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Sofri, Bompressi and Pietrostefani
On the 12th December 1969, a bomb exploded in the Agricultural Bank in the centre of Milan. The Piazza Fontana bomb was designed to cause maximum carnage. 16 people were killed and 88 were injured. The 'strategy of tension' had begun - involving an elaborate plot between far-right groups in the security services and extreme fascist terrorists, some of whom had inflitrated small left wing organisations. Immediately, a number of anarchists were arrested and accused of being the culprits. Among them was Giuseppe Pinelli, an Anarchist railway-worker, who was interogated for three days in Milan's central police station. On the 15th December, just before midnight, his body was seen to fall from a third floor window. Pinelli was found dead by a journalist in the courtyard. All hell broke lose in Milan and Pinelli became a martyr to the Left cause. Noone was ever convicted of any wrongdoing in the case despite innumerable trials and investigations.
The police chief of Milan at the time, Luigi Calabresi, had been interrogating Pinelli (along with five other officers) before he 'fell'. Calabresi became the object of a sustained campaign by the Far Left as the 'murderer' of Pinelli. The far-left newspaper, Lotta Continua, edited by a brilliant revolutionary leader called Adriano Sofri, made Calabresi a particular target and the police chief sued them for libel and diffamation. On the 17th May 1972, Calabresi was shot dead in the street outside his house. He was to stand trial for the murder of Pinelli. Lotta Continua wrote that the murder 'was an act in which the exploited can see that justice has been done'. Despite long investigations, no one was ever charged with the murder and the case remained on the police's books.
Here this extraordinary story jumps forward sixteen years to 1988. An ex-militant of Lotta Continua, Lenardo Marino, in circumstances which have never been properly explained but which remain deeply suspicious, decided to accuse himself and three ex-leaders of the revolutionary organisation - Sofri, Giorgio Petrostefani and Ovidio Bompressi, of having either carried out the murder (Bompressi) or having ordered the others to do so. This extraordinary 'confession' led to an incredible series of surreal trials and arrests. The only evidence against the four men (if we include Marino, who accused himself of being the driver of the car in the murder) was the 'confession', and the articles from the newspaper Lotta Continua. In fact, what occured were a series of political trials and appeals, where the state attempted to re-write the whole history of 1968 in Italy, collapsing the terrorist period (only eally dominant in the late 1970s) with the mass movements, strikes and organisations which grew out of 1968 itself. Marino's 'confession' revealed itself to be full of holes (he got the escape route of the car completely wrong, he mistook the blond hair of one of the 'participants' for black hair, and so on) and motivated by a desire for financial reward and revenge against 'comrades' who he claimed, wrongly, had abandoned him. The ex-militants from 1968, many of whom now hold key posts in the media (on both right and left) all mobilised their forces behind Sofri and his fellow accused, but to no avail. Historican Carlo Ginzburg wrote a brilliant book in favour of Sofri comparing the case with the witch trials of the fifteenth century. The State proscutor even claimed that the murder of Calabresi had been decided by a collective vote of the central committee of the organisation (which at that point did not exist!!).
The (probable) end to this grotesque series of trials and appeals, some of which saw Sofri and co. found (briefly) innocent came last week - with a guilty verdict for all three men (Marino got nothing) and three 22-year prison sentences. The arrests of the three men are imminent. I saw Sofri speak to a large supportive crowd at Milan two years ago, and he had lost none of his extraordinary ability to move an audience. A dimunitive figure, Sofri had left active politics in the 1970s after the dissolution of Lotta Continua in 1976 and had fallen in with some problematic company, notably the ex-Socialist Justice Minister, Claudio Martelli. This whole vicenda has galavnised him politically again and he has written a series of excellent books about various aspects of 1968, as well as some superb reportage from Cechenia and Sarajevo.
This sentence remains a crude attempt by the state to rewrite the history
of one of the most important mass movements in modern European history,
and some aspects of the case are even more disturbing. Marino's lawyer was
a leading figure in the ex-communist party and Marino himself had appaantly
been talking to the police for two weeks (with no records being kept) before
deciding, out of the blue, to 'confess'. The Right is using the case not
just as a chance to attack the whole 'generation' of 1968, but also in an
attempt to discredit the use of supergrasses in general, who have been crucial
to the battle against the Mafia and to the trial of ex-Prime Minister Andreotti,
which is going on in Palermo as I write. Finally, it is ironic that just
as the whole truth about the bomb in Milan in 1969 is finally about to come
out - a Milanese judge has been working on the case for over three years
and has found the fascists who planted the bomb - another injustice is being
perpetuated in the name of an invented (and malicious) 'war' against 'terrorism'.