Emilia-Romagna, the administrative region of Italy of which Bologna is the capital, is the richest, at least going by per capita income. With Christmas looming large when I visited there was plenty of that income being exchanged, especially in some of the more exclusive shopping locations. Capitalism is alive and well. Hardly surprising since we are in the wealthy north of the country, where the Lega Nord, the alliance of right wing political parties is at its strongest. This is the north of Berlusconi. The north of Benito Mussolini.
And yet there’s another side to Bologna. The city has a different political philosophy to the region.
When here in England we were just coming to terms with the arrival of Norman invaders, Bologna founded the world’s first university in 1088, and it’s still one of the city’s greatest assets, meaning lots of students in the population. Students who normally harbour more left wing sentiments.
This is a macrocosm of the country as a whole. Italy is the only European country to have had both Fascist and Communist governments in some literally very violent swings of the political pendulum. The period from the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s was known as the Anni Piombo, the years of lead, a reference perhaps to the bullets fired during a period of terrorism where both left and right committed atrocities in the pursuit of power.
At 10.35am on the 2nd of August 1980, Bologna railway station was bombed.
85 people died in the blast.
200 more were injured.
It was the worst atrocity on Italian soil since the end of the second world war.
The police and courts judged that members of a Neo-Fascist group were responsible, though the legal and extra-legal process of disinformation, trials, appeals, counter appeals and acquittals lasted until 2003 in a typical Italian process of obfuscation. Not surprisingly there are plenty of alternative theories as to who was responsible including:
- The Italian Secret Service
- The CIA
- Palestinian terrorists
any of whom may have been acting on behalf of western governments to carry out false-flag terrorist acts it is claimed.
Like so many of the atrocities committed during those years, the inherent corruption at the heart of Italian culture makes it impossible to discover the truth. There are two terrible ironies though.
When Bologna’s university was founded it was primarily to translate and study the Digest, one of the key texts of Roman Law. The city that was prominent in the development of medieval law found itself unable to apply the law to the most terrible infringement.
In the same year that the bombing took place this memorial stone was placed in the city’s main public space, Piazza Maggiore.
It commemorates those who died in Nazi internment camps 35 years before. A generation later and the lessons had already been forgotten. And now we’re a further generation on.