Strong with the Weak, Weak with the Strong

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Review of 'The Moro Affair', Leonardo Sciascia, Granta £7.99

Leonardo Sciascia was one of Italy's greatest modern artists. He was also a member of the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry set up in March 1978 to investigate the kidnapping and subsequent killing by the Red Brigades of the former prime minister and president of the ruling Christian Democratic Party, Aldo Moro. He produced a report that raised questions that the Italian state did not want asked. This book contains his report and also his analysis of the Moro affair. Sciascia uses all his skill as a novelist to produce a powerful indictment of the Italian state and of the Christian Democrats in particular. They effectively signed Moro's death warrant.

Moro himself was a crucial fixer in the faction-ridden Christian Democrats who had run Italy since the war. Moro was kidnapped, and his escort killed, as he left his flat in central Rome to 'consecrate' a new government which would have the external support of the Communist Party. The Communists would not join the government, but would be consulted, and in exchange vote in its support.

The Italian Communist Party was the biggest of the Western Communist Parties and by 1978, having considerably loosened its ties to Moscow, was well down the road towards becoming another social democratic party. Yet even this limited involvement of the Communists in the governance of Italy created consternation among the secret services, the right wing of the Christian Democrats and in Washington.

Sciascia notes that after years of self advancement and corruption the leaders of the Christian Democracts were suddenly affected by 'state idolatry' when Moro began asking if there could be an exchange of prisoners or some other concessions which might save his life. His key rival in the party, Andreotti, ruled out any concessions, arguing that they would harm the Italian state. In this he was backed by the Communist Party and the Vatican.

Sciascia quotes a former Socialist leader as saying, 'The Italian state is strong with the weak and weak with the strong.' His friends and enemies alike now rushed to declare that 'the Moro who speaks from the "People's Prison" is not the Moro we knew'. When his letters got too embarrassing they suppressed them.

The minority report reproduced here is a powerful indictment of the Italian state. Moro's police escort believed they had been tailed and had repeatedly requested an armour-plated high speed car to no avail. The kidnapping was carried out in an area that would normally be bristling with police. Afterwards the police mounted a huge operation the length and breadth of the country but, as one senior officer admitted, it was 'for show'. Mass arrests were made of leftists including Communist Party members who backed the 'war on terrorism'. All were released. The police did get to the door of a crucial Red Brigades hideout but did not enter (unlike virtually everywhere else) because the neighbours assured them that the absent occupants were 'decent people'.

Despite the huge numbers of police on the streets the Red Brigades were able to dump the kidnap car in the centre of Rome, issue numerous statements and deliver Moro's letters to high profile figures and newspapers. One key suspect was picked up (no attempt was made to trail him) and then released. The phone call to a close friend of Moro announcing his execution was made from Rome's main train station, where there is a police station, and lasted three minutes, but there was no attempt to trace it.

Sciascia concludes that 'Moro had been condemned to death--by the Red Brigades directly and indirectly by the Christian Democratic Party'.

All of this may sound very Machiavellian, but conspiracy theories are not so out of place in Italy. The killing of Moro was a crucial event in the unleashing of a war against terrorism that had the full backing of the Communists and the unions. A powerful, insurgent movement had engulfed Italy in the years after 1969. By 1978 it was in decline. The war on terrorism was used to isolate the left and individual militants and would allow the employers to go on the offensive after Moro' s killing.