For Italians, past domestic terror still a taboo topic

Reaction to a recently released documentary on the Red Brigades underscores the difficulty of coming to grips with the violence of the 1970s.

When a documentary on the origins of the infamous Red Brigades terror group was released here recently, many screenings were canceled, following harsh criticism of the film by Minister of Culture Sandro Bondi, who accused the filmmakers of turning terrorists into celebrities.

But last month, at a rare showing of the film, some students in Milan booed when members of the Red Brigades were described as terrorists. "They were freedom fighters!" many shouted.

For investigative journalist Giovanni Fasanella, who helped produce the film, the disparate reactions indicate that Italy hasn't begun to come to grips with the widespread violence and political turmoil caused by both leftist and right-wing militants during the "years of lead," from the late 1960s and early 1980s.

"This clearly shows the wounds are still open," says Mr. Fasanella, who worked with director Gianfranco Pannone on the film. "Those years of terror have been removed from our memories, they do not appear in history books, and nobody talks about them. And as soon as one does, repressed memories come back to life and everybody suddenly loses his temper."

Italian authorities are often blamed for not doing enough to shed light on who was behind the many terrorist attacks, including the still-unsolved 1969 bombing of Milan's Agricultural Bank, which resulted in 17 deaths and almost 90 people wounded.

In other cases, militants were captured and jailed. But most of them were released by the late 1990s in controversial circumstances: "It was a de facto, very low-profile amnesty," says Fasanella. "It was like the authorities tried to remove the nation's recent past by sweeping the dust under the carpet."

Fasanella is among a growing number of public figures who say it's time for Italy to establish a South African-style "truth and reconciliation" commission to allow militants, victims, and politicians a chance for open dialogue.

Although political extremism is again on the rise in Italy, chances are slim that such a commission will be established anytime soon, says Aldo Giannuli, a Contemporary History professor at the University of Milan. "Nobody really pushed for finding the truth, because everyone had something to hide... It was a civil war period, when there was no good nor evil, but just evil and worse."

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