1928: Born in Sassari
1948: Graduated in Jurisprudence
1959 - 1974: Professor of Constitutional Law
1958, 1963, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1979: Member of Parliament
1966, 1968, 1969: Under-secretary of State for the Defence
1974: Minister without portfolio
1976, 1978: Minister of the Interior
1979, 1980: Prime Minister
1983: Chairman of the Senate
1985: President of the Republic
1992: Senator for life as former President of the Republic
Since the year 1977, there has been an ever increasing number of journalistic and scientific works dedicated to a crucial period of contemporary history: the 70’s and, above all, the year 1977.
The 1970’s are accompanied by a serious economic, social and political crisis of the West, but they represent also a laboratory able to generate new products: both innovative and regressive.
On one side, in Italy and Germany, there is the effort to overcome the great divisions tied to the Cold War and to the antagonisms of the 30’s: In Italy, with the Historic Compromise, in Germany, with the Great Coalition. On another side, the large majorities went hand in hand with the multiplication of the conflicts, and to the rooting of the political violence (in the streets, but also exercised by armed minorities) which blood-stained Europe and, above all, Italy. The curiosity shown towards those years and towards that year is not only due to the arid thirty-year anniversary, but it is reinforced also by the fact that in 1977, social phenomena appear, which even yet accompany the developed societies: the crisis and the end of labour, the emergence of new social subjects excluded from the Fordian development, the incapacity of welfare to satisfy new needs.
Certain reconstructions of 1977 have been conducted with the detachment of the historiographer and/or journalist: analyses of the sources, (spoken history) (1).In other cases, we have works of reconstruction/analysis produced by participants (2) or rather, forms of historiography intertwined with memory (3) , and finally, there are re-evocations which find their place on the border between fact and fiction (4). It is rich material which is able to favour useful reflection - oriented to the past, but also to the future.
The bloody conflict, the crisis of that year: are they repeatable? Were there factors which helped or stirred-up such an amount of antagonism (and violence)?
It seemed opportune to hear a further voice: The voice of a politician who had to face those phenomena, in his function as Secretary of State for the Home Department. Francesco Cossiga, the Eminent former President of the Republic and Home Secretary in 1977, answers our questions in a meeting at his home in a beautiful Spartan quarter of Rome. There are two large bookcases in his studio, filled with, not a pedantic, complete and indiscriminate collection of texts, but rather a choice of novelty and classics assembled according to numerous and coherent cultural itineraries. The photographs of personalities who have accompanied his work as President and politician are discretely distributed on a few shelves. A photo of Aldo Moro, with a dedication that touches the heart: the photographs of two meetings with Benedetto XVI, photos of: Pope Woityila, Margaret Thatcher, Bettino Craxi, Elizabeth II, Queen of England, Juan Carlos of Spain and Baldwin of Belgium, fervent Catholics and inflexible defenders of the secularism of the State; the Grand Master of the Order of Malta and in a small photo, the still Cardinal Ratzinger, who, with a witty smile, supports the arm of the President.
At the end of the meeting, not for the purpose of violating professional ethics, but in consideration of the nature of the publication to which the interview was destined, I proposed to the Eminent President that he may wish me to submit the text for examination before it goes into print.
"If you do, I shall consider it a personal affront".
"At your command, Sir".
The re-evocations on ‘1977 in Italy’ multiply in occasion of its 30th Anniversary. Memory, history, socio-economic analyses, literature, criticism, even self-criticism. The reflections centre on certain questions. Was antagonism born from the social structure? Or from the political culture? Or else from the closure of the official politics?
Whoever holds that the beginning, the mother of 1977 was the year ’68, are mistaken: that certain ideas, certain people of ’68 came to ’77, in various forms, this is true. But this because the Italian ’68 was a great protest against what existed in a hope for the future; even if it did not have that exception slogan which was launched in France: "Imagination to power".
However, also ’68 had a strong charge of political antagonism.
Apart from some sporadic and, I would say, physiological manifestation of violence (however, I do not want to be misunderstood) ’68 was not manifest in a bloody fashion. The strange thing is that ’68 was watched attentively by the catholic organizations and was watched also by the socialist ones; but with cultural interest. It was looked at differently by the Communist Party: which was disappointed, because it though it could make an instrument for its own politics. This, it thought, but was wrong. If there is something that can have nothing in common with the iron discipline, characteristic of Marxism, Leninism and Stalinism, it is Spontaneism. We must not forget that Marxism, orthodox, communist, condemned Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Leibknecht because they were considered spontaneists. Spontaneism is a classic deviation. And ’68 was a model of Spontaneism.
The actors of ’68 came from a different social origin from that of the protagonists of 1977.
’68 was essentially, an intellectual, student movement. The controversial themes were of the elite. Some specialized workers, self-educated people who studied, could be included. But ’68 was not a thing of the factory. It was something which originated with the sons of the bourgeoisie who wished to become fathers. ’68 centred on the occupation of the universities.
However, there were changes. The hot autumn, the great strikes of the metal and mechanical industry workers. One could say that the students had influenced the factory. In ’77, the itinerary is inverse.
After ’68, some different phenomena manifest themselves. There is the movement which was inspired, in a confused manner, by the principles of
socialism and communism, very much influenced by South America, by Guevarism. Then, there are the movements and, finally, the Autonomy.
A mixture of these factors provokes the occupation of the Universities. Without, at the beginning, any institutional reaction.
Send people to evacuate the universities? How can one send armoured vehicles of the Police and Carabineers to smash the gates, which were closed, it would have been a very strong move. Since the Insurrection of Vienna in 1848, in the history of liberalism, there is the question of the immunity of the universities; even if it is not written in any law!
The CGIL (The Italian General Confederation of Labour) and the PCI (Italian Communist Party) think, therefore, of carrying out an "auxiliary" role. They send Luciano Lama to the occupied University of Rome, the "Sapienza".
I, on my part and Ugo Pecchiolo on his part, exhorted Lama not to go. But, it is necessary to keep in mind the moral and political authority of the union, in those times, and of that of Lama himself. No-one " he thought " would have had the courage to oppose him.
Lama did not come from the PCI tradition and spoke without reticence.
He was a young socialist and then became communist. And he was, politically, a moderate. He went to the University where there were no police, but already, something was happening. To meet him, he found the Autonomy; he found the movements connected to it; and he found the militants of the ex- Workers’ Power movement, those of the disbanded Continuous Struggle. On the clashes, there is the beautiful book of my friend, Lucia Annunziata, who recounts how they attacked him and how they forced him to run away. Lucia Annunziata also tells how in his bag, he carried a .....
Yes, porphyry, a cube of porphyry. Cubes which ‘as they get you, they kill you’, says Pasquale Chessa. In that moment, the great clashes of the streets started.
The PCI, which tried hard to understand 1968, cuts itself off in 1977.
There is the refusal. The PCI consider Extremism an infantile sickness of communism Even more, that which stirred-up the protests of 1977, goes against the hierarchic principle. In the communist tradition, one can perform the hardest act, if and when necessary to the cause. But first of all, the Direction must meet! The Communist Party is not the party of spontaneous initiatives, but of the discussion before the action and of obedience. Certain writings of Lenin on terrorism should be re-read. Even terrorism is legitimate, but if organized by the Party and only to spark-off a revolution.
But there is also a basic hostility.
Against the executive groups. The hostility is against the management. The dislike is even greater because the leaders fear the infection of class. The superiors of a seminary, where the students are fascinated by modernism, must not let them read even Leo XIII, the Rerum Novarum! At the most Pio V, Gregory XVI, Pio IX. Nothing more!
In 1968, there was not this hostility on the part of the PCI.
There was not, because ’68 was not a political movement. It understood that it could not become something of a political nature. The PCI, in Italy, tried to infiltrate in order to use it; therefore, some of the boys of the ’68 became communist. Cohn Bendit became green, but not communist. To tell the truth, the ’68, with its spontaneism, is the negation of communism. ‘Imagination to power’ is much less Marxist, and farthest from the scientific claim of Marxism than is possible to imagine.
With the break also the itineraries towards the Armed Struggle are accelerated.
I knew almost all of them. I went to visit them, when I was no longer President: Something which not everyone appreciated. The Armed Struggle has two triggering factors. The first is ideological. The protagonists were all proclaimed communists. And are all Marxist Leninists. Indeed, they affirm that they are Marxist Leninists, not deviationists. They are not Stalinists. They are gifted with high intelligence and a strong communist culture. Let’s think of Gallinari, peasant and worker, self-educated. The second starting factor is historical, it is in the Resistance. One starts from the historic memory of the betrayed Resistance and of the interrupted Resistance. The Resistance had to be a patriotic war, to carry the crowd along; then, it had to be an anti-fascist civil war and, finally, as it came about in the East, a class revolution.
A class war which stopped in 1945.
Togliatti, who had quite different plans, given by the Soviet Union as a consequence of the Yalta agreements, blocked the class revolution. This did not impede the red triangle, after ’45. Also the anti-fascists shot! Also the partisans shot!
How did the continuity manifest itself?
One of them, a communist, who left the Party to support the Armed Struggle, told me that a partisan gave him the machine gun which he had kept, saying to him, "Continue where they stopped us". The myth is the unfinished Resistance. The idea of betrayed Resistance spread throughout the PCI and the left, for a long time after the war. Everything collapses when the PCI becomes allied with the DC. One thinks what the alliance with the DC must have been for some of them.
The historic compromise. That was the spark. And also the fact that the Union became a stabilizing force.
In the antagonism of ’77, that which manifested itself on the streets, in some quarters of the city, in some factories, there is much social unease, social isolation, in the Armed Struggle; instead, one perceives politics and political culture.
There are very few unqualified workers among the Red Brigade members; peasant workers almost none. Except the self-educated Gallinari, who then becomes a worker. I know him very well. We presented his book together, on television. Prefect Mosino was scandalized and left the room. They were all technicians, students, superior class workers in the Armed Struggle.
In the Autonomy, instead, a different world.
It is a desperate world which does not find an answer in politics: which puts Bologna into a turmoil. The communists make an insurrection to occupy the Winter Palace: for political designs. The communists make a revolution when they take over barracks and when they have a sector of the State in their favour. They do not occupy the University of Bologna, attack Christian Democratic offices and loot restaurants. They do not write Cossiga with a ‘K’, when he was in favour of the Historic Compromise! The absurdity was this: Kossiga who sends armoured vehicles, with the agreement of the PCI and of Zangheri in tears.
The violence of the armed party is, instead, strategic.
The arms and the violence are used by the RB, not to perform exemplary actions: which is the anarchic way. They do not believe in the politically exemplary value of the act. They justify the armed fight as the war of the poor against the rich, of the weak against the strong, of the disarmed against the armed. They use justifications taken from the European resistances. Only that Yugoslavia turned the resistance into a fight of the conventional kind: with the regular brigades: with the arms sent by the English and the Americans. The others were minority resistances.
Violence must be interpreted
For me, I have great affection and friendship for Fausto Bertinotti. Why? Bertinotti was Secretary of the Trades Union Council, in Turin. I went there, as the Home Secretary, a few days after the killing of Casalegno and Bertinotti came to see me. When he returned home, he said to his wife: "We have the most democratic Home Secretary in the history of the Republic. He asked me if I could explain to him, I, who live among the workers, for what reason is there the Armed Struggle". The Secretary of the Trades Union Council was struck by the fact of a Home Secretary who occupied himself with the sociology of the Armed Struggle. The contrary of the whole history of the DC, of the images of Scelba.
What logic had the armed struggle?
The Armed Struggle aimed to raise the level of the clash. To intimidate the State. To disjoint it. But always with the great hope of the Communist Party. The BR has never believed in taking the place of the Communist Party. Only the madmen of the Continuous Struggle thought of doing this, with Adriano Sofri, a great alternative party. The BR sought to elevate the level of the clash to provoke an indiscriminate reaction. A death; killed in the factory. The Police intervene and beat all the factory workers. They hoped to trigger a great reaction of struggle.
In ’77, besides the antagonism, there is much anti-communism.
There is an anti-PCI attitude. Many looked towards the socialists. A spontaneous mass movement could get along with socialism. With communism and Marxism Leninism, never. Because, if there is no order from the Party, you are not authorized to even say "Down with Agnelli". And down with Agnelli, they have never said. The force that has always defended the FIAT and who saved the FIAT, are the unions. You can understand it: there were jobs to defend.
There is no spontaneity in the Armed Struggle, rather, projects.
They wanted to perform acts of terrorism to elevate the level of the clash. Provoke repression and try to bring the Communist Party to its senses.
The very PCI that condemns them as instigators and criminals!
The Communist Party did everything, at the beginning, to calm them. One of them tells that when they were already in the clandestine position, an exponent of the PCI, the Honourable Malagugini, a clever lawyer and a communist of the reformist wing, and would become a constitutional judge, tried to make contact with them. Not to use them, but to convince them to come back to normality. Otherwise, there was a risk that the Government " according to who guides it " could lump everyone into the same category. At the beginning, they said, within the PCI, "the so-called Brigate Rosse". The message was not directed at the State, it was directed to the communists because they feared that the brigatism would infect the rank and file members.
Were the politics of public order adequate? Were they not excessive?
It was nothing compared to the preceding period, in which they fired. Modena. And there is an explanation. The movements of the streets then, were the work of the unions and guided by the PCI. One did not yet really understand whether the communists had given up the revolution, or not. And Scelba had them fire. I, the order to shoot, have never given.
We must recognize that Scelba did not share the choice of the Tambroni government and the open fire at Reggio Emilia, in July, 1960.
Scelba was anti-fascist. He had been the Secretary of Don Sturzo.
The controls were, according to me, excessive, often producing the opposite effect.
However, there were no orders to shoot. They responded to fire, but against the RB. I was asked to visit Gallinari in prison. It was feared that he would die. He had a heart condition and during the conflict with the Police, he had been hit in the brain. I went, and before our talk, he said to me, "Let us clarify one thing: I am, and will always be, a communist. You, for me, will always be the Home Secretary; I am a simple self-educated man. I am not a cultured man like the others you have visited in prison". This cleared up, we sat down. And he allowed me the fact that I had never resorted to dirty methods. As in France, for the OAS (Organisation de l’Armée Secrète). They arrested relations. They “ill-treated” the children. The French, they are always children of the revolution and the guillotine!
What did the militants want from the Armed Struggled?
They did not consider themselves able, alone, to win power, but to dismantle a treacherous alliance, provoking a reaction of the State apparatus to the point of convincing the communists and the unions to give up their policies. In reality, their objective, the objective to punish should not have been Moro, but Berlinguer. However, since they were anything but stupid and wanted, always, to regain the mass which was communist, they understood that the kidnapping and killing of Berlinguer would have brought the communist factory workers to hunt down suspected brigatists, whose remains would have been found inside the furnaces! The Communist Party was always their Party of reference. Going to vote, they couldn’t, exactly, have voted for Continuous Struggle, they would have voted PCI.
But also the Autonomy and the "spontaneity" were criminalized.
The Autonomy finished with Bologna. I wanted and agreed that that the International Congress on Repression be held. The one of the 40 thousand. I remember the telephone call from Scalfari. He told me I was mad. I remember the telephone call from the Cardinal of Bologna who reminded me that the Congress coincided with the Corpus Domini, or rather, the Eucharistic Congress, in San Petronio. "Your Eminence, at what time is the ceremony ?", I asked. My head of cabinet suggested arresting and expelling all the French intellectuals. I told him to let them come. Once the demonstration was finished, we would send them all home again. And the demonstration had the possibility of taking place "freely. At the end, I said, "Open the motorways, organize the trains, let them go home, whoever behaves like a madman, however, will get a rain of blows on his head. And there was the death of the Autonomy.
A line of tolerance weakens the strength of the violence
Reflecting on all of this, one can understand my famous TV interview, which surprised many people, the doubt and the scruples I had.
It couldn’t be that to have impeded the forms of violence, at low and brief intensity and of the mass, had favoured the Armed Struggle? Those who participate in mass demonstrations must then go home and eat. If, instead, you use strong methods, this will attract them and make them remain.
Was the prohibition of demonstrations, in the spring of 1977, necessary? The labour organizations renounce the 1st of May, in the streets.
While it was Panella who did not accept. I begged him on my knees and told him that the unions had accepted it and they had a surveillance service which isolated the violent types, whom, perhaps, they beat up a little and then consigned them to the police, and the surveillance service acts in agreement with the Police Headquarters. He said, “Look, you’ll be infiltrated”. And on the 12th May, the tragedy of Giorgiana Masi happens. When I had spoken of prohibitions with the unions, they said, immediately, that they didn’t see real problems. They had a surveillance service, but they couldn’t exclude an armed infiltration. And they accepted to postpone their demonstrations. At that time, the unions were a very different thing. They were not the unions of today. The unions of the pensioners – with more than 50% of the members made up of pensioners. I held meetings as the Home Secretary, accompanied by Franco Marini and the surveillance service of the CISL (Italian Confederation of Labour Unions), who were made up of railway and textile workers.
And one felt very safe.
More than with the Police. They beat up anyone without exception. Justified also by the identity of class.
Why prohibit a demonstration on the very day of the 12th of May, the festivity of the confirmation of the divorce law referendum?
The prohibition was deliberated in the Inter-ministerial Committee for Information and Security, and then I assumed the responsibility after Franco Evangelisti said that I didn’t even have the courage to prohibit a Panella procession. And from there, the drama happened: from that prohibition, which I considered a banal incident – in fact, there isn’t even a trace of it in the diary of Andreotti. With the problems we had, why would we have had to impede a demonstration of radicals for the anniversary of the divorce?! The Christian Democrats had privileged the alliance with the non-Catholics and with the socialists as to the indissolubility of the bond of marriage. The law on abortion was signed by Andreotti. We voted against, but we held it more important for the Country, first the alliance of the centre and, then that of the centre Left, rather than oppose the divorce. If the Catholics had said that they would have made no government if the non-Catholics had voted those laws, the coalition would have collapsed, but abortion and divorce would not have been passed.
Today many things have changed.
The error committed today is to have had the Bill on the Dico (protection of the individual fundamental rights of cohabitants) undersigned by, not only a non-Catholic, ex-communist like Barbara Pollastrini, but also by Rosy Bindi.