Missiles threaten tradition in Sicilian town
Some of the world's most modern and devastating nuclear weapons are being deployed here in this rural Sicilian community surrounded by cactus- and vine-covered hills.Skip to next paragraph
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But the people of Comiso seem more concerned with the risk of being uprooted from their centuries-old traditions - and with the threat of money-seeking Mafia - than with the dangers of nuclear war.
They are more worried by the onslaught of peaceniks and pacifists from Northern Europe than by the carefully low-key presence of the American servicemen manning the new cruise missiles.
''The pacifists represent an alien culture,'' says the town's only journalist , Lino Rimmaudo. ''Their basic mistake is their failure to understand the local traditions. They come from another world, with their long hair, rings in their ears - and even in their noses - while here the people believe in the family, work, and peaceful living.''
The arrival this past weekend of the first of the 112 cruise missiles to be placed at the NATO base here caused little stir. Comiso, founded more than 2,600 years ago by the ancient Greeks, has learned to survive through centuries of invasion and domination - by the Romans, Byzantium, the Arabs, and the Normans.
And, up to now, the hills seem to have shielded the town from underdeveloped Sicily's more recent scourges: feudal landowners and the Mafia.
Comiso vaunts the highest average income in Sicily and holds its own against industrialized northern Italy. Its small, privately owned fields and scattered greenhouses provide Italians with more than half of their vegetables.
The town's political traditions also go against the southern conservative grain. For 30 years, including the iciest period of the cold war, the Communist Party has dominated the local government. Today 40 percent of the population still votes for the Communists.
Town landmarks include Karl Marx Square, Patrice Lumumba Avenue, and Ho Chi Minh Street. But it would be a mistake to think the American missiles will end up in a Soviet enclave. The only revolutionary thing about Comiso seems to be the names of the streets.
For decades, as in other Italian regions, the Communist Party has focused more on nurturing old traditions. And when the wave of international pacifism swept into Comiso after the missile siting decision was announced two years ago, it broke against the ancient but rock-hard values of a rural Mediterranean society: an almost mystical sense of private property; a deeply rooted matriarchal system within the family (although local women cannot be found in the main square); and a profound respect for the social proprieties.
To make matters worse, Comiso became a stage not only for peace demonstrators but also for many who link antinuclear protest with demands for individual liberation. The sight of hippies, gays, punks - and foreign women in the main square - is seen as an affront to Comiso's way of living and thinking.
Even a local pacifist, Raffaele, who worked for several years in West Germany and who acts as interpreter for the peaceniks, complains, ''They do not want to understand us but demand that we understand them. These pacifists will never succeed in mobilizing the people of Comiso. Our problem is lack of leadership.''