Thursday 28 May marks the fortieth anniversary of the murder of my father. After so long, the situation in which we have lived in recent years pushes me to make three reflections closely related to each other.
The first concerns the social context. I had already noticed, in the last ten years , how some aspects of the world we live in had not changed so much since the period in which my father died. In this year, however, the involution, in some aspects, has been so profound that in my opinion it recalls dangerously the context of “social laceration and contempt for human values” that my father had tried, with his work, to to oppose and that, in fact, was preparatory to his death. Those who lived in the seventies can remember well the tense atmosphere that was breathed. Violent incidents were part of the news almost every day. Even a child, like I was at the time, could understand it. Honestly, I would not have thought of returning to perceive a discomfort similar to that in our country, but perhaps I should not be surprised, given the amount of nostalgics of that period and its climate of “participation”.
Fortunately today we do not have episodes of physical violence like those of the time and I sincerely hope that they will not return. But in recent years the degradation of habits in the management of some social relationships , starting from the political and public debate, it was such as to make me perceive the risk of a return of violence as concrete. It has become rare to witness a discussion that does not degenerate into a verbal fight, with its protagonists screaming against each other. Insult and disrespectful teasing are no longer the exception, but the rule. They are the register of public conversations that progressively cleared the idea that to get applause, a vote or any form of consent, one can leverage the instincts, even the lowest, of people, rather than reason. That struggling to find complex solutions to complex problems, or forms of interaction with others that are respectful and that allow growth and improvement, are unnecessary habits to leave to those who can afford it because they have nothing else to do.
The book «Being able to understand, want to explain. Walter Tobagi forty years later », edited by Giangiacomo Schiavi, is on newsstands with the Corriere on 27 May at the price of € 8, 90 plus the cost of the newspaper
It is not so. Words have great value. In a context that seems objectively better than that of forty or fifty years ago , but in which new pockets of social unease emerge, we must not underestimate the power of the example that public behavior can have. And when I say public I don’t mean only those of public figures, but also the private ones, of each of us, exercised in public, in front of others. Because verbal violence is a bad thing, but even worse is to think that the boundary that separates verbal violence from physical violence can have as its main leverage the self-control of individuals in an environment in which certain actions could be considered, if not justified, commonly acceptable. In a context like today, my father would still die. It would end up isolated. Ostefied, as happened by someone forty years ago. Today as then, the voices of those who have the ambition to change the context with graduality, seriousness, ability and commitment are suffocated by those who just shout louder empty slogans over it that promise revolutions that, if not impossible, appear very unlikely to anyone who wants to apply some common sense and good manners. A pandemic served to temporarily stop the trend and focus on a more urgent emergency.
For this I am grateful to those who have wanted to remember my father publicly over the years, but I believe that remembering it must first of all be a private matter. Because the change that is needed, the “change of collective consciousness” that my father evoked in a letter to my mother that has been made public, can only start from individuals. From everyone’s will not to surrender to believe that doing things right or wrong is the same. Being competent or incompetent is the same. Look for shortcuts to avoid doing your homework to the fullest and doing the best job. Following the rules, small and large, for our civil coexistence or not following them is the same. It’s not the same.
The second concerns memory and values. Rightly, in recent decades, a great and meritorious work of reconstruction, memory and testimony has been carried out. On many things: there are many dark pages in history, even recently. Now we know more about the past. Greater knowledge is good, especially when it comes to bringing to light facts as little as possible filtered by personal opinions and emotions. Many people have dedicated themselves to this work of excavation, recovery of facts, testimony, and my personal gratitude goes to them, the greater the more accurate, extended and disinterested their commitment has been. Testifying, informing, telling stories and events without trying to condition in an inappropriate way is in fact a difficult and tiring task, which requires ability, competence and balance.
I believe that today we are facing a different challenge, which we must correctly frame in order to be able to face it with a good chance of success. It is very demanding, because it concerns the construction of individual value systems that form the basis of behavior. I think part of the embarrassment and degradation of which I spoke earlier is the result of a strong misalignment of values between different people and social groups. Culture, education, memory are an integral part of the process of building a personal identity and the value system of each of us, but they are not everything. Above all, they are not values per se and are not enough to create them. I try to explain myself better with examples.
In recent times we have witnessed serious regurgitations of anti-Semitism. A recent Eurispes report showed an unexpected spread of denialist beliefs in a minority – still too large – of the population. I fear that the problem is not the lack of knowledge. Memory and testimony can transform the past from something abstract into something concrete, into flesh and blood, which for at least thirty years has been part of the wealth of knowledge of Italians, even young people. But it was not enough. I am convinced that those who today have anti-Semitic beliefs or behaviors are, in the vast majority of cases, aware, at least superficially, of what happened in the past, of deportations and of the Holocaust. Paradoxically, even those who deny it must know it. The thing is, he probably doesn’t care. If one does not believe that certain events are horrible tragedies, inhuman behaviors, to be avoided at all costs, memory alone cannot do much. We must understand what can lead women and men to have certain convictions, and work to make them change their value system, so as to change them. I’m afraid that too often we confuse memory with values. We exchange behaviors that reveal the absence of a certain type of values with the lack of knowledge, which can at least begin to be filled with memory and testimony. But these are very different situations. Hearing young high school students praising terrorism, evoking the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro in choruses, finding written on the walls of schools that “after the years of lead only years of m ….”, obviously means that they do not ignore the past . They recall it with nostalgia, even if it is not known whether it is empty words, slogans or deeper convictions.
You never really know what goes on in the minds and souls of others. But if today many people are more inclined than in the past to devalue competence, to doubt facts, data, evidence rather than their own opinions, some questions must be asked. Denialists, outright conspiracy theorists, anti-vaccinists, nostalgic for a sad past seem to me to be different forms of the same phenomenon. I don’t know what to suggest to counter it. Families have an important role and responsibility, then schools, representatives of institutions and public figures. All those who think that civil progress involves non-violent and respectful behavior, also verbally, must put them into practice. They must be able to be observed. My little rule is that you educate yourself with the example before the words. That behaviors reveal values and preferences (yes: having studied economics in this case helps).
They are not original concepts and even my father had expressed them, speaking of his parents. But they are true. There is always someone watching us, starting with our children, who should be the most important audience, and the other people close to us, whom we usually care about. It is also important to understand that you are not alone in this effort and that we can all do something to support others. Even a gesture that seems small to those who make it, a simple word, but which shows care and kindness, can have a very great value for those who receive them. Knowing that there is someone who, even indirectly, shares our commitment can multiply energy, whatever you do. As for me, I have no words to say how fundamental my wife’s closeness and her daily and incessant work to raise our children in the values of commitment, responsibility, freedom, discipline in which we believe, as well as in the will to appreciate the beautiful things that life offers, and for having supported me in trying to put them into practice in my life. And at other times I was lucky to have people close by who were able to help me in some difficult situations.
The third consideration concerns intellectual honesty and the ability to commit without taking sides, without ideological adhesions. It is one of the most important lessons that my father left me with his example and for which I still admire him more today. The desire to be accepted, perhaps part of a group, is human and serves to make us feel good. But if the price to pay for this, especially when the possibility of expressing our thoughts or putting our skills to work is involved, is adherence to a doctrine, an ideology, a system of beliefs and beliefs that do not it’s ours, but someone else’s, it’s too tall. Because it forces us to take sides, no longer leaves us free, takes away lucidity and risks sacrificing respect for the lives of others in the name of ideology. A year ago I saw the reply of an interview of the BBC 1994, always considered an excellent example of public service and information, to the great historian Eric JE Hobsbawm (1917 – 2012), at the time of the publication of his excellent essay The short century . Having been a Hobsbawm member of the Communist Party for decades, his interviewer asked him how he could reconcile his historian activity with the acceptance of acts of violent and illiberal repression by communist regimes in various countries (which Hobsbawm disapproved of). The answer was that also for this reason he had chosen not to deal professionally with the Soviet Union. And, after a broad and reasoned conversation on these issues, faced with the direct question of whether to pursue the goal of the “radiant future” that communism promised was worth the millions of lives that had apparently been sacrificed for this purpose, the answer was a laconic monosyllable: yes. Yup.
Here, I instead think not. I am convinced that, despite the explanations, no ideology is worth all those human lives. Not even a lifetime. Not that of my father, nor that of any other person. Political violence is violence, but it is also political. Perhaps the time would have come to convince yourself that, when history confronts us with certain events, we should find the courage to admit that these are wrong ideas and ideologies, it is not enough to say that someone has made mistakes in applying them, or that some parts of them can lead to positive results. People are free to choose to spend their lives on the values they believe in, but this does not give others the right to take it away with violence. If we allow ourselves to be conditioned by ideological belonging or refusal to the point of embracing one extreme while avoiding another, if we accept to stop considering people as human beings, but we transform them into symbols, pawns, political objects, this that happened to my father will continue to happen.
Part of the value of my father’s example for me consists in the choice not to withdraw . I am not referring to the fact that he paid for this decision with his life. He managed to cultivate and testify his principles and convictions in his personal life and with his professional commitment, without this falling into a line that would have compromised his objectivity, his rigor and his humanity. Which in the end are the reasons why he was killed. He did not give up applying himself to understand the time in which he lived. He did not give up his political views, but chose to refuse an official political membership in order to be able to work well and feel free. To know and reveal the dynamics with which the terrorists hoped to condition the life of our country and take away from those who read it at least a little of the fear that arises from the difficulty in interpreting reality.
I believe that until there is a widespread individual will to move decisive steps in these directions , people like my father will still be able to find barred roads and obstacles in their path. Perhaps they will have to continue to pay for their commitment and the choice not to betray their values and conscience with their lives.
In past years I have tried to highlight the aspects, still current, related to his life. This particular year, marked by a pandemic that we will remember and which rightly requires the utmost attention, with containment measures it tests everyone’s civic spirit and sense of responsibility. I started writing these thoughts around my father’s birthday. Perhaps, in a 2020 from the round anniversary of his disappearance, all the people who want to remember him could give him a gift and ask himself once more what they can do, one by one, to create a daily context of mutual respect, to prevent certain situations, which to some extent have contributed to creating the conditions for his death, from being repeated.
An example of civil journalism: the volume edited by Giangiacomo Schiavi
Released Wednesday 27 May on newsstands with the « Corriere della Sera »the book Being able to understand, want to explain. Walter Tobagi forty years later , edited by Giangiacomo Schiavi, at the price of € 8, 90 plus the cost of the newspaper. The volume, which opens with the introductory speeches by Ferruccio de Bortoli, Giangiacomo Schiavi, Benedetta Tobagi and Venanzio Postiglione, will remain on newsstands for a month. It contains an anthology of articles written by Walter Tobagi on terrorism, labor problems, intellectual debate. Each piece is accompanied by a contribution updated on the same theme: the signatures are those of Umberto Ambrosoli, Pierluigi Battista, Giovanni Bianconi, Isabella Bossi Fedrigotti, Marzio Breda, Aldo Cazzullo, Francesco Cevasco, Paolo Di Stefano, Dario Di Vico, Luigi Ferrarella, Antonio Ferrari, Paolo Foschini, Piergaetano Marchetti, Fiorenza Sarzanini.