Pushing Past the Night of Italian Terrorism: A Discussion With Author Mario Calabresi


On June 1st, 2010, the Guarini Institute for Public Affairs hosted a discussion with the editor-in-chief of La Stampa and a victim of the 70’s terrorism, Mario Calabresi, author of the international best seller “Pushing Past the Night” (New York, The Other Press, 2009).  John Cabot University President Franco Pavoncello introduced the speaker, adding his remembrances of the terrorist bombing at Piazza Fontana, Milan, in 1969. This episode inaugurated a series of attacks, which were supposed to contribute to the “liberation” of the country. In fact, they gave rise to a civil war. Terrorism of both types, i.e. the extreme right and left, was fueled by corresponding “black” and “red” extremist movements. Fascism, for instance, was responsible for the creation of the notion of internal enemies, adopted by “black” terrorism.

Mario Calabresi

Mario Calabresi

Then Mr. Calabresi started off by introducing his book “Pushing Past the Night”. It was published in France and Germany, which experienced terrorism as Italy did, but also in the US. Even though the 9/11 attacks represented a different kind of terrorism, they still share a common experience of victimization with Italy. Mr. Calabresi recalled that he spoke at the UN where he had the chance of meeting the relatives of terrorism victims killed by the ETA and by Islamic groups in Madrid, Bali, London, and on 9/11. Their common issue was how to survive after an attack.

Terrorism turns victims into symbols; it deprives them of their humanity. For instance, in the 70’s, victims were described in Red Brigades’ leaflets as servants of the state or of the CIA. In the recent terrorist attacks, British and American tourists were viewed as representatives of oppressor states. In order to neuter terrorism of its power it is necessary to give humanity back to the victims and to educate young people about terrorism. Young students, in fact, can be attracted by terrorism, conceiving it as motivated by a romantic impetus, and can reach the point of glorifying ex-terrorists as heroes. Moreover, some students in high school mistakenly think of terrorism as a movement of renewal and change for a closed society.

Actually, it is vital to understand that terrorism did not benefit society at all. An exemplary story is that of Doctor Luigi Marangoni. In 1980, he was in charge of the most important hospital in Milan. In his hospital a group of nurses carried out sabotage to discredit the state: they unplugged the refrigerator holding the blood necessary for transfusion every night, so that the morning after surgery could not be performed. He interrogated the nurses and four of them revealed the names of the culprits to him. He warned them that if they had committed the crime again, he would have denounced them to the police. That night they cut the power to the fridges. Dr. Marangoni called the police and some days later, the four nurses who revealed the names of their “criminal” colleagues to him were shot in their legs. At this point Dr. Marangoni started being constantly threatened. He had to cancel his vacation and to change drastically his life. One night, shortly before being assassinated, he apologized to his wife for not being with her for their whole life. He felt an incumbent danger. On February 17, 1981 he was shot dead. Terrorism is not progressive or beneficial.

The Institute’s Director Prof. Argentieri then asked the speaker to tell something more about the association of the victims of terrorism. Mr Calabresi replied that a bill in favor of the victims of terrorism was passed in 2004. They offered scholarships to terrorism victims’ children, but for him it was too late, since he completed high school in 1989. Two years ago, May 9th was established as a day of remembrance to commemorate the victims of terrorism: on that day in 1978 the body of Aldo Moro, President of the DC party, was found dead in downtown Rome.

A student asked how could he accept to La Repubblica correspondent while Adriano Sofri (one of his father’s murderers) was working for the same newspaper? The answer was, “At first I turned down the offer. Then I visited my mother in Milan, and she encouraged me not to turn down that offer if I liked it. She said: ‘Sofri has changed your life by killing your father. Don’t let him ruin your life again'”. The audience applauded this quote.

“Why did the State not support Calabresi proving an escort in the face of clear threats?” asked another student. “Luigi Calabresi was the first victim, followed by hundreds over the years. He did not want to carry a gun with him and he put it in a drawer. He said that terrorists would not have killed him looking in his eyes, and, most remarkably, he did not want to kill anybody”, answered Mario. The meeting closed, as the speaker needed to reach the Quirinale palace for a meeting with the President of the Republic, leaving the numerous attending students with much food for thought.