By Guy Dinmore in Rome
Published: October 28 2008
Controversy at Rome's film festival over a documentary on the Red
Brigades has fuelled a debate over the militant group's violence
almost 40 years ago, adding new resonance to large-scale student
protests against the centre-right government's education cuts.
Peaceful student marches and their "occupation" of high schools and
universities have presented Silvio Berlusconi, prime minister, with
his most serious political challenge since returning to power in May.
The protests breathed life into the moribund opposition Democratic
party at a big rally on Saturday and union leaders have called a
general strike in the education sector for Thursday.
Taken by surprise by the scale and organisation of the protests, the
government has responded erratically. An official warning that
security forces would be used to end the occupations was followed by
Mr Berlusconi's denial, and then by talks but no concessions.
Conservative politicians have sought to draw frightening parallels
with the student radicalism of the 1960s and 70s. Mr Berlusconi spoke
of "war mongers" and Mariastella Gelmini, education minister,
reportedly warned of "terrorists".
Francesco Cossiga, former Christian Democrat prime minister and later
president, gave an interview to the little-known, rightwing
Quotidiano Nazionale, in which he reportedly said "agents
provocateurs" should infiltrate the student movement, let it go
violent and then have the police "beat them bloody".
The business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore repeated his warning: "I would
not want it to be forgotten that the Red Brigades were not born in
the factories, but in the universities."
Against this background, polemics flew when Rome's annual film
festival last week tried to pull Il Sol dell'Avvenire (Sun of the
Future), a documentary on the Red Brigades. The festival is under
particular scrutiny this year, hosted for the first time by Gianni
Alemanno, mayor and former neo-Fascist, who had threatened to cut
funding and has questioned Italy's official anti-Fascist narrative.
Sandro Bondi, culture minister, had earlier protested against the
previous centre-left government's 250,000 ($316,000) funding of the
film, saying there should be no more official financing for subjects
"that reopen the wounds of the past". Gianluigi Rondi, head of the
festival, said the documentary had never been billed in the first
place, even though it was listed on programmes.
In the end, the documentary was shown last week to an overflowing
audience in Cinema Aquila on the edge of Rome, followed by a lively
debate with its co-authors, Giovanni Fasanella and Gianfranco Pannone.
Five greying men meet again in the northern city of Reggio Emilia,
Italy's communist stronghold, nearly 40 years after three of them
decided to break with the Communist party and take up a revolutionary
and clandestine armed struggle.
Alberto Franceschini, one of the principal founders of the Red
Brigades who was arrested in 1974 and spent 18 years in prison,
reminisces with two of his former friends who remained loyal to the
party mainstream and eschewed violence.
Rather than glorifying them, the ex-brigadisti are revealed more as
muddled and misguided young men whose family roots among second world
war partisans locked them in a continuing civil war with their
Fascist enemies. The international context was US imperialism in
Vietnam and Nicaragua, and the Palestinian conflict.
Such factors being absent today, leftwing commentators and the
students themselves say it is nonsense to draw comparisons between
the current protests and the political violence - from left and right
- of three decades ago.
Still, the documentary's makers say the wounds of the past do need to
be reopened and cleaned "because they were closed and suppurating".
The documentary leaves many questions from the murky past unanswered,
inconveniently for politicians on the left and right.
Controversy has also been stoked by another film, Il Sangue dei Vinti
(The Blood of the Defeated), with its gut-wrenching portrayal of
atrocities carried out by the victorious partisans against the
Fascists in the closing days of the war. The film was at first
excluded from the festival but then allowed to take part, apparently
after rightwing intervention.
Giampaolo Pansa, a journalist on whose research the film was based,
says the silence of the victors means the truth of the civil war has
yet to emerge. Italians, he says, remain very divided, "competing for
memories" and unable to find peace.