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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Tale of Two Suburbs: Balduina, Trionfale, and the 1977 Killing of Walter Rossi

I went for a walk today, and found myself back in--1977.  Alone, abandoned by the wife who had chosen the London granddaughter over me, I headed west from our new digs in Piazza Gentile da Fabriano (Flaminio quartiere, end of via Guido Reni), over the Ponte della Musica and across the Lungotevere to the base of Monte Mario.

My plan was to take the stone path up the mountain (it's on Itinerary 9 in Rome the Second Time) and, once over the top, explore the nearby fringe of Balduina before heading north/northeast for a look at another near-in suburb, Trionfale.
The Flaminio quartiere, seen from the bar/restaurant Lo Zodiaco on Monte Mario.  The rounded buildings in the center are
Parco della Musica.  The large mountain at center-left is Monte Gennaro, "Rome's mountain."  

All that worked.  Wearing my altimeter watch, I measured Monte Mario at precisely 400 feet--to the bar/restaurant Lo Zodiaco on top, with great views of the city and surrounding mountain ranges.  On the other side,
Piazza Walter Rossi.  The painting, by Spanish artist, Borondo, is on all four
sides of this small building.  The red increases until on the last side, it
obliterates the image.   
I found my way down to Piazzale Medaglie d'Oro, took a left on viale Medaglie d'Oro, turned around after a few blocks and, 45 minutes later, was in Largo Cervinia, a thriving business district. I turned east (right) from there. Two blocks further on, I saw this painting--and there I was, back in 1977 and the Anni di Piombo ("years of lead").

I was in Piazza Walter Rossi. Once known as Piazza Igea, it was renamed in honor of Walter Rossi, killed on September 30, 1977 at age 20, on viale Medaglie d'Oro--I had been there less than an hour before--by a bullet in the back of the head.

Rossi, right.
There is a bit more to the "full" story.   Like so many young people at the time, Rossi was a militant Communist, affiliated with the group Lotta Continua ("The Struggle Continues"). The previous day, September 29, 19-year old Elena Pacinelli was shot 3 times and killed in Piazza Igea--that is, today's Piazza Walter Rossi, in the Trionfale Quartiere, right where I was standing--while in front of an [illegally] occupied house (i.e., one occupied by squatters).

The next day, September 30, the leafletting in which Rossi participated was organized, and the participants, including Rossi, were handing out their leaflets in viale delle Medaglie d'Oro. They were in Balduina, an area known as a stronghold of the MSI-DN [Movimento Sociale Italiano - Destra Nazionale], a militant right-wing group.
Affixing a plaque commemorating Rossi.  Date unknown.
They were near a "section" (local offices) of the MSI when a fight--mostly rock-throwing--broke out.  Merchants quickly closed their metal shutters and bystanders fled.  At some point in the melee, Rossi was killed.

Despite the presence of about a dozen police, no charges were filed with respect to Rossi's death.

Besides the painting, there's a piece of sculpture in the small park that centers Piazza Rossi.  It appears to feature Rossi, dead yet struggling for life, encased in cement.  A plaque on the sculpture
Sculpture in the piazza, dedicated to Walter Rossi
reads:  "Hanno spento la tua giovane vita/Hanno fermato il tuo forte corpo/Ma non potranno mai/Distruggere i tuoi ideali/Che rimarranno sempre vivi nel tempo" ("They snuffed out your short life/They stilled your strong body/But they will never be able to destroy your ideals/Which will always remain alive").

A torn poster from the previous September features a photo of Rossi--and a call to his memory and ideals--and describes a 3-day program of anti-fascist events, including speakers on the history of the struggles of the 1970s.

I found nothing in the Piazza related to the death of Elena Pacinelli.

Alemanno (left), Francesco Rossi (center)
Perhaps because Rossi's killer was never found, his name, and the piazza that now carries it, remain political lighting rods.  At a commemoration in the piazza in 2009, right-wing Mayor Gianni Alemanno, once a militant ring-wing punk himself, attempted something of a rapproachment, and did so in the presence of Francesco Rossi, Walter's father.

Right-wing mayor, father of left-wing son, shaking hands
"This day is very important for me," Alemanno said in a brief address, "because it's the first time that I have honored and commemorated fully ("fino in fondo") a young man of the left killed in his city."  Alemanno saw his action as "breaking a tabu."  He and Francesco shook hands.

Two years later, at the 2011 commemoration, members of Lotta Continua--Walter Rossi's organization, 34 years later--prevented Vice-Mayor Sveva Belviso (Alemanno's 2nd in command) from entering the piazza to present a wreath, arguing that her presence involved a "false pacification" and that she represented the "fascist" mayor.


A demonstration on behalf of Rossi, the banner reflecting a case still open

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