the second highest number in the world after India. (END/2006)
Finance & Economics
Women and the world economy
A guide to womenomics
Apr 12th 2006
From The Economist print edition
Women in the workforce
The importance of sex
Apr 12th 2006
From The Economist print edition
Italy gets new leader; gays may benefit
Wednesday, April 12, 2006 / 08:45 AM
SUMMARY: In Italy Romano Prodi has won a very narrow victory in Sunday's elections, but the current prime minister wants a recount.
In Italy the center-left coalition led by Romano Prodi has won a very narrow victory in Sunday's national elections, according to international news reports, but the current prime minister has demanded a recount.
After claiming victory, Prodi told supporters, "We have won. We have to start uniting Italy. Now we have to focus in order to change Italy."
During his campaign, Prodi reportedly promised to introduce a civil partnership law for same-sex couples if he becomes prime minister.
Outgoing Prime Minister Silvio Burlusconi, however, has disputed the election results, saying there were "many irregularities and it's possible that we won't be able to confirm that it has been a valid vote."
The dispute over the results could last weeks.
On Tuesday, Prodi said he would not install a new government until parliament names a new president in early May. In Italy, the president gives the winner the mandate to form a new government. President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi's term expires next month.
Prodi, a former European Commission president, reportedly plans to withdraw Italian troops from the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
Abortion rights and same-sex partner rights were big social issues with voters, as several thousands of pro-gay and pro-choice Italians demonstrated in the streets during the campaign. The Catholic Church also wielded its influence to try and sway voters against the two progressive causes.
The election benefited transgender candidate Vladimir Luxuria, who is nearly assured of a seat in parliament. Luxuria is a member of the Reformed Communist Party and has pledged to work for LGBT rights.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Five LGBT people are elected to Italian Parliament
Recent elections in Italy now give hope there will be further improvement for LGBT rights in the country.
Not only it is likely that the government will be formed by the political parties backing legal recognition for same-sex unions, but thers is also a significant increase in visibility of LGBT people in the Italian politics, five LGBT people were elcted to the both houses of the Italian Parliament:
Gianpaolo Silvestri (a gay man, co-founder of Arcigay) elected with the Green Party
Congratulations and very good luck to our friends in Italy!
Transgender person is elected to Italian parliament
Five lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people were elected as members of the Italian parliament. While Europe is more accustomed to the presence and visibility of LGB people in politics, the case of Vladimir Luxuria, a transgender person being elected as a parliamentarian, is probably the first of its kind in Europe.
This is a significant result not just for Italy but for the entire Europe and European politics as LGBT people are taking more prominent and visible place within the political arena.
The majority of the centre-left coalition Unione lead by the former President of the European Commission Romano Prodi is expected to introduce some form of legal recognition for same-sex couples as most coalition members supported the idea in their election manifestos. It is also likely that Italy will improve its anti-discrimination legislation and expand its hate legislation to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and possibly that the new government will improve the present gender reassignment legislation.
Riccardo Gottardi, Co-Chair of the ILGA-Europe Board, said:
“We are happy to see a transgender person being elected as Italian parliamentarian. This is a very important victory not just for Italy, but for all Europe. This is also a sign that the European electorate is becoming more open minded and embracing the diversity of human kind.
We hope the newly elected Italian politicians will fulfil their pre-election promises and will introduce Italy into a family of European nations legally recognising same-sex families as well as introduce further legislation to guarantee equal rights for LGBT people.”
For more information please contact Juris Lavrikovs at + 32 2 609 54 16 / + 32 496 708 375
Notes for editors:
(1) ILGA-Europe is the European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) and works for equality and human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Europe.
LGBT Candidate Wins Help Seal Prodi Victory
by Malcolm Thornberry, 365Gay.com European Bureau Chief
April 12, 2006 - 1:00 pm ET
(Rome) Leftist Prime Minister-designate Romano Prodi's narrow victory in this week's Italian election was accomplished in part by the victories of five LGBT candidates.
Among them was Vladimir Luxuria (pictured), believed to be the first transsexual elected to a European parliament.
"I'm going to be the first transgender to get into a parliament in Europe," she said when she filed her candidacy papers in Rome earlier this year.
"It's a way to say to people: don't judge me by the way I look, don't judge me by my sexual orientation. Please, judge me by my ideas."
Luxuria ran under the Communist party banner in Rome in a district not far from the Vatican.
Her victory was not unexpected. Luxuria is a popular fixture in Rome's LGBT community. She is a cabaret performer and in 1994 organized the county's first gay pride march.
“We are happy to see a transgender person being elected as Italian parliamentarian. This is a very important victory not just for Italy, but for all Europe," said Riccardo Gottardi, Co-Chair of the International Lesbian and Gay Association - Europe Board.
"This is also a sign that the European electorate is becoming more open minded and embracing the diversity of human kind.
As 365Gay.com reported Tuesday returns released by the Interior Ministry gave Prodi's coalition a slim majority in both houses of parliament. Silvio Berlusconi, though, has refused to concede defeat and challenged Prodi's victory claim, demanding a recount. (story)
Berlusconi said he would concede only after Prodi is confirmed the winner after all the checks are carried out on the voting, which he says was marred by "irregularities."
Prodi told reporters on Wednesday that even though the margin of victory in both houses was razor-thin, "I do not fear a reversal of the results."
But his majority is so slim it may it difficult for him to get legislation through Parliament.
Among the bills seen as having problems gaining approval are three that would affect LGBT Italians - recognition of same-sex couples, expanded hate crimes legislation to include sexuality, and improved gender reassignment legislation.
"We hope the newly elected Italian politicians will fulfill their pre-election promises and will introduce Italy into a family of European nations legally recognizing same-sex families as well as introduce further legislation to guarantee equal rights for LGBT people,” said Gottardi
Prodi has been a supporter of moderate rights for same-sex couples since last July when he met with gay activists, but he opposes gay marriage. (story)
His planned bill would legalize civil partnerships, similar to those in Britain and other parts of the European Union.
He also has voiced his support for revamping hate crimes and reassignment surgery.
NEWSMAKER-Italy's cashmere communist lines up for power
Wednesday 12 April 2006, 11:29am EST
By Robin Pomeroy
ROME, April 10 (Reuters) - With his dapper appearance and urbane manner, 66-year-old Fausto Bertinotti does not look like the harbinger of "misery, terror and death" that Silvio Berlusconi has accused Italy's communist leader of being.
The head of Italy's biggest hard-left party, Communist Refoundation, often called a "cashmere communist" because of his taste for expensive clothes, Bertinotti is set to play a key role in Romano Prodi's new government.
Bertinotti has said he would not become a minister himself, but as his party secured third place in Prodi's centre-left election victory, it will demand significant spoils after more than 2 million Italians gave him their vote.
Italian media have speculated that he or someone from his party might become speaker of one of the houses of parliament.
Confounding the Prime Minister's constant warnings of "baby-eating" communists, Bertinotti has taken a left-wing but hardly extreme stance, calling for lower tax on labour and higher taxes on capital gains -- a policy broadly adopted by Prodi's "Union" coalition.
"There's nothing wrong with being rich, as long as you pay taxes," he has said.
But while Bertinotti's supporters love him for continuing the proud tradition of waving the hammer and sickle in a country that, during the Cold War, was home to the West's biggest communist party, many Italians share Berlusconi's distaste.
"How could anyone vote left? They want to bring communists back to Italy when everyone else in the world wants to get rid of them," said Silvia Cento, a shop owner in central Rome.
It is not just Berlusconi voters who fear Italy's communists. Many moderates in the centre-left are concerned Bertinotti could hold Prodi to ransom unless he gets his way.
He was responsible for sinking Prodi's first government when, in 1998, he turned against him in a confidence vote due to disagreements over labour policy.
Prodi's fall eventually led to Berlusconi's 2001 landslide victory and five years in power -- something for which many on the left have still not forgiven Bertinotti.
He has promised he will not sink Prodi a second time, saying his party today is fully signed up to the coalition and its manifesto, rather than merely lending parliamentary support from outside the government as it did in the late 1990s.
Casting his vote, Bertinotti was asked whether he owed more allegiance to Prodi or to his party. He replied: "I don't understand the question."
Another reason Refoundation scares some on Italy's right, and delights those on the left, is that Bertinotti has made his party home to a variety of the country's discontents who would would not easily find a place in other political groupings.
New lawmakers who may enter parliament under Refoundation's banner include Vladimir Luxuria, a transvestite who aims to be Europe's first "trans-gender" lawmaker, Francesco Caruso, a leader of the anti-globalisation movement, and Haidi Giuliani, mother of a demonstrator shot dead by police at G8 protests in Genoa in 2001.
Milanese by birth, the former trade unionist is a fan of the AC Milan soccer team, probably the only thing he has in common with Berlusconi, who owns the club.
(Additional reporting by Rachel Sanderson)
伊次期政権、難航必至 中道左派、早くも内紛 イラク撤退、急進派「即時」主張 (読売 2006/04/13朝刊)
イタリア：Vladimir Luxuria下院議員に 欧州初、世界二番目のトランスジェンダー国会議員誕生
［クラシック小話］モーツァルト／弦楽四重奏曲第１４番 野中圀亨（寄稿） (読売・西部版 2006/04/12夕刊)