Monday, November 18, 2002

They came and got them

The night before last, twenty people have been woken up by police and arrested. They were all involved in the "new-global" movement. One of them was Francesco Caruso, leader of the movement in Southern Italy, and such a far-out radical that other fringes of the movements left writings on the walls of Naples that said "Al prossimo G8 Caruso poliziotto", "At the next G8, Caruso will be a policeman". They have been charged of "subversive association" and "conspiracy to disturb the activity of the Government".

This immediately caused quite a stir, with people taking to the streets and a chorus of protests.

Since the arrest warrants had been signed by two prosecutors from Cosenza, the Right quite understandably argued that it was too easy to staunchly defend the Judiciary only when it prosecutes your political enemies.

There were also assorted expressions of relief and even somebody who said that this time the judges had got it right, because the charges were really serious now, not like those against a couple dozen policemen in Naples when there was merely cause to suspect they had tortured people in custody.

The arrested have not been charged with any specific crime. Media (the sort of media we have in Italy, you know) made a big deal out of the fact that they had been taken to Trani prison, where the last die-hard, stubbornly unrepentant Red Brigades members are serving out their sentences, and of the fact that the inquest had started from a leaflet found in a factory, claiming responsability of a terrorist bomb placed in Rome in the Institute for International Strategic Studies. But, as was noticed in the news on other channels, none of the arrested were charged with any link, however weak, with the bomb itself, or indeed, with any specific crime at all. The TG3 drew a parallel with the April 7th investigation, the one who landed lots of radical left intellectuals like Toni Negri (and incidentally, the founder of my own Amnesty International Group) in jail. But back then, they noticed, the 7th April people were charged with a sort of intellectual affinity with terrorism, but also with complicity in specific, and very serious, crimes.

Why am I telling you all this? (And why do I keep writing these monsters blog entries, that always aim at telling a small short story and end up recapitulating the universe? That's not what a blog is for, is it?)

Well, first of all, despite all of Italy apparently being on the move about this, no demonstration is scheduled to happen in my city and I'm too lazy to move to Vicenza and Verona. So I do what I know how to do best: sit down and write. I'm somewhat lukewarm towards the new-global movement as a whole, but you know, first they came for them and I did nothing because I wasn't one of them...

But mostly I write because this is what happens when you have a Fascist Penal Code. Let it be a warning.

I'm not referring to Berlusconi's governament as Fascist, mind you. There are fascists in the governament but that's a different thing. No, I mean it literally. Our Penal Code - the Codice Rocco - dates back, not in its entirety but for big enough chunks, to 1930. Nobody really ever got around to uprooting its most unsavoury bits, possibly (as Andreotti once said, if you suspect the worst, you commit a sin, but you're often right) figuring that they could come in handy sooner or later, like the ones that describe and prosecute what are essentially political crimes, allowing people to be persecuted for their opinions. If it's against the Constitution? Er. Yes. But you know law. There are ways around it.

If anything, the Governament, in the person of the current incumbent of the Interior Ministry, Pisanu, is quite obviously as uneasy about this as the most vociferous exponents of the opposition. Because things have changed since Genova, when the then Minister made himself scarce and let Gianfranco Fini and other assorted ex-fascists handle things. It has changed since the then Minister was caught slagging the latest terrorism martyr ("a prick that was always whining that nobody was listening to him" - as he was, poor bastard, because despite threats and ominous signs that he had become a target his escort had been revoked) was sacked. No, the new Minister is somebody who apparently thinks that good public order means no blood, no beatings, no shootings, no torture.

Which translated in the incredible victory of good sense last week, at the European Social Forum, so let me backpedal a bit because this too is a story worth telling.

The European Social Forum held in Florence over last weekend was five intense days of meetings, workshops and seminars in which the new movement was aiming at gathering minds and coming up with ideas, common grounds, and maybe a line of political action. It was supposed to be a meeting ground for the several disparate and different souls of the movement - from the grassroot Catholicism of committed priests and parishoners, to the radical and even borderline violence of the "disobedients". This meant that the Disobendients were there as well as the monks.

It would begin with a demonstrative "action" of the said Disobedients at Camp Derby, a NATO base near Florence, and conclude with a big, no wait, we got the last numbers, great, no wait a moment there's others who've confirmed they're coming, a huge demonstration against the war.

Now this made a lot of people nervous. Everybody expected mayhem, wreckage and devastation. No, I tell a lie. Not everybody expected them - some feared them, some hoped for them, and some deep down dreaded them despite being firmly resolved not to believe anything untoward would happen.

I think the most genuinely worried were the Florentines themselves. Some Florentines, at least. Most of the shop-owners in the city center closed down in trembling anticipation. They were expecting the worst: the barbarians, bringing ruin.

In Florence! Treasure coffer of humanity! Most beautiful city in the world (Florentines are wonderful people, but humility is not one of their strongest points)!

Other Florentines, as they have done again and again in their long history, tried to take a positive approach. Thousands and thousands of them signed up to host some of the visitors in their homes. On TV we saw these beautiful rooms lined with books and tastefully furnished in modern starkness, and middle aged men and women with patrician features telling the interviewer: I mostly do it for my children, I want them to meet people from abroad and talk to them and I expect this will broaden their minds. And you could catch a tiny spark of worry in their eyes - but they still opened their homes. Booksellers, among them the owner of the oldest bookshop in Italy, stayed open. The mayor stood firm in saying that they welcomed the Forum.

The Governament wasn't so thrilled. If the thing went well, they would end up with a huge victory for the hated Left - the real thing, not the middle-of-the-road Center-Left - on their hands. If it went badly, they would have to go through the horrors of July 2001 in Genoa again. Berlusconi enjoys playing the Foreign Affairs Minister, but not if it means that people take him up on their kids being beaten by the police during those fun get-together abroad. So the ideal thing for him would be if this Florence business simply went away. With people crying that the treasures of art and culture in Florence could not be endangered, hints were dropped that maybe, well, they could just call the thing off? Or shift it somewhere else?

As I said, the mayor of Florence wasn't having any of this. Neither was the Governor of the province. Neither were the Forum organizers. The right-wing papers (among them the major Italian paper, Corriere della Sera, which has sort of been sidling up to the Right for months - people say because of a secret buy-out) started up a campaign to have the Forum called off. Then one voice rose up over the murmur - Oriana Fallaci's. Bear with me, I'm going off into a tangent.

Oriana Fallaci isn't completely unknown abroad. She lives in Manhattan and after September 11 published a long, er, what shall we call it? Screed? Which basically came down to "We have a superior culture - let's go and bomb those beasts into the Stone Age. And since they breed like rabbits, let's kick them out of our beautiful country and keep them out." It's been published in English too, under the title "The Rage and The Pride". Oriana Fallaci always wrote passionately, and when I was a child I loved her for it. I cried over her long article on the life and murder of her lover Panagulis, a Greek dissenter who had known jail and torture and had never knukled under. I devoured her books about Vietnam and the space race - she was a good journalist, and an outstanding writer. It took me graduating into adolescence to understand that she wasn't as good a thinker. That she was quicker to move you to tears than to make you think clearly. That if she was uncompromisingly honest in looking inside her and chronicling what went on in there, she wasn't as good in processing that information, or measuing it up to the rest of the real life going on outside.

Oriana Fallaci,a Florentine herself, called the Florentine up to arms. Pull yourself together, people! she cried. Resist! Show some dignity! Spit on this barbarian horde! Do as you did during the Nazi occupation - close your shops, close your houses, bar your windows - and hang a notice outside: Closed for mourning.

While the Rage and Pride thing had been met with a furor - horror on one side (mine, for example: I had soured on her, annoyed by her self-preocupation and the frankly embarassing clukiness of her latest books, but I was wounded by the frank racism of her outpourings of hate and prejudice), and enthusiasm on the other - now the prevailing emotion was embarrassment. Florentines, which besides being humility-impaired are not great fans of other people telling them what they have to do either, quietly simmered. There even was some snickering in the corners. One very popular comedian, a woman gifted with an almost scary talent for turning into uncannily identical copies of the figures she caricatures, appeared during the Forum in Florence with a camouflage helmet and mimiked Oriana Fallaci's speech cruelly.

After long consideration, the Governament decided grudgingly to let the Forum happen, on the grounds that while it was possible that letting it go ahead might lead to disorders, forbidding it was guaranteed to do it.

The fateful days arrived. The Disobedients went to Camp Darby and shouted Yankees go home. The Yankees probably didn't appreciate, but went along doing their business and ignored them. The people met, and talked, and slept in neat rows on the pavement of the town's sport facilities, under polite handwritten notes that forbid smoking and drinking, or in the Florentine's homes, and visited the museums and galleries for free. The few restaurants and bars that kept open shop did great business, as did the bookshops - the movement is apparently made up of avid readers. The ones who had closed, and protected the windows with plywood, found the plywood (and the plywood alone) covered in sarcastic commentary: "Closed for selfishness", "Closed for short-sightedness".

The demonstration wasn't huge - it was enormous, at least 400,000 people but probably a lot more who couldn't even march but had to shuffle because the route was too short to accomodate all who had arrived. Nothing got broken or soiled or ruined. While in Genoa people had sprinkled water on the sweltering crowd passing under their windows, here they passed from ground-floor windows uncountable plastic cups of hot tea and ham and cheese sandwiches and plastic dishes of spaghetti, and opened their toilets to a long string of polite demonstrators who had found no bar and restaurant to recieve them.

Oriana Fallaci, who was rumored to be in Florence in those days, was probably vastly disapponted. She did not take up the Forum's invitation to go and meet them - thus missing, I think, the chance of a lifetime. (And so did I - for reasons that I will, sooner or later, try to explain).

People came back close to tears of elation. It changed my life, they told us. It's like the '68, told us an older friend who had been there, but gone right this time.

After everything was over,and the booksellers were gloating, and the Florentines were relieved and elated and touched, and even the Governament was basking in the warm fuzzy feeling of it all and complimenting itself publicily for its success, one of the Forum organizers took up all the t-shirts that they had left - t-shirts with the "Another world is possible" slogan that had walked the streets of Genoa too, and been beaten bloody by the hysterical police - and brought them to the Questura, to be distributed among the police that had discreetly, and benignly, overseen it all. The same people who ended up behind plastic shields and tear-gas and batons in Genoa received thanks and a t-shirt with Another World Is Possible. Demostrators and police congratulated each other and shook hands.

Two days after that, those twenty people who had just come back from Florence full of warm fuzzy good feelings got that early morning visit and ended up in jail.

Why? How? What for?

Yes, there were violence and devastation and wreckage in Genoa. Were they linked to it? No.

This that follows is the reconstruction that appeared on La Repubblica today, in an article by Giuseppe D'Avanzo.

The inquest was started by a special branch of the Carabinieri, one of the several Italian police forces. The Special Operations Grouping, Ros, became convinced that behind the riots in Naples (7th May 2001) and Genoa (21 July 2001) there wasn't simply the random violence of the casseurs, but a plot. They set about proving this, by monitoring conversations and emails. They found evidence. Just to give an idea of the quality of this evidence:

- Anna Curcio (one of the arrested) talks on the phone while going to Florence. "I'll be working for a project of collaborations with the indipendent radios that will work through a web site," Gap, the prosecution will note: like the GAP, the subversive formation formed by Giangiacomo Feltrinelli! Clear indication of the knowledge of, and a willingess to exploit the memory of, Italian terrorists networks. These networks, please note, were active in the '70s.

- Francesco Cirillo, talking on the phone with somebody else: "We've got to be in Florence by the 6th, because the first action will be at Camp Derby, an American base near Florence." The somebody else doesn't seem to be too keen. "Aaah," he goes. Cirillo presses him: "It's some hundred chilometers from Florence... this base here... and so the first thing will happen there." Thing, the prosecutor underlines, significantly. "Thing". Obviously, they were planning some violence.

Now, with this sort of evidence, the ROS started to tour Italy in search of a compliant prosecutor. They sent the dossier - all 980 pages of it - to the judges in Genoa. Genoa sent it back, telling them that there was nothing useful in there. Undaunted, the ROS sent it to the judges in Turin. The Turin prosecutor's office said "No meat here, folks." The ROS then tried with Naples. The prosecutors in Naples said that there was nothing penally relevant there. Then ROS then hit on the Cosenza Procura. Bingo.

Because the beauty of it is that these kind of charges do not need actual evidence.

Let me stress this again. What I have said up to now may be intriguing and interesting for whoever cares for Italy however tangentially, but this has a wider relevance.

A charge of conspiracy to overthrow the established order does not need evidence of any actual crime. One does not need to prove that anything has been done to overthrow the established order. It is sufficient that the conspiracy could do it.

The Right is, then, primly (and gloatingly) reminding people that they were the ones that insisted the Judiciary is not politically motivated. Ah-ha, they said. Taste of your own medicine, eh?

The fact is, accusing somebody - not to name names, Silvio Berlusconi - of having cooked books, paid kickbacks, and even corrupeted judges to have controversial business deal go their way is a political act only if there are no grounds for the claim. Accusing somebody of plotting not to overthrow the State but to "conspire to obstruct the action of the Governament and the established economic order" is a political accusation itself.

The fact that such crimes are still contemplated in the Italian Penal Code is alarming. The fact that they are intrinsically so subjectively applicable (there is no discretionality of penal action in Italy: prosecutors only can decide if there is a crime, not wether to prosecute) is also alarming. The fact that other groups, openly out to overthrow the established order have never been prosecuted for this fact alone - not to name names, the Norther League, is actually quite heartening. So is the fact that no judge does take orders from the exectuive power, nor is appointend by it. There may be judges with dubious judgement in Italy, but the majority are actually quite sensible people - and if they can be manipulated, they at least can't be ordered about.

The fact that "preventive" laws like this have been proposed or adopted all over the world is, or should be, cause for thought.

My friend Massimo Riva helpfully sent me a form yesterday, which I may use to denounce myself to the Prosecutor Office in Cosenza. The form goes:

Self-denounce form for subversive elements

The undersigned,born in on and resident in , declares to be guilty of: (tick off the appropriate box, multiple answers are allowed)

Political conspiracy by means of association with the purpose of:

[ ] obstruct the function of the Government (including: not voting for the parties currently governing Italy, protesting against the Pact for Italy, defending Article 18 of the Workers Statute. (An aggravating circumstance is the ownership of any Nanni Moretti movie on tape).

[ ] spread subversive propaganda (that is, saying any thing that has not been said, or has been denied, by the Prime Minister. (Asking for respect of a plurality of viewpoints in media is an aggravating circumstance.)

[ ] subvert the established economic order (including: to support fair trade, boycot multinational products. Not including: cooking books, export capitals abroad, fiscal evasion.)

Other crimes

[ ] attempted attack against Constitutional Institutions (including: asking for the respect of Article 11 of the Constitution, demanding a discipline of the conflict of interests. Not including: voting for absentee members of Parliament)

[ ] carrying means of aggression (including Swiss Army knives, tissue papers, sanitary tampons, kriptonite. Not including: batons, CS gas.)

[ ] instigation to disobey the laws of the State including: consciousness objection to military expenses, disobedience of the Bossi-Fini law on immigrants, taking parts in anti-prohibitionist campaigns. Not included: tax evasion and illegal building pardons.)

Signed by [name] on the [date].

Massimo supplied the email address and fax number of the Prosecutor Office. I'm in two minds about this. I mean, do I want to gamble on these guys' sense of humor?


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