History comes close to home in case of slain Italian leader Aldo Moro

Forty years on from the crime, the assassination of Italy's most prominent politician of the 1960s and 1970s is still a scar on the nation's history. Through a chance discovery, Moro's death has also come back to haunt our Rome correspondent.


By Alvise Armellini,  In the 1970s, one of the watchwords of radical student and feminist movements was, "The personal is political." Forty years on, I discovered that this old slogan may apply to my connection with one of the darkest moments of Italy's postwar history.
Aldo Moro, a former prime minister and chairman of the Christian Democratic party, was kidnapped, held hostage and killed by the Red Brigades (BR), a left-wing terrorist group, in 1978. This Wednesday marks exactly 40 years since his bullet-riddled body was found in the boot of a red Renault 4 hatchback.
His tragic story is largely forgotten abroad, but in Italy it is still a big deal, as shown by the flurry of books, documentaries and articles that have come out in recent months. Picking up one of them, I was in for a shock.
"An Atom of Truth," by well-known political journalist Marco Damilano, recalls that the BR have long been suspected of having had a secret hideout near the Jewish Ghetto of Rome, close to the spot where terrorists dumped Moro's corpse.
It also mentions that a solid hypothesis - based on partial investigations carried by local police in 1978 and by a parliamentary committee of inquiry in the 1990s and 2000s - is that the secret location was inside an apartment bloc in Via Sant'Elena 8.
That's my address.
A quick Google search reveals that the suspected BR lair was flat 9, the one next to mine. I know it well: My wife and I were friends with the couple who lived there until recently. Other books on the Moro case suggest it may even have been the place where the statesman was assassinated.
It's a disturbing discovery. And it makes me reconsider what I said just a few weeks ago, at the book presentation where I bought Damilano's book. Raising my hand, I put it to the author that there was something unhealthy about the continuing Italian obsession with Moro.
People have been tried and convicted for the murder, but hordes of historians, researchers, journalists and researchers – including some pathological conspiracy theorists - are convinced that the case still contains many mysteries.
At the time of his kidnapping, Moro was engineering a so-called "historic compromise" between the Christian Democrats and the Italian Communist Party – a kind of grand coalition between what were, at the time, Italy's main ruling party and the biggest Communist force of the Western world.
Coming at the height of the Cold War, the move was more than politically risque, and neither the United States nor the Soviet Union looked favourably upon it. Hence, some have speculated that the US or Soviet secret services may have helped sabotage the operation – through the physical elimination of Moro.
I don't know about such theories; most likely nobody will ever know if they are true. I don't know either whether Italy would have become a more mature democracy if Moro had not been killed, as Damilano suggests in his book.
Many would posit that Moro's death was as big a national tragedy for Italy as the September 11 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers, or President John F Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, were for the United States.
I was not born yet when it happened, and until recently, I felt no special personal connection to the event, even if I have more than one family link to Moro: My father, a retired career diplomat, was the youngest member of Moro's cabinet when he was foreign minister in the late 60s and early 70s.
My mother-in-law, on the other hand, lived round the corner from where Moro's body was found, and remembers that, on that day, as she was pregnant with my wife, she struggled to get past police checkpoints on her way home.
Now, the revelation that Moro might have died where I have been living happily for the last five years – a neighbour told me the assassination could have happened in the cellar, if not in flat number 9 – is a chilling example of how close history can brush by us.
Sometimes, as close as the flat next door.


Sunday, May 6th 2018
By Alvise Armellini,

New comment:

News | Politics | Features | Arts | Entertainment | Society | Sport

At a glance