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February 28, 2015



To be fair to the homeland of dietrologia, when you've got the leader of the Christian Democrats being kidnapped by Maoist nutters and held in the suburbs of Rome for the best part of two months without anyone apparently being able to find him; and when you've got Romano Prodi (no less) trying and failing to 'surface' the address where his leader was being held through the medium of a seance; and when you've got a scandal sheet writer/blackmailer leaking other odd details of who actually knew what, and then getting assassinated by persons unknown, after which an American CIA agent and acid dealer was involved in attempts to persuade an imprisoned situationist urban guerrilla to take the rap... I think the conspiracies there were pretty real, too.


I imagine it's been covered here before, but does anybody have a good (English language) book recommendation for the anni di piombo?

Dan Hardie`

There are two excellent histories of postwar Italy by Paul Ginsborg: 'A history of contemporary Italy, 1943-1980', which covers the anni di piombo, and 'Italy and its discontents, 1980-2001', which covers the collapse of the old order. Both highly recommended. On quite a few events, it's true, he does rather say 'and Berlinguer got everything right again!'- I do recall his treatment of the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro being largely on that level. But it's a very fine piece of work. On the Moro case, Sciascia's book was written when barely anything was known about what had happened to Moro during his captivity, and frankly I find it a very thin piece of speculation, whatever the merits of many of Sciascia's other books: I know Jamie disagrees.

Phil Edwards, of this parish, has actually written a book on some of the leftist movements of the '70s, including the violent ones: 'More Work! Less Pay!" Rebellion and Repression in Italy, 1972-77.' I've only read the introduction so far, but the book looks very stimulating indeed, and I really should read the whole damn thing. Another book I must read is Donald Sassoon's 'Contemporary Italy: Politics, Economy and Society Since 1945', which is also meant to be very good.

On the Moro case, I read 'The Aldo Moro Murder Case', by an American professor of politics called Richard Drake. It was not amazingly well written, but a lot of the contents were fascinating. The most extraordinary part, for me, was how the Red Brigades put Moro (an old man in very poor health) on 'trial' and demanded that he confess how he took orders from the White House. Moro said indignantly that he did no such thing (almost certainly the case, since he had been the main broker of the deal by which the established parties began to accept the legitimacy of the Italian Communist Party), but went on to tell his captors how the other most powerful man in the Christian Democrats, one Giulio Andreotti, was a corrupt and criminal man linked to the worst organised crime gangs. The Red Brigades just screamed louder at him to tell the truth, before they got bored and murdered him. It would make a fascinating movie if it were done well: there is a move, by Marco Bellochio (Buongiorno, notte, or 'Good Morning, Night') but I have to say I found it weak.

Finally, on the violence of recent Italian history, but about organised crime rather than overtly 'political' terrorism, there is a really superb book (much quoted by Ginsborg in his 1943-2001 history) by Alexander Stille- 'Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic'. Stille's key focus is on the two anti-Mafia magistrates Falcone and Borsellino, who were probably the two key figures in both uncovering the links between the Italian state and the Sicilian mafia, and doing something effective to break those links. Recommended for anyone who thinks that the Mafia weren't a crucial part of the political history of postwar Italy (coughs: 'Alex Harrowell').

I'm currently reading 'Gomorrah' by Roberto Saviano, on what has happened to organised crime in Naples. Perhaps it was always more decentralised than Sicilian crime, or perhaps it was a response to the post-1992 crackdown, but as Saviano tells it, the Camorra are massively important to the politics and economics of the Naples region, but they have managed to achieve this by decentralising, which makes them much less vulnerable to the kind of tactics that Falcone and Borsellino, and their successors, used to damage Cosa Nostra. He also suggests that this lack of central control - disorganised organised crime, as it were- makes Naples prey to constant outbreaks of inter-gang violence, somethign that Sicily, nowadays, is much less prone to.

I've not read anything on what happened to the Sicilian crime families after the crackdown on them following their murders of Falcone and Borsellino- John Dickey's 'Mafia Republic' might be good but I've not read it. Recommendations gratefully received.

All the above is the musings of a non-Italian-speaking amateur: Phil is actually a published scholar on the subject, so I'd listen to his views on reading more than mine.


Thanks Dan! I'm back in the UK tomorrow, so I'll see how much of that list is available in bookshops.

I haven't read Gomorrah yet, but I've seen the film. For anyone that hasn't seen them already, Saviano has written several pieces that have appeared online recently in English. Various articles in Vice, and a moving piece in the Guardian about his life under armed guard, post-Gomorrah.


The knee-jerk Putin-dunnit conviction lies behind much of the Nemtsov speculation in certain media outlets... the kind that put up wide angle pics of the Moscow memorial demo that appear to show serried ranks of "decent" Russians receding for miles into the horizon. Such outlets fail of course to note that large numbers of the flag carriers were in fact fascists, ultra-nationalists and other species of hardliner... not all, by any means, the noble liberal spirits of resistance the west likes to imagine.

There a few reasons why it is unlikely Putin had a direct hand in this. First off, it is improbable that plans for a hit originating in the Kremlin would be staged outside the doors of... the Kremlin. Talk about self-incrimination, quite aside from dumb and dumber considerations. However it does make sense that anyone seeking to frame the Kremlin - or possibly do what they believed to be patriotic duty - would choose to stage the hit in the shadow of the domes. In this sense Putin might be right to characterize the hit as "a provocation."

Suggestions that the climate created by hyped-up nationalist sentiments linked to Ukraine has created the environment for such killings is another consideration. While it may may have increased the likelihood of such attacks, it doesn't specify a sidewalk adjacent to the Kremlin as the ideal stalking ground. The choice of venue could well have been deliberate, symbolic even.

Nemtsov was a US tool with baggage that in the minds of some would make him a prime candidate for fifth column-type suspicions. It was known he was putting together evidence of what he claimed was direct Russian military involvement in Novorossiya and was fresh off a media interview in which he attacked Putin on Ukraine. Nonetheless, he apparently felt comfortable enough to go for a saunter in Red Square with his Ukrainian love interest on his arm. Seems a bit like tempting fate. There are forces in Russia that get seriously pissed by anything smacking of treason, particularly on the part of an opposition leader with a track record not universally loved or appreciated. Makes you wonder if Nemtsov was either drunk, high or suicidal.

Dan Hardie

I for one applaud the restraint of 'Therion' for merely wondering if Nemtsov was 'either drunk, high or suicidal'. Surely we should really be asking whether Nemtsov was a vile sexual pervert who was responsible for a huge number of unsolved murders.

As for 'Seems a bit like tempting fate.'- seems, sir? Seems? Your moderation does you great credit, 'Therion', but there can be no 'seems' about it. Frankly that bastard Nemtsov- 'a US tool', as you note- brought his own murder on himself, and I admire you for having the courage to state that view. Oh, all right, the courage to sort-of insinuate it.


This week we're all experts on Russian politics.


There a few reasons why it is unlikely Putin had a direct hand in this. First off, it is improbable that plans for a hit originating in the Kremlin would be staged outside the doors of... the Kremlin. Talk about self-incrimination, quite aside from dumb and dumber considerations. However it does make sense that anyone seeking to frame the Kremlin - or possibly do what they believed to be patriotic duty - would choose to stage the hit in the shadow of the domes

But if it's so obvious that only a provocateur would carry out a hit in the shadow of the Kremlin, surely that would mean that it was the best place for a government assassin to do it, as nobody would believe that they would do something so obvious? And given that, surely it would be the last place that a provocateur would pick, as they'd reason that nobody would suspect the Kremlin of doing something so obvious. And since it would obviously be the case that such an obvious hit would have to be the Kremlin, they would never have done it ... and so on

The great thing about this kind of reasoning is that it's like a circle-of-fourths chord progression, you can just keep repeating yourself an octave higher.


I've put my tinfoil cap on and am even farther from truth than before. lvlld I think has his finger on the pulse.

FWIW, I've known people who were drunk, high AND suicidal, and Putin didn't whack any of them.


I think I've got it: both of the goblets were poisoned.


Also, Australia is a land peopled entirely by criminals.


Life is rarely quite so machiavellian dsquared, even in Putin's Russia. From the standpoint of optics, the choice of location may or may not play into your reverse psychology. But on the larger stage optics do matter and the Kremlin is unlikely to be keen on the prospect of headlines in NYT and elsewhere announcing an assassination on their very steps. That would seem obvious.

Some of the conspiracy theories re Putin's involvement are yet more of the type of Putin-dunnit speculation that went on with Litvinenko and Politovskaya... none of it based on a shred of evidence.

Anyone who understands how this and similar incidents go down in Russia, would probably concur that while life might be centralized in a number of respects, when it comes to assassination there is often no neat circle to close. There are many actors with both the means and the intelligence who don't need to be coached by the FSB. Extensive intelligence, know-how and weaponry is available to actors the west might characterize as mafia or gangsters - often with pronounced ultranationalist loyalties and insider connections.

Anyway it needed have been some grand conspiracy. Could have been as simple as an employee at the media outlet where Nemtsov attacked Putin hours earlier, picking up the phone. Might have gone something like... "hi it's me... he's here mouthing off on Ukraine... leaving in 20 minutes." The crew jump in the car, tail Nemtsov and his gf to the restaurant and the rest is history. Not complicated.


yet more of the type of Putin-dunnit speculation that went on with Litvinenko and Politovskaya... none of it based on a shred of evidence.

I dunno, "shortly after meeting with two distinctly radioactive former KGB officers (one of whom is now a Russian government MP who has since said in public that people like Litvinenko deserve to be killed) and drinking some extremely radioactive tea with them, Litvinenko started to die from radiation poisoning" could be seen as a fairly sizeable shred of evidence.

It seems they've decided to blame the swarthy Chechens, though. After all, why change a winning formula?

Dan Hardie

I think that 'Anyway it needed have been some grand conspiracy' should read 'it needn't have been some grand conspiracy'.

Grand- well maybe not, since the adjective is vague. But a sophisticated conspiracy, by some people rather more skilled in violence than a bunch of low-grade gangsters with a mate at (say) a restaurant or a TV company- certainly.

Anyone not born yesterday will have known that one of the two or three most prominent political critics of Vladimir Putin will have been under very close observation by the FSB. Anyone intelligent enough to tie their own shoelaces without instruction will know that the immediate environs of the Kremlin- like the immediate environs of any centre of government in a country with significant domestic terrorist and organised crime threats- will have been under close surveillance, with well-trained response units ready to move rapidly to the scene of a reported shooting. Anyone capable of counting to ten without using their fingers will have worked out that if you shoot a high-profile figure, you can expect (under normal circumstances) the domestic police force to put a lot of very capable, very experienced homicide detectives onto the case and give them the resources they need to find the suspects.

Personally I don't think it was Putin who ordered this killing, because I have a number of friends who are either Russian or Ukrainian liberals, or historians and journalists specialising in Russia, and none of them think it was as simple as Putin saying to an underling 'off Nemtsov'.

Successful violence in well-guarded areas against high-profile targets needs planning, training and logistics. Shooting someone who is likely tailed, at least part of the time, by trained security operatives, in a highly policed area, then getting away from the crime scene and having at least a reasonable chance of not getting picked up is not just a case of getting a phone call, jumping in a car, going bang-bang and driving away. There was a conspiracy and the people who ran it had the money, the skills and the contacts to think that they could not only pull the killing off but also make sure that they weren't discovered afterwards.


Back in Italy, Ginsborg is the best starting point on Italian politics in general, but he's got a bit of a tin ear for dietrologia and political machinations of the kind I described in my previous comment; he covers the Borghese coup attempt essentially by pointing and laughing. Admittedly, you can see the funny side of somebody using the title of Prince attempting a coup with the assistance of Alpine Guards - particularly since it all happened in the course of one night and most of Italy never knew it had happened at all - but things like that don't just happen out of a blue sky. The counterweight to Ginsborg is Philip Willan's The Puppetmasters, which has all the dietrologia you can eat, albeit with a bit less academic-standard documentation; Willan comes close to retelling the anni di piombo as a proxy war between the CIA and the FBI.

On the anni di piombo, I'd recommend my book(!), Robert Lumley's States of Emergency, David Moss's The politics of left-wing violence in Italy, 1969–85 (does what it says on the tin) and Steve Wright's Storming heaven, in no particular order; there's also some good stuff in Donatella della Porta's Social movements, political violence and the state, although as the title implies her focus isn't solely on Italy. If you're specifically interested in the Red Brigades, Alison Jamieson's The Heart Attacked is good, and there's some excellent material in a collection edited by Raimondo Catanzaro, The Red Brigades and left-wing terrorism in Italy. (Not sure how available any of these are, I'm afraid - you may be looking at inter-library loans.)

I can also recommend a bunch of Italian material, but I guess if you were that interested you wouldn't need the English references! What really got me going on the period was two novels by Nanni Balestrini, Gli invisibili and L'editore; they really convey the feeling of the period. I believe the first of them is available in translation (as The unseen).


Dan - I confess I haven't read the Drake. The account of Moro's ordeal is depressingly believable - they knew all about how they thought elite politics worked in Italy, and nothing about how it actually did. They could have learnt a lot from Moro, but they were too committed to their own version of reality - and in some cases just not bright enough. I haven't read the Sassoon, but I think a health warning may be in order if you find Ginsborg's political sympathies obtrusive; one of Sassoon's earlier books is The strategy of the Italian Communist Party and it might as well be subtitled ": why it was correct at every point".

I actually like Sciascia's instant book, not because he knew anything at all about the kidnapping (he didn't) but because of what he has to say about the Communists and the Christian Democrats, and to a lesser extent about Moro. It's not the place to go for the facts on the case, though.


Phil, seeing as how I still have my tinfoil cap on, could I perhaps trouble you for some amusing anecdotes on Licio Gelli and/or Propaganda Due?


one of Sassoon's earlier books is The strategy of the Italian Communist Party and it might as well be subtitled ": why it was correct at every point".

See also Lucio Magri's "The Tailor of Ulm", which could be subtitled "Why Italian left-wing internal politics is the driving force of world history and whichever faction Lucio Magri supported within it was in the right at all times".

That would at least be a better title for a history of the PCI than the one he gave it...


P2 isn't really my area, I'm afraid. I get the impression there's an awful lot of supposition and rumour when you look at that side of things - working back from cui prodest? to who must have been responsible. The radical Left groups are much more manageable - they always left traces. (Sometimes more traces than they meant to. When the "Communist Brigades" carried out their first arson attack, the police speculated that it must be some kind of provocation, because the people involved had taken so little care to conceal their identities. Actually they just hadn't thought it through.)


I'd hoped that perhaps you'd read something. Thanks for the response.

In other news, apparently VVP hasn't been seen in a week.

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