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Monday, April 16, 2012

Massacre in Tuscolano: Rome's Anni di Piombo (Years of Lead)

RST welcomes Paul Baxa as guest blogger.  Baxa is Assistant Professor of History at Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida, and the author of Roads and Ruins: The Symbolic Landscape of Fascist Rome (University of Toronto Press, 2010), a wonderfully creative and perceptive book on the cultural forces that created 20th-century Rome.  A review/treatment of that book is at   Here, Baxa explores an event - and its legacy - that took place years ago in one of Rome's many "ordinary" neighborhoods, and one with which he's very familiar: his relatives live there and he visits often. 

Entrance to the former MSI youth office.
Acca Larenzia is a rather anonymous street in the vast periphery of Rome.  On January 7, 1978 this otherwise quiet street was rocked by violence as an assailant on a motorbike opened fire on a gang of young men, members of the Fronte del Gioventù, the youth wing of the neofascist Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI).  Two were killed on the spot while a third died later during the unrest that followed.  The gunmen were members of a Marxist revolutionary cell and their action was the latest round of tit-for-tat violence between extremist political groups that had plagued Italy and Rome in particular for several years during the so-called Anni di Piombo (Years of Lead).  With the “strage” (massacre) of Acca Larenzia, as neofascist youths would call it, the suburban streets of Rome were turned into a battleground for the next several weeks. 

     The Quartiere Tuscolano, where the via Acca Larenzia is located, is like any other quarter of Rome, a massive conglomeration of low and medium rise buildings mostly constructed since the Second World War.  These high density neighborhoods served as a breeding ground for the extremist politics of the period.  Teenage girls and boys in the local licei (high schools) spent their weekends and evenings listening to political speeches, and pledging war on their rivals.  Often, these groups clashed and gunfire erupted leaving some of them dead.  Today, one can see in these quartieri popolari (working-class neighborhoods) plaques and memorials commemorating those who died in the cause of extremism.   The ubiquitous graffiti on the walls of the apartment buildings recalls their names for a new generation of militants.

      The events at Acca Larenzia, however, have had an impact on Italian politics today.  Many current politicians like Gianfranco Fini (Deputy Premier under Silvio Berlusconi), Ignazio La Russa, and the current mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno were present at Acca Larenzia in the days following the attacks.  Today, the Acca Larenzia commemorations held every year on the anniversary of the shootings attract important names like Giorgia Meloni, the former Minister of Youth in the most recent Berlusconi government.  Alemanno, meanwhile, has recently named a public garden in Rome after another young neofascist killed during those Years of Lead.  Alemanno justified this by pointing out that his predecessor, Walter Veltroni, had named a piazza in honour of Walter Rossi, a member of Lotta Continua (ongoing struggle) who had been murdered by neofascists in that same year of 1977.

A column decorated with Fascist symbols,
including a schematic fasces and an ax,
the latter reflecting the the Celtic/Germanic/Nordic
mythology of the Italian far right.
I visited the site at Acca Larenzia one evening in June 2007.  It was near 10pm and the neighborhood was eerily quiet despite being a stone’s throw from the always busy Via Tuscolano.  The spot where the shootings occurred was dimly lit.  It was a rather odd place made up of a small cortile (courtyard) separated from the street by low columns.  On the far side was a staircase which led up to a terrace looking over a parking lot.  At the foot of the staircase was the entrance to the former MSI youth office.  It is here that every January a ceremony commemorating the shootings is held by neofascists. 
Below the names of the those killed, the plaque reads:
Fallen for Liberty
Today as yesterday, in our hearts
for a better Italy
Over the door, next to the staircase is a plaque which lists the names of the three men killed that day with the phrase “Caduti per la libertà” (fallen for liberty).  (NB: there is a new plaque there today which has an accusatory statement below the names which reads “Assassinato dell’odio comunista e dei servi del stato” (assassinated by communist hatred and its servants in the state).  Around the plaque and on the columns are spray painted lictors, celtic crosses and Roman standards.  At night, the effect of the place was unnerving.  I took a few photos and gazed at the posters and artwork on the walls.  It was here that I felt for the first time the sinister vibes of fascism’s legacy, a feeling that I never experienced at the more famous fascist sites in Rome like the EUR or the Foro Italico despite their pervasive fascist symbols.  Rather it was here, in this dark, quiet suburban street in the Tuscolano—which strictly speaking had nothing to do with the fascist regime of the Ventennio—that the violent legacy of Mussolini’s regime continued to live.  I was glad to leave.
Paul Baxa

1 comment:

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