In get out of the night (2023, Libros del Asteroide) Mario Calabresi tells the story of his father and other victims of terrorism in the 70s and 80s in Italy and, although the book has just been published in Spain, 16 years after its first edition, the The moment is opportune, in the opinion of the author, born in 1970 in Milan.
“When I wrote this book, the situation in Italy was similar to that of Spain now, in some way,” he says in an interview with elDiario.es in Madrid. The journalist draws parallels between the two countries and, although he points out that the terrorism that each nation has suffered is different, there are common ideas: “Being able to do accounts with terrorism, turn the page, seek a shared memory (by society).”
The one who has been the director of two of the most renowned Italian newspapers, La Repubblica and The stampconsiders that these issues are now “ripe” in Spain, just as they were in 2007 in Italy, some 15 years after the end of terrorism.
The years of lead began in December 1969, when the first major attack took place, in Piazza Fontana in Milan, in which almost twenty people died and dozens were injured; they reached their climax in August 1980, with another massacre at the Bologna train station, where more than 80 people lost their lives. Both attacks were the work of neo-fascist militants, in collaboration with the Italian secret services, although radical left groups were initially blamed. Starting in 1990, with the end of the USSR and the Cold War, the ideological tension decreased and, with it, the violence, which gave its last blows in the early 2000s.
‘Going out at night’ can move any reader, whether on the left or the right, and reviews the recent history of Italy, but it is still topical, as Calabresi pointed out to elDiario.es.
His father was shot in May 1972 by left-wing terrorists outside his home, after a campaign of public and media harassment to blame him for the supposed murder of the anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli, who died in police custody in December 1969 after falling from a window. The author, who was just over two years old at the time, recounts how he became interested in his father’s murder and also investigated Pinelli’s death, “united for 40 years (…) used against each other, in an endless tug of war”, as he writes.
The ghost of anarchism
Recently, a prominent anarchist imprisoned in Italy reopened the debate and showed how the issue has not been completely resolved, but –in the words of the writer– the case of Alfredo Cospito “is not representative of the Italian social reality”.
The anarchist militant convicted of “political massacre”, for an attack against a Carabinieri academy in which no victims were produced, was placed in solitary confinement last year based on article 41 bis, included in Italian law after of the killings and attacks against representatives of the State carried out by the mafia. He was on a hunger strike for 180 days, until last April, and in solidarity with him there were demonstrations in Italy, as well as in Barcelona or Berlin, with some riots. The far-right government of Rome once again stirred up the specter of anarchism and extreme left-wing violence, and the controversy divided public opinion, not only because of Cospito, but also around the existence of that article.
“Cospito is a fragment of the past that has reached the present,” explains the Italian journalist, adding that the anarchist only has “some followers” who do not pose a threat. “I think that his prison regime according to 41 bis, which is the harshest that exists, is wrong, because this type of imprisonment is intended for the gangsters to prevent them from giving orders to the organization that is outside (of jail) ; he does not have an organization, he simply made proclamations by letters, therefore, it is enough to control his letters ”, he ditch.
The story of many families
Calabresi believes that, in the last two decades, the situation has improved remarkably in Italy and a collective memory around terrorism and its victims has been built. Until the beginning of the century, “society was divided over my father’s name,” he says, but now most consider the man who was nicknamed “ventana commissioner” innocent because he had supposedly ousted the anarchist Pinelli. In the book, his son recounts that, even many years later, he had to hear proclamations against his father in demonstrations (such as “Calabresi murderer”) or see graffiti that evoked all the suffering of his family .
‘Come out of the night’ is also an ode to the fighting spirit of his mother, who raised Calabresi’s three children, the youngest born after his murder, which took place when his young wife was only three months pregnant.
“Forgiveness has been my mother’s path, but I believe that it cannot be a group or institutional process; it is a private and intimate tour. I myself and other relatives have advocated for a journey of pacification and the construction of a shared memory, as far as possible”, he affirms, and one way of doing so has been by transmitting the memory of the “years of lead” in talks with students, for example.
“This book can be a way of reflecting on this subject, on the consequences of terrorism and how to get out of them: that’s why it’s called ‘Leave the night’” – the literal translation of the Italian title is ‘Push the night beyond’ -.
Calabresi has worked with relatives of victims of terrorism and they have supported each other, but he says that family associations “have never been very strong or organized, and have always been in charge of more practical issues” with regard to institutions, such as collection of pensions.
Despite the difference between the attacks by the Red Brigades or ETA or the Islamists, “the consequences are the same: terrorism, of any type and latitude, leaves destruction, pain, people who often feel alone, forgotten and abandoned. So, if we want there to be a season of overcoming and pacifying, we must take charge and take care of the most fragile people who have paid the highest price”, that is, the victims and their relatives.
How to get out of the night?
“I think that to get out of the night all those who shared the idea of terrorism must abandon their weapons and the armed struggle, and rejoin the democratic game”, he affirms in relation to the parties that are linked to violent groups of the past or that they have sprung from these after their conversion.
In the case of Spain, he considers that “it is positive for a democracy that the world of ETA has become a political group, but there is a red line: the fact of having been convicted of blood crimes.” “Whoever has killed should have the sensitivity to stay behind, not to run for public office. He can be active in society in other ways, he can try to rebuild, heal the wounds, but having killed and wanting to represent citizens is a very strong idea, even if the law allows it, ”he adds.
He reiterates that “the consequences of having killed are forever, they do not disappear. Just as the suffering caused continues over time. And he believes that this type of behavior is “incendiary” and cannot occur “if a pacification is wanted” in society.
However, Calabresi – who remembers how an ex-terrorist was elected secretary of the Italian Chamber of Deputies in 2006 – believes that these issues should not be used as a throwing weapon in the political debate: “There must be a sense of State and institutional. The reaction to that cannot be to outlaw the party, because if we tell it that it has no place in the political game, the only way is violent subversion.” And he affirms that those “red lines” to which he refers “must be in the collective conscience and cannot be established by law.”
Although there are very clear red lines in the Italian Constitution regarding fascism, because it was drawn up after World War II, there are none in relation to terrorism. “Italy had to reckon with fascism and it took a long time, and even now everything is not in its place – with the new government, there are debates, discussions, tensions”, he comments. “Then he had to deal with terrorism,” explains the journalist, who believes that progress has been made thanks to two presidents of the Republic (Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, 1999-2006, and Giorgio Napolitano, 2006-2015) who recognized the suffering of the victims and took care of them.
In his opinion, “Spain has not yet made its peace with the post-Franco regime and with terrorism”, because they overlapped in time. And proof of this, according to Calabresi, is the “nostalgia for Francoism, which was a dictatorship.” He considers that this nostalgia for the dictatorship is greater in Spain than in Italy and adds: “We would be wrong if we interpreted the victory of Giorgia Meloni (in the general elections last September) as nostalgia.”