The Italianist

Things That Happen in Italy

Posts Tagged ‘Genoa

The Right to Throw Things at Politicians

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In the last 24hours, probably the entire world has witnessed the image of Berlusconi’s face covered in blood after being hit by an object thrown at him by a person, during a public meeting. I have to admit, Berlusconi yesterday looked much scarier than he normally does, and one can’t but feel deeply distressed in seeing a 73-year old man bleeding from his mouth.  Of course, now the debate is all about condemning those who are not condemning Massimo Tartaglia, the guy who threw the object at Berlusconi, and those who are not worried by “the climate of hatred” in Italy. Most of the newspapers in Italy point to yesterday’s event  as the symbol of a worrying increase in political violence, one which signals the necessity of more civilised forms of political confrontation.

This is all sound. No one wants political violence, nor to see on TV old people bleeding from their mouth, especially at dinner time. It doesn’t take a political scientist to realize that Tartaglia’s action cannot find space in a liberal democracy, nor that his behaviour can be considered to any extent part of a political dialogue. Yet, it seems to me that the debate after the attack on Berlusconi is already aiming at the equation “dissent = violence”. Massimo Tartaglia is certainly not a political activist: he is described as a person under therapy for mental instability, and with no political affiliation. He is, so to speak, a mere man from the street, who unfortunately decided to do something really stupid.

However, I think we should ask ourselves why what Tartaglia did was stupid. Clearly, the answer is that he endangered the life of a person: had Berlusconi been hit on the head and not on the face, probably the images shown on TV yesterday would have been much worse. Instead, luckily, after being hit Berlusconi was still in a condition good enough (a) to tell his driver to stop the car rushing him to the hospital, (b) get out (c) pose for the photographers for a good 20 seconds, (d) go back into the car, yet always making sure cameras were on him. Probably that was the extreme effort before the collapse.. Some may point out that his security service has a very strange way to operate (shouldn’t they have taken him away as soon as possible?), but today is not the day to express dissent.

So, Tartaglia’s fault is that he threw an object (btw, a statuette of Milan’s Duomo) that could have seriously injured a 73-years old, to the point of killing him (luckily, Berlusconi is immortal). There is no need to have a debate on this. However, there is an underlying question that puzzles me:  is it wrong to throw things at politicians? Is there anything intrinsically wrong in hating them? Of course one should not act upon that hatred, by it seems that one has a right to hate whoever in foro interno. All the discussion in Italy is revolving around who instigated this ‘climate of hatred’ against Berlusconi: there is no asking why there is such hatred.

It’s a shame that Tartaglia threw at Berlusconi’s face something that could have killed the Italian PM: this goes against the idea of a democracy. One might be less dismissive of political violence, were one to consider that Italy is not even a nearly just society. Violence may be unjustifiable under a regime that allows for political change and, most of all, for the accountability of its political leaders: yet, one could say that where these conditions are not guaranteed, for example where dissent is silenced, or where political leaders are not accountable for their behaviour, things might be different. Under such circumstances, responsible citizens, committed to the values of democracy, might have to recur to violence against an abuse of power that represents a progressive deviation from the ideals of democratic life. Citizens might have to use violence for the sake of democracy.

However, suppose that Italy has a political regime where violence against political leaders is not justifiable. In fact, at the end of the day Italy still has a lot of freedom, compared to undemocratic regimes, and people still do not get shot in the street. So, once again, Tartaglia’s throwing a statuette at the PM is an impermissible action (from a democratic point of view).

But what if Tartaglia had thrown something else, like some vegetables maybe? Or maybe something that may hurt a lot but not harm, like a shoe? Or maybe a tripod?

If Tartaglia had done that, I think we should be talking of ‘good citizens’, people who expose themselves in first person to remind politicians that they are not untouchable, that they have to account for their behaviour as elected rulers of a country. Unfortunately, things yesterday went differently, and we ended up with an old man bleeding from his mouth: that deserves condemnation, and shows the irresponsibility (and probably exasperation..) of Massimo Tartaglia’s act. If we have a right to throw things at politicians in protest, then that right cannot cover things that can crush the politician’s skull.

Violence has no place in a democracy: let’s listen to the Italian Government’s appeal against violence then. Let’s not ruin their endless effort to enhance peace and democracy.


Written by TheItalianist

14/12/2009 at 19:33

Police Accountability in Italy

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A 31 year-old guy, Stefano Cucchi, is arrested on the night between the 15 and 16th October 2009 in Rome, for possessing a small dose of hashish. A week later, Stefano dies, while still in police custody. No explanation is given for his death. After 5 days, the family is allowed, eventually, to see Stefano’s body. After seeing him the family, decides to make public the images of his dead body. These are really scary pictures. They can be seen here.

It isn’t the first time that this has happened, in Italy. A person dies while in custody of the police (in the case of Stefano, it was the Carabinieri). The family wants to know how that could be possible. They are not allowed to ask. Stefano’s parents were never allowed to see him after his arrest. When he appeared in court, the day after being arrested, Stefano had bruises on his face. The medical service at the Court asked for the guy to be hospitalised before the trial, given the bad conditions in which they found him. He was in good state at the time of the arrest, 14 hours earlier. True, he had chronic underlying health problems, related to epilepsy, anorexia and drug use. But when he is sent to the Pertini hospital (after the Court’s decision to hospitalize him), he is discovered to have fractured vertebrae, ecchymoses over his body, a broken jaw . He eventually dies on the 22nd.

Why did he have fractures all over his body? The medical service at Regina Coeli Prison, where Stefano was taken after the arrest, said that “he accidentally had fallen from the stairs”.

His parents, Rita and Giovanni, have been denied the permission to see Stefano during the entire time in hospital: that is, until he died. On the 19th, they were refused to talk to the doctors. On the 20th, they were told they need a court permission which still had not arrived. On the 21 the permission arrived, but still required validation from the prison. On the 22nd, Stefano died, alone.

There was no abuse – the Carabinieri claimed after his death. He was epileptic, that’s why he died. The Italian Minister of Defence, Ignazio La Russa, was quick to praise  the loyalty and value of the Carabinieri: “I have no information to evaluate this case. However, there is one thing I am sure: the correct behaviour of the Carabinieri on this (i.e. Stefano’s) occasion.”

His optimism was, to some extent, counterbalanced by the Justice Minister Angelino Alfano, who announced today that an inquiry is to start “for an immediate in-depth examination”. Unfortunately, Alfano’s name is linked to the Lodo Alfano, the bill designed to (some say) protect the PM Berlusconi from a series of trials, following a series of crimes, that, according to some, he has committed in the last 15 years to build and preserve his empire. The bill has been recently rejected as violating the Italian Constitution. Some might remain unexcited in the face of Alfano’s plea for justice.

Sadly, the story of Stefano is not a new one. On 26th June 2008, Nikki  Aprile Gatti, 26 year-old from Avezzano, “committed suicide” in jail where he had been taken in connection to an inquiry over internet fraud. His mum never believed the suicide story, and has since then campaigned for the truth over what happened to Nikki. She has a created a lovely blog, where she writes of her pain for the loss of her kid and of updates about the inquiry.

Federico Aldrovandi, 18, from Ferrara, died in the early morning of 25th September 2005, killed by 4 policemen who had stopped him for a control. I say he was killed because the four policemen have recently been found guilty of manslaughter. This is Federico, before and after meeting them:


None of the four policemen is actually in jail. Yet, they are guilty.

Stefano, Nikki, and many others who have died in terrible conditions in italian prisons, without a trial, without permission to meet their family, but with broken bones: they are signals of a worrying tendency in Italy towards an increased lack of accountability for police behaviour. The media seem to be the only body to whom citizens can appeal nowadays to call police to account: there seems to be no official oversight bodies, and we know that the media in Italy are not completely free. The G8 in Genoa in 2001 was the first symptom of a change in police conduct: none of those responsible for the clear abuses against the protesters has eventually been condemned. Searching for an explanation of another “Italian anomaly”, I have found this book from Prof. Della Porta who analyses recent misbehaviour of Italian Police. The introduction highlights the relevance of the scarce police  accountability. Indymedia  has an interesting article that tries to interpret what’s going on inside italian prisons.

Until strong evidence is given for the death of Stefano Cucchi, it falls to us to be critical of police practices, and pressure them to account for their actions.

Written by TheItalianist

31/10/2009 at 00:44