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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Piazza Vescovio: the Anni di Piombo and the Murder of Francesco Cecchin

Posters honoring the memory of Francesco Cecchin, on via Tembien in the Trieste quarter.
The words above, "Raido e' Militanza" (Raido is Militance), refer to the militant group
Raido, founded in 1995. 
Italy's "Anni di Piombo" (Years of Lead) were marked by acts of terrorism carried out by extremists on the political right and left; some 2,000 persons were killed between 1969 and 1981, including the centrist Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro, who was murdered by the left Red Brigades in 1978. 

There are several places in Rome where one can feel something of the intensity of the era, and all, curiously, are sites involving killings carried out by the left.  One is in the Jewish ghetto, on via Caetani, where an official plaque marks the spot where, on May 9, 1978, Moro's dead body was found in the trunk of an automobile; the former prime minister had been kidnapped and held prisoner for 55 days.  Another, perhaps more evocative, is on via Acca Laurenzia, a small street in the quartiere of Tuscolano.  There, on January 7, 1978, a man on a motorcycle shot and killed two members of the neofascist Fronte del Gioventu'.  This site is maintained by an organization of the far right.  (See Paul Baxa's guest post.)

Francesco Cecchin
The third site, in and around Piazza Vescovio on the northern edge of the Centro, in the quartiere of Trieste, is arguably the most significant, and not only because it contains a particularly rich collection of right-wing graffiti.  Like the site on via Acca Laurenzia, this one remembers a young neofascist:  Francesco Cecchin, also a member of the Fronte del Gioventu', thrown to his death from the apartment building at the west end of the piazza on the night of 28/29 May, 1979; he lay in a coma for 17 days before he died on June 16.  But the commemoration at Piazza Vescovio is exceedingly controversial because it is in part an official and political one, presided over by the city's right-wing mayor, Gianno Alemanno.

Mayor Gianni Alemanno (right) attends a
ceremony at the site he created, June 2012
In June 2009, while leaving a wreath of flowers to mark the anniversary of Cecchin's death, Alemanno proposed naming a street after the neofascist icon and building a monument to him.  The idea evolved.  The street became a small park in the center of the piazza and, at the suggestion of the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napoletano (a former Communist and still a leftist), Cecchin was to be identified as a victim of terrorism.  Even so, construction of the park in 2011 took residents and others by surprise. 

A wreath decorates the sign/marker for the park.  The
marker reads: Giardino Francesco Cecchin/
Vittima della Violenza Politica (1961-1979)
Opponents--politicians, intellectuals, trade union leaders, Partisan associations--joined in an open letter, asking that the area be dedicated to "all the victims of political violence."  The monument became a small plaque.  The garden was opened in June, 2011. 

Francesco Cecchin was a rather ordinary 17-year-old: not much of a student, a fan of Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath.  He had found a political home with the Fronte della Gioventu', and in the days before his death he had been putting up posters for the organization.  In the 1970s, postering was a competitive and territorial activity, and it brought Cecchin into conflict with the via Montebuono section of the CPI (the Communist Party). 

The building
On the evening of May 28, Cecchin, on foot, was followed by 2 men in a Fiat 850.  When they emerged from the car, he ran, taking refuge in a building--the one at the end of the piazza--where a friend lived. 

A closeup of one of the Cecchin posters,
depicting his murder. 
Depending on the account, he was found unconscious either in the courtyard of the condominium or on a small terrace, clutching a pack of cigarettes in one hand and keys in the other.  Authorities concluded that he had been beaten and, in all likelihood. thrown from a higher floor.  Stefan Marozza was arrested for the crime on July 1 but was released for insufficient evidence.  In retaliation for Cecchin's death, 2 hand grenades were thrown into a section of the PCI, wounding 24 persons.   A website dedicated to Cecchin concludes with these words: "Camerata Francesco Cecchin, Presente!" (The word "camerata" can be translated "comrade" or "chum"; "Presente," a military term, invokes the heroism of Italian soldiers in World War I, as well as Mussolini's Fascism).

When we visited the site in June, 2012 (soon after the anniversary of Cecchin's death), the quartiere was heavily postered with images of Cecchin, and area buildings were covered with graffiti messages. 

Indepence, Unity of the People, Tradition!
Below, a schematic fascii. 
Some of these messages are about Cecchin.  One reads "Pizza Vescovio" with a schematic fascii, symbol of Mussolini's Fascist regime (left).  The letters "NTS" likely refer to Nucleo Trieste Salario.  On the poster above,
the letters "T" and "S" refer to the quarters of Trieste and Salario.

Another has Cecchin's dates of birth and death, the words "Francesco Vive!" and a Celtic cross with the letters T and S. And another reads "Lui Vive/Lui Combatte/Cecchin Presente!" (He Lives/He Fights/Cecchin Present!). 

The drawing is of Gabriele Sandri, not Cecchin
Interestingly, most of the messages on the building where Cecchin was beaten and thrown to his death do not refer to him.  The face in the elaborate drawing belongs not to Cecchin but to Gabriele Sandri, a hard-core fan--one of the many "Ultras"--of the Lazio soccer team who in 2007 was shot and killed on the autostrada by a police officer while on the way to an away game in Milan.  

Other writings also refer to Lazio fans.  "Band Noantri" is a particular Lazio fan group, founded about 2000.  "Toffolo, Diabolik, Yuri, Paolo Liberi!" refers to Fabrizio Tofolo, Yuri Alviti, Pablo Arcivierid, and Fabrizio Piscitelli, key members of another particular Lazio fan group, the "Irriducibili" (the uncompromising ones), founded in 1987.  In 2006 they were charged with making threatening calls and jailed for various periods.  In 2007, Tofolo was shot 3 times in the legs at the entrance to his home in Rome.   

For insight into the Anni di Piombo and how that era continues to shape the politics of today's Rome, we recommend a visit to Piazza Vescovio.  It's a safe, middle-class neighborhood--with a unique history.


"Honor to a Revolutionary"