Return, Possible Pardon of an Exile Sparks an Outcry in Italy

Carol Bibi Tarantelli was informed of her husband's murder at the hands of a terrorist organization one day in 1985, just as Italy's 10-year period of political extremism was drawing to a close.

When Ezio Tarantelli, an economics professor trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was gunned down as he stepped out of a classroom at the University of Rome, the anni di piombo - the leaden years - had already claimed hundreds of victims. Armed extremists, mostly communist, had changed the way ordinary Italians lived their lives, holding them hostage to terror.

"People were afraid to go out, to mingle and have fun," recalls Massachusetts-born Ms. Tarantelli, "There was a climate of terror and intimidation that had nothing to do with the ideals of communism."

Historians have tried for years to make sense of the violent chapter of Italian history after World War II, a time in which cold-war tensions ran high and university students picked up guns, raging against American "imperialism" and its Italian "servants."

Now Italy's politicians are debating whether to close that chapter by pardoning some 300 extremists jailed during that time.

While most people agree that many sentences handed out under emergency laws were disproportionate to the crimes, Tarantelli, and others like her, worry that the country's leaders may be making an unfair distinction.

"The law should be equal for all," argues Tarantelli, a former member of parliament. "An amnesty would be like saying that a homicide committed for terrorism is less serious than one committed in ordinary circumstances."

There is little chance of an amnesty law making it through parliament, but Italy's head of state, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, is considering an indulto - a personal absolution only the president can make - for each of the detainees.

What brought out the notion of amnesty two weeks ago was the reappearance of former communist terrorist advocate Toni Negri out of a gilded exile in Paris.

Mr. Negri, who postulated the use of terror as the only means to uproot "the capitalist elite," turned himself in after 11 years as a political refugee and philosophy professor in the French capital.

Arguing that political prisoners have been set free in all European countries except Italy, Negri asserted that the time had come to forgive and forget. "In France, people like me are in government," he reportedly said on the plane flying him back to Rome.

His return, which many believe was negotiated ahead of time with knowledge of the pardon to come, has rekindled an emotional debate over the excesses and tragedies of the anni di piombo.

Tarantelli and her husband moved from Boston to Rome in 1970, just as the Red Brigades - a radical Marxist terrorist group - began preaching the unrestrained use of violence to end the 30-year monopoly of power by the US-backed Christian Democrats.

As the Red Brigades turned from theory to practice, Negri worked to persuade students that violence was necessary in all successful political struggles.

"I remember the leaflets he used to distribute. The violence they contained even the Red Brigades could not begin to imagine," says Giorgio Benvenuto, a member of parliament and a former labor-union leader.

Negri's most distinctive trait, many have pointed out, is that while he insisted students take up arms, he himself never did.

"Unlike members of the Red Brigades, he was the sort of person who would say, 'Let us all take up arms and you go shoot,' " recalls Frederique Hacourt, a Belgian journalist who met Negri as a young student in Brussels.

One question raised in the debate over Negri's return is whether he - and other theorists up for pardon - bears a greater responsibility than the students who followed his advice, killed, and now face life sentences.

Negri, who was jailed for more than three years in 1983 before fleeing to France on a sailboat, has only eight more years to serve, but would likely be set free in half that time even if not pardoned.

"In moral terms, I think he could spend the rest of his life in jail. But this is a civilized country, we don't send the people we don't like to jail," says Tarantelli.

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