Italy's struggle with leftist terrorism is back in the political spotlight here after months of national concern about rightist terrorism. The reason for this latest switch was the kidnapping of Giovanni D'Urso, a Justice Ministry magistrate who had been held captive by Red Brigades terrorists for 34 days before his release last week.
The episode increased pressure on the new government of Christian Democratic Prime Minister Arnaldo Forlani to come to grips with the leftist terrorism that has plagued the country for more than a decade.
Mr. D'Urso's abduction Dec. 12 was the first political abduction in Italy since the Red Brigades kidnapped and killed former Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1978. The D'Urso kidnapping left Italian political institutions with a feeling of helplessness early similar to the feeling that pervaded the country during the Moro affair.
When Mr. D'Urso was released on the morning of Jan. 15, the terrorists brazenly left him bound and gagged in a car parked only yards away from the Justice Ministry building where he worked in central Rome. The terrorists' ability to get close to the building despite heavy police surveillance in the area was seen as another slap in the face for the police.
When the Red Brigades returned Mr. Moro's body on May 9, 1978, they left him, too, in a car parked halfway between the headquarters of the Christian Democratic and Communist parties.
The day after Mr. D'Urso was released, Mr. Forlani's government, which was formed last Oct. 18 with a broad parliamentary base, received a solid 353-to-213 vote of confidence in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Parliament.
If Mr. D'Urso had been killed, which was a very real possibility until the last minute, the outcome of the confidence vote most probably would have been the opposite.
Throughout the kidnapping, Mr. Forlani repeatedly stressed that his government would maintain a hard line and not negotiate with the terrorists.
The D'Urso affair was also a trying time for Italy's press because the Red Brigades stipulated in one of their communiques that the country's major dailies publish two of the organization's documents in exchange for Mr. D'Urso's freedom.
On Jan. 10, Mr. Forlani's four-party coalition government came close to collapse when one of its members, the Socialists, Italy's third-largest party, broke ranks with the rest of the coalition by letting its party organ print the documents.
Most of Italy's important newspapers refused to give in to the demands, saying the action would set a dangerous precedent that would encourage terrorists.
During Mr. D'Urso's captivity the Italian press's coverage of terrorism came under scrutiny when some politicians said the nation's newspapers were indirectly encouraging terrorists by devoting so much space to them and suggested a press blackout on news about terrorism.
Most papers flatly rejected the proposal but the debate on the freedom of the press was sparked again on Jan. 3 when a leading news weekly magazine L'Espresso published an interview with Red Brigades members who were holding Mr. D'Urso as well as a transcript of the terrorists' interrogation of the magistrate.
The material was made available to the magazine by a man who approached two of the its reporters on Dec. 19 and offered to bring questions to the terrorists who were holding Mr. D'Urso. The two reporters, who were later arrested on charges of aiding and abetting terrorists, did not inform authorities until they received the answers to their questions.
The magazine's indirect contact with the terrorists prompted many harsh editorials that said the reporters had violated the limits of press freedom by not immediately telling police, who may as a result have been led to the kidnapped magistrate. One of the magazine's directors resigned to protest the publication of the interview and interrogation. He called the publishing "irresponsible journalism."
The D'Urso kidnapping, coupled with the Red Brigades killing of state police Gen. Enrico Gavaligi in Rome on New Year's Eve, refocused the nation's attention on leftist terrorism again after a period of preoccupation with rightist violence, such as the killing of 85 persons in a neofascist bomb attack last Aug. 2 at the Bologna railroad station.
Despite the arrest of nearly 1,000 suspected leftist terrorists in 1980 and helpful information given to police by several so-called "repentant terrorists," Italy's problem with t errorism, left and right, shows no signs of letting up.