While all of the events are fresh, too fresh, I somehow still want to reply to a few friends of mine who had asked me what was the spirit in Italy, following the assassination of Nicola Calipari, the secret agent who freed the Italian reporter Giuliana Sgrena at the hands of the United States Armed Forces.
I’ve been reading the papers for hours, seeing the news and had gone through all the emotions that almost all of the other Italians did watching Giuliana return home at noon, reduced to a bundle of nerves and visibly shaken from the events of especially the previous day, and then, twelve hours later, seeing the casket of the agent whose work freed her and who was killed just minutes before bringing her to safety.
The state of mind is shaken by all of this. I’m not a bit surprised by the incongruencies of it all, because those of us who have always been against the war have known that there were few unimbedded journalists, and we were informed of what the war story in Iraq was largely due to Giuliana. We knew that she was not considered a friend by the US, and the idea that they would want to have her done away with didn’t seem that out of the ordinary. Many blogs and sites have picked up the major elements of this terrible story, the accusations launched by Pier Scolari, Giuliana’s partner, and one who had mobilised the entire country to march in favour of her liberation. He had spoken his mind and had shown the photos of Iraqi children seriously injured by American unconventional weapons, cluster bombs which cut through metal as if it were a warm knife going through butter. Releasing its hundreds of pellets, one can imagine that it cuts through soft tissue just as mercilessly. Giuliana had these pictures and Pier showed them to the entire country.
The surprises began when on a television show Saturday night Pier said that when he had asked Berlusconi how he should talk to the media, whether he should conceal information for security reasons, and Berlusconi told him to “tell the truth”, he said, “Had Berlusconi told me to hide information, I would have”. That was a little surprising, but understandble. There is an investigation on three counts of Attempted Homicide and one of Voluntary Homicide against the soldiers on duty, so of course, there was information that needed to be conserved in order to keep the investigation reserved. There is also the need to protect the other agents working in Iraq for the liberation of other hostages and for the release of the body of Enzo Baldoni. But still… those words put a freeze over my heart. They were words I wish I didn’t hear. Yet, it was strangely comforting to hear that Berlusconi said, “tell the truth”…..
I’ve been trying to figure this one out for a few hours. I am looking at some papers with quotes from Berlusconi (undated, but they could have been from any date at all, for how true they are to his platform), “I agree with the United States even before I know what is on their mind”, the Italian Prime Minister said. Italy has demonstrated itself to be the US’s lapdog in the Iraq war, and against an almost total popular disapproval to the war, Italy decided to participate.
There is a lot to be said yet, and later, I will try to sum up some thoughts on it, but what I think is important to consider from this change in tactic of Berlusconi is something which may have passed unobserved to the eyes of non-Italians. As in many national tragedies, there is an attempt to gather up a sense of patriotism. Some of it comes naturally, as in this case, everyone, left right and centre, feels pain for the loss of the agent who freed Giuliana. We all feel anger that it was the Americans who shot 300 or 400 bullets into the car for no reason at all, (no reason that is legitimate, that is). We feel a sense of helplessness, of being stuck in a trap, in a situation that does us no good and will do us no good, and that we have to get out of it somehow.
I think the element to consider is the patriotism wave that Berlusconi is riding. He is not looking for a pullout of Iraq, as that is not his intention whatsoever, and it probably will not come about. What he is looking for is to capture that sentiment of national unity (rare in Italy) and to utilise it somehow. So, he for a moment asks the US embassador to give an explanation. He says that those are responsible for this tragedy must assume their responsibility. I don’t think he means anything more than the soldiers stationed at that checkpoint. He certainly does not expect accountability on any superior level, but for a while, a few days, he looks like a real Italian. Someone who thinks like we do, cares about the things we care about, suffers for the insanity of a life lost in vain. He gives his friends a good scolding, then once the dust has settled, “amici come prima” as we say here, “friends like before”.
He may be doing this because of the regional elections coming up on 2 and 3 April. This is a possibility. If he barks loudly, he looks like he is defending the autonomy of Italy. He doesn’t have to actually DO anything, and in a few days, this will blow over, and things will get back to normal.
That is why it is important to put pressure on this government, to demonstrate, as if there were any more need to do so, that our involvement in this illegal, insane, evil war is not positive. It has got to end, and the sooner the better. Tomorrow will be the State Funeral of Dott. Calipari. He died as a hero, and I don’t feel strange saying something so rhetorical. Without firing a shot, he freed a hostage who was doing a humanitarian service of informing the West of the horrors of war. He threw himself over her body to protect her. To protect her from our friends.