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Years of Lead, Terrorism, Organized Crime, and Politics

Last week a senior executive of the nuclear power arm of Italian engineering giant Finmeccanica was ambushed and shot in the leg as he was leaving his home in Genoa for work.

An anarchist terrorist group, the Olga Nucleus of the Informal Anarchist Federation-International Revolutionary Front has claimed responsibility for the shooting and says it has another seven attacks planned.  The group also said it was responsible for sending a letter bomb to one of the offices of Italy’s Equitalia tax debt collection agency.

The shooting led to Italy’s government stating that it fears a resurgence of internal terrorism of the kind which blighted Italy during the so called Years of Lead.  The Years of Lead period began in the late 1960s and ran until the early 1980s before tailing off at about the same time as the Berlin wall came down. While this may have been pure coincidence, it may not have been. Behind Italy’s Years of Lead was the Cold War – a battle waged to keep the communists at bay. Fears that communists may have gained the upper hand in Italy peaked in the 70s and early 80s, then the Berlin wall came down and the Cold War ended as the threat of communist domination diminished.

The silent battle to keep communists taking control of Italy left nearly 2,000 people dead.

Years of Lead in Italy

Italy’s Years of Lead were characterized by extensive socio-political turmoil and various acts of violence.  The perpetrators of the violent episodes were extreme left such as the Red Brigades and extreme right movements like the Ordine Nuovo – New Order.  It is also suspected that Italy’s secret services may have orchestrated certain acts of violence in conjunction with either terrorist groups or with the assistance of organized crime.  Adding to the intrigue are claims that the United States and the United Kingdom may have been intervening to keep the communist threat at bay in Italy.

Lurking in shadows behind Italy’s secret services lay politicians playing power games. Some of these politicians formed the infamous P2 – a secret, right wing, masonic society which aimed to buy its way towards control of Italy.

Former prime minister  Giulio Andreotti is one such Italian politician who is said to have manipulated events during the dark years of lead. Although he was not, as far as is known, a member of the P2, he does appear to have been linked to the machinations of the organisation.  Andreotti was convicted of his involvement in the murder of a journalist who made allegations that he had clear links to organized crime in Italy.  An appeal court later quashed Andreotti’s conviction.  Doubts still remain though.

Indeed, there are still lots of loose ends and unanswered questions with regard to Italy’s infamous Years of Lead.

Years of Lead, the Sequel?

In some ways, Italy appears to be once again entering a further period of socio-political unrest, although some Italians might argue that the Years of Lead have never really ended.

It is true that have been fewer terrorist attacks since the official end of this complex period of Italy’s history, but attacks have nonetheless continued, albeit much more sporadically, and, in the main, less violently than the Bologna station bombing.

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Depending on what you read, behind the socio-political turmoil which led to Italy’s Years of Lead lay either social unrest, an internal power struggle or a concerted attempt to prevent communism taking root in Italy. Perhaps a combination of all three.

Upon delving more deeply into the Years of Lead, one is left with the impression that the period was exploited by other mysterious factions, such as the aforementioned and supposedly defunct P2 secret society which counted politicians, generals, industrialists and journalists among its membership.  While some of the terrorist attacks appeared to be the work of extremist left-wing groups, other attacks of terrorism, by either left or right wing terrorists, may have been engineered to fit the strategies of those who wished to take control of Italy.

A Never Ending Power Struggle

Even if the Cold War is now but a memory, the struggle for control of Italy never really seems to have ended, as is evidenced by the emergence of suspected P3 and P4 organizations, which, presumably had (have?) the same aims as the original P2 group – the objectives of the P3 and P4 secret organizations is still under investigation.  That aim seems to be to place the control of Italy in the hands of a specific group of people.  Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s ex-prime minister is suspected of having connections to the P2 group, and some in his party are caught up in the P3, P4 inquiries.  Berlusconi has denied any links to the P2, though a membership card bearing his name casts doubt on his denial.

The problem for Italy is that many of the people behind the mysterious groups which infiltrated Italy’s secret services, engaged ‘mercenaries’ from organized crime gangs, and manipulated the terrorist activities of right wing extremist groups are still at large.  With Italy once more entering a period of socio-political unrest, such people may well be wondering whether the time is right for them to blow the dust off their master plans and make another bid to take over the running of Italy.

Whether these unscrupulous types will seize the moment remains to be seen, but Italy’s interior minister is considering putting Italy’s military on standby.  This does not bode too well. As of late 2013, nothing has happened, although soldiers did end up on Italy’s streets as a precautionary measure to reduce levels of street crime, or so went the official justification.

The speed of the reaction by Italy’s government to the Genoa incident would appear to suggest that it, or something like it, had been expected.  Now that ‘it’ has happened, Italy’s government is giving the impression an escalation is expected but that the authorities will be ready for it.  The message being sent out by Italy’s government could be viewed as being a form of veiled warning to others who might be thinking of stirring up trouble.  Whether the warning will have any effect remains to be seen. Today, late 2013, other major incidents have not occurred, although there was the myserious bombing of a school in south Italy which killed a girl. While the bomber was caught, his motive for the attack has not been made clear.

Mario Monti, Italy’s Prime Minister at the time this was written will have observed developments carefully as he will have been well aware of Italy’s leaden past. Whether he managed to nip an escalation in the bud is unknown, but there have been no visible attempts at coups, so maybe he did keep the threat at bay, if such a threat really existed, that is.

Further reading: The Guardian – Italian anarchists kneecap nuclear executive and threaten more shootings

Gambizzazione is not Kneecapping

As a matter of curiosity, the Genoa shoot incident mentioned at the start of this post has been reported as ‘kneecapping’ by foreign press.  This is not strictly true, as the Italian term gambizzazione actually refers to the criminal act of shooting people in the legs.  Shots are not always deliberately aimed at the knees.  I too admit to having translated gambizzazione as kneecapping, but noticed the word ‘gamba’ forming part of the term and decided to check – Wikipedia Italy provided the answer.

I suspect shooting someone in the leg is not quite as damaging as attempting to destroy a kneecap.  Small consolation, I know.

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