“…were it not for our perseverance, for the fact that we turned our anger into the courage to say ‘We will not accept being denied the truth’ – were it not for this, then the stories [of our loss] would just end, they would have ended on that day. And we realize that, as we go on, we are the only power that we have.”
This is how Ilaria Cucchi – the sister of 31-year-old Stefano Cucchi, who died under mysterious circumstances in an Italian prison in 2009 – described the situation of her family and, by extension, of other families of victims of police repression in Italy, in her appearance on a television documentary about her late brother. Remembering requires a memory agent who will “actualize” or “activate” the memory in question, if it is to remain vivid. The Cucchi case demonstrates that in Italy the role of such memory communities has proven essential, considering the low commitment or unwillingness of the State to bring justice to the victims of police repression.
I have studied one such case – the violent death of Francesco Lorusso, on 11 March 1977. Lorusso, a medical student and sympathizer of a left-wing extra-parliamentary group, got involved in a conflict between left-wing and Catholic students which resulted in severe police repression during which Lorusso was shot in the back. The incident provoked an urban upheaval in which Lorusso’s friends and fellow students vented their anger in the city center, resulting in more public order measures. Lorusso’s death thus marked the final stage in the conflict between a newly arisen student movement and the local Communist authorities. The chapter on 1977 was, however, all but closed off, as the police officer who shot Lorusso was absolved on the basis of a disputed public order law, while the numerous requests by Lorusso’s family to open a new investigation remained unanswered.
In my forthcoming book on the public memory of the 1977 incidents, I interpret the family’s role in the process of getting justice in terms of “affective labor.” Post-Marxist philosophers Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri define affective . . .
Read more: Police Repression in Italy and the Affective Ecology of Victims’ Families
In a previous article I argued that Italy is witnessing a sort of end of ideology: Prime Minister Mario Monti’s technical government responds to the economic market alone, while Beppe Grillo’s a-political grassroots movement is winning over disappointed voters. But with the elections in sight, the old political guard is warming up, eager to regain control over the country. Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has governed the country on and off since 1994, is first in line: after months of tactical holding off, the Cavaliere – as Berlusconi is also called – decided to get back into the game as it became clear that Monti might run for the elections. For some weeks now he has been appearing on every single political and current affairs show on Italian television, primarily on his own TV channels but also on the more critical, independent La7, where he engaged in a highly media hyped duel with a critical journalist Berlusconi managed to have removed from state television back in 2002. On another talk-show, old times again revived as Berlusconi took it out on magistrates who ordered the former PM to pay €36 million ($48 million) a year in a divorce settlement with this ex-wife Veronica Lario: they were accused of being Communists and now also feminists.
The sense of history repeating itself was reflected in a satirical cartoon, where we see Berlusconi’s face on TV as he yells “Happy 1994!” to a terror-stricken viewer. Unless Monti’s newly found political list, “Civic choice,” can put a stop to it. Positioned neither to the left nor to the right, Monti seems to want to do away with traditional polarities in politics for good and give continuity to his technical government, with no one to respond to but the European Union. In fact, when criticized for the rigorous measures taken in order to bring down the government bond spreads, i.e. the spread between Italian benchmark 10 year bonds and safer German Bunds, Monti inflexibly shifted responsibility to bad management by previous governments. In the name of rigor . . .
Read more: Mario Monti’s Midway: A Civic Choice in the Italian Elections?
In the early 1990s, the political scandal “Bribesville” led to the emergence of a new political class in Italy, headed by Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing party Forza Italia (“Go Italy”). Bettino Craxi’s political protégée promised the Italians a “clean, reasonable and modern country.” Instead, the media magnate turned Italy into the “sick man of Europe”: “a country still struggling between modernity and backwardness, between the need/will to change and the fear of losing some local or specific privileges.” Twenty years on, a new corruption scandal has emerged, and the country seems to have returned to its point of departure, in spite of Berlusconi’s dismissal as Prime Minister.
This is not just Berlusconi’s fault, as I discussed in an earlier post . After all, he was voted in by many Italians, even if his control over the media (the Berlusconi family owns several TV channels, a publishing house and national daily) suggest a certain degree of political manipulation. The problem is that there is a mindset where getting away with (bad) things is a kind of national sport. It relates to the diffidence of Italian citizens towards the state, as historian John Foot explains in Italy’s Divided Memory:
“T]he Italian state has been in the throes of a semipermanent legitimation crisis ever since its inception. The basic ‘rules of the game’ have never been accepted by many Italians in terms of a ‘rational’ management of the state and the political system. They have, instead, been partly replaced by other, unwritten ‘rules’ that have institutionalized patronage, clientelism, and informal modes of behaviour and exchange.”
This legitimation crisis is evident, for example, in tax evasion but also – on the part of the state – in the use of excessive violence against citizens during social conflicts. The most exemplary case was the G8 summit in Genoa, in 2001, when police killed a student activist, savagely beat . . .
Read more: Italy: Still the Sick Man of Europe
Ever since former PM Silvio Berlusconi was forced to make way for Mario Monti’s politics of rigor and sacrifice, Italy has been confronted with major cuts, radical changes in legislation, and a complete reversal of mind-set with regards to life-styles and consumption habits. Whether “Rigor Montis” (from the Latin expression “rigor mortis,” i.e. stiffening caused by death) – as Monti is mockingly called on occasions – will manage to turn Italy into a real European country is still a big question. What I fear will not change easily is the disgraceful condition of women in Italian society. My anxiety was confirmed on a daily basis throughout the summer of 2012, as I followed a contest to elect two new showgirls for a popular show on Channel 5, one of Berlusconi’s TV channels. But what is the big deal with women, boobs and bums in Italy anyway?
Since classical antiquity, female beauty occupies a central place in Italian culture. Not by chance, the nation has often been represented through allegorical female figures. The connection of the “fatherland” with female mother figures or erotic ideals was to encourage men to a “passionate attachment to the nation,” as Stephen Gundle puts it in his Bellissima: Feminine Beauty and the Idea of Italy. In other words, beauty was used as a form of (political) persuasion. This is also because Italians have never really had a commonly held, national sense of identity. Therefore, special importance was given to factors relating to the informal culture that Italians did share, i.e. the sexual fixation of men on women, the physical element apparently being more important for Latin males.
Berlusconi’s application of the stereotypical image of women as erotic objects of desire for men is part of both his success at home and his negative image abroad. His sexist and degrading jokes – most notably his vulgar remark about Angela Merkel’s bottom – are sadly famous across the world. Homosexuals weren’t spared either, like when he publicly justified his erotic escapades with . . .
Read more: Sexism Italian Style: Why Sacking Berlusconi Isn’t Enough