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Pinelli – victim of right-wing terrorism

Giuseppe Pinelli, the anarchist railway worker on the circumstances of whose death Dario Fo’s play is based, was far from being a passive victim of events as might be inferred from some of the dialogue, and that may have contributed to his demise, writes Stuart Christie. A youthful anarchist partisan during the war and active in the post-war Italian anarchist and labour union (anarcho-syndicalist) movement, Pinelli was secretary of the Milan Anarchist Black Cross (ABC), set up the previous year.

Giuseppe Pinelli

In private discussions I had with him and other ABC members in Carrara and Milan in the summer of 1969 (following up on similar ABC meetings the previous year), Pinelli told me that he and other members of the Italian ABC were concerned about the true nature of some of the people who were describing themselves as ‘anarchists’. According to Pinelli, ever since the right-wing military coup in Greece in April 1967, at least 50 dyed-in-the-wool fascists from the far-right parties Ordine Nuovo and Avanguardia Nazionale had been on a series of ‘cultural exchanges’ to Greece. These trips had been organised by two well-known neo-fascist leaders – Pino Rauti and Stefano delle Chiaie – and were sponsored by KYP, the Greek secret police.

On their return from Greece — then a more or less openly fascist state — these characters appeared to have undergone there what could only be described as a mass ‘road to Damascus’-type conversion; all had returned to Italy convinced socialists, communists, Maoists or anarchists. One of these fascists, Mario Merlino, a close friend of Stefano delle Chiaie, had returned to set up an Italian version of the French anarchist student group that had sparked the French general strike of May 1968 — the longest ever in history. Pinelli and the others were uncertain as to what their game was, but they were marking my cards that ‘something was up’, and to establish if something similar was going on elsewhere, especially Paris and London.

The following summer I was back in Italy, and it was clear political tensions were beginning to peak. Since the early part of the year Europe’s press had been prophesying a long hot summer of riots, strikes, terror and general mayhem. It turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Since early spring there had been a series of bomb attacks in northern Italy: 32 according to the Interior Ministry and 140 according to non-governmental sources. To anyone who knew anything about the anarchist movement it was crystal clear that these attacks were not the work of any anarchists. These bombings were directed against premises where ordinary people went about their everyday lives. It was a classic technique employed by fascist, nationalist and state-sponsored terrorists to create a climate of fear and spread panic and anxiety among the general population.

The most damaging of these attacks had taken place on Liberation Day, 25 April 1968, on the Fiat stand at the Milan Trade Fair, and another that same day at the Bureau de Change in the Banca Nazionale delle Communicaziones in the city’s central station. Both bombs were designed – and timed – to injure and kill. Fortunately, no one died, but dozens were injured, some of them seriously.

Italy’s right-wing press and the policemen and investigating magistrate leading the hunt for the perpetrators — Chief Inspector Calabresi, Chief Superintendent Antonio Allegra and Judge Antonio Amati — immediately laid the blame for the bombings at the door of the anarchists. Indeed, they did so a bit too soon for credibility. Fifteen anarchists were arrested, of whom six were charged, and all of whom strenuously denied responsibility. The case for their defence was being co-ordinated by Giuseppe Pinelli, who had made some interesting discoveries as to the links between the neo-fascists, the Italian military and secret services, and the Greek Colonels.

Building a terror network

Recruited into what was known as the Nato-sponsored ‘Gladio’ stay-behind network (set up in the post World War II/Cold War period to commit acts of sabotage and terror in the event of a Soviet invasion of Europe or, equally possible, a Communist takeover of Italy), these neo-fascists were organising paramilitary camps around the country where their members were given quaint names derived from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, such as Hobbits. They also received ideological indoctrination and military training for insurgency and attacks on leftist targets. The principal eminence gris behind this campaign was, we later discovered, Federico Umberto D’Amato, head of the Interior Ministry’s Confidential Affairs Bureau, one of Italy’s many obscure secret services.

In the first issue of Italian ABC bulletin, published in June 1969, Pinelli wrote about a series of apparently out-of-character neo-fascist attacks on churches, army and carabinieri barracks that had taken place the previous month in Palermo. It seemed increasingly certain their actions were part of some plan. As he explained: “For fascists to strike at ‘anarchist targets’ (meaning targets more likely to be chosen by anarchists) is explicable only if their objective is either to whip up a panic about subversive attacks in order to justify a police crackdown and an imposition of greater controls by the authorities, or to bring anarchists and, by extension, the whole of the Left, into disrepute…

Anarchists framed for the Milan Trade Fair bombing

“It is an essential part”, he continued, “of the first of these purposes and would suit the second that some innocent person be injured – or better still, if more dangerously – killed.” He concluded with a prophecy: “What has happened in Palermo bears out what we said immediately after the 25 April attacks in Milan at the Trade Fair and railway station: the culprits do not come from within our ranks. And the police’s insistence in arresting and detaining anarchists gives rise to grave suspicions.”

Although Pinelli and the other comrades were aware of the danger, they were in no position to do much about it, but they did tell me they had prepared contingency plans and were ready to go underground at short notice. Shortly before I arrived in Milan that August, eight bombs had exploded on as many busy passenger trains within two hours of each other. Bombs planted on two other trains had failed to explode. Again the police and the press blamed the anarchists. Pinelli wrote, in the second issue of the ABC bulletin: “Where there is an authoritarian regime in place, in the lead-up to some important event, special checks are carried out and hotheads, subversives and anarchists are detained by the police – some to ‘help with enquiries’, some on criminal charges – all as a precautionary measure. So, in this ghastly year of 1969, we wonder – what on earth is going on in Italy?”

The truth about the sinister machinations that were in train in Italy and the preparations for a fascist coup d’état did not begin to unravel until 12 December that year.

Greek secrets exposed

In November 1969 British journalist Leslie Finer, the former Greek correspondent of The Observer obtained and published part of an extraordinarily damning secret document compiled in May 1969 for Giorgio Papadopolous, president of the Greek Council of Ministers (the military junta in power in Greece). In it, a Greek secret service agent gave an assessment of the impact of the Greek-funded ‘false-flag’ bombing campaign (i.e. to implicate the extra-parliamentary left in terrorism) launched in Italy the previous year, 1968. Apart from specific direct references to their agents’ role in the bombings at the Milan Trade Fair and central station in April (for which six anarchists were framed, arrested and charged), the dossier also speculated on on-going plans for a right wing/fascist-backed coup in Italy, confirming that there would be a major escalation of terrorist actions should Greece be expelled from the Council of Europe.

The day his article appeared, I visited Leslie Finer and explained to him the situation in Italy and told him the original full report would obviously be of great interest for the defence case of the six imprisoned anarchists being held over the trade fair bombings and asked for a copy, which he kindly gave me and which I immediately forwarded to Pinelli in Milan. However the magistrate, Antonio Amati, refused to admit the dossier as evidence in the case and the six anarchists remained banged up until their final acquittal on 28 May 1971, two full years after their arrest.

A few days later, on 12 December 1969, as the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe were discussing the third item on its agenda — proposals for the expulsion or suspension of Greece — the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Panagiotis Pipinelis, suddenly interrupted proceedings and stood up to inform the other ministers that Greece would forthwith leave the Council of Europe of its own free will, thereby avoiding, at the last minute, a formal decision against the military regime. (Greece remained, however, at US insistence, a full member of NATO.)

Later that fateful afternoon, a little after 4.30 pm, as indicated in the Greek KYP dossier Pinelli had handed to the magistrate Amati, four bombs exploded in Rome and Milan. The one planted in the Banca Nazionale dell’Agricultura in Milan’s Piazza Fontana claimed the lives of 16 people and wounded 100. Another, in the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro in Rome, injured 14, while two planted at the cenotaph in the Piazza Venezia wounded four. It was a day of massacre — a state massacre, as it later emerged.

Pinelli's death commemorated by Flavio Constantini

No one was ever brought to trial for Pinelli’s death, the ramifications of which shake the Italian political scene to this day. The Milan magistrate, Gerardo D’Ambrosio, closed the official file on Pinelli in 1975. According to the official finding, the anarchist died as the result of ‘active misfortune’, the misfortune of having fallen from a window in police headquarters. All the police officers indicted in his death were absolved.

Luigo Calabresi, the Special Branch officer leading the Pinelli interrogation, had been shot dead by an assassin on 17 May 1972, three years before the finding had been published Perhaps he too knew too much, like Pinelli, and had become a living embarrassment to the Italian State.

On 13 March 1995, after more than 25 years and countless court cases and appeal hearings, Judge Salvini indicted 26 Italian neo-fascists and secret service officers for their role in the Piazza Fontana massacre. Several of their number were sent to prison.


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Posted 11:56 Monday, Nov 19, 2012 In: Performance

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