What will the violence in Milan have done: perhaps, to limit our basic freedoms?

A reflection in the aftermath of the clashes in Milan on May 1 after the Expo protests. What will the violence have been for? We try to give an answer to the question...

Let us start with a premise: violence is never justifiable. And starting from this premise, let us add a corollary: especially when it harms an idea to the advantage, instead, of those who deviously entrench themselves behind a familiar and reassuring mask, hiding, however, wickednesses, big doubts, and opaque interests. In Milan, in the past few days, we have witnessed yet another episode of this all-too-media Manichaeism that this time pittedExpo and its supporters on one side, and on the opposite side of the barricade the protesters, the dissidents, those who point the finger at everything Expo hides in terms of precariousness, exploitation, corruption, debts and so on.

In short, Expo versus noExpo. But the reality, of course, is much more complex, and never as in these cases is it necessary to read between the nuances instead of dividing everything into black and white. While it is true that the Expo is a potential showcase of humanity’s progress, it is also true that it has been set up to the tune of debt, unclear allocations and land concreting, that it enjoys the sponsorships of multinationals that operate questionable corporate policies, and that it relies on the often underpaid when not free labor of hundreds of young people (to whom we, moreover, give advice: if you like working for free, do it for those in need). And while it is true that the protesters’ movements do their meritorious best to get across to the people all that an event like the Expo conceals, it is also true that they are not without fault: for example, an official, clear and unequivocal stand against the May Day violence has not yet appeared on the official website of the No Expo Committee.

The despicable devastation took place just as we were celebrating Labor Day, and as we were recalling how the custom of celebrating May Day was due precisely to the sacrifice of eight innocent people condemned as a result of an attack of which, one hundred and twenty-nine years later, the real perpetrator is still unknown. But that was enough to trigger a harsh crackdown on specific political groups. The parallels, even with due proportion, immediately spring to mind, along with so many unresolved episodes in recent history. We will probably never know who was behind the black suits of the elusive black blocs who put a helpless Milan to the sword the other day, mostly harming unarmed citizens to whom all our solidarity goes. Just as we have yet to know who were those who organized the same scenes of devastation in Genoa in 2001. But we know very well that, who paid for those devastations fourteen years ago, were dozens of innocent people who suffered furious beatings, insults of all kinds, and in some cases even torture, both physical and psychological. Just as we have yet to know who were the real instigators of the massacres during the years of the strategy of tension. But we know very well that hundreds of people who had nothing to do with it lost their lives, and that often people who were totally uninvolved in the events passed as guilty, suffering, moreover, the shame of continuing to be blamed even after their demise.

Gli scontri di Milano
The clashes in Milan. Photo by VVox distributed under a Creative Commons license.

These days, paying the price for what happened in Milan on May 1 is the entire No Expo movement. Little does it matter that it is a movement composed for the vast majority of peaceful people, who have everything in mind except fueling violence. Because fueling violence, for a movement of dissent, would be counterproductive and stupid. Violence always plays into the hands of the powerful, as journalist Maurizio Novellino admirably explained in an editorial that appeared May 2 in La Comune. “Violence is always harmful to ordinary people and their interests and always only plays into the hands of masters and the powerful. To be clear, even those who profit from the dirty business of theExpo and the agribusiness monopolies that starve the people.” The press close to the government and, in general, to parties of the conservative area, did not miss the opportunity to thrust before the eyes of millions of Italians the sad (and untruthful) dichotomy between good and bad, which is hastily and hypocritically resolved into a contrast between, on the one hand, the good tourists queuing to get in to see the pavilions, the politicians talking about a “great festival,” the children’s choirs singing the national anthem, the big event that aims to find ways to defeat world hunger, and, on the other side, the no-good protesters, the idle students, the ill-dressed ignorant screamers, and, of course, the invisible violent people behind their black suits, helmets, and balaclavas.

The message is insidious. The No Expo writings, affixed by the violent men on the walls of half of Milan, call up the name of the protesters’ committees and induce easy and shallow associations of ideas, which find their outlet through insults muttered by “good people” on the No Expo committees’ Facebook pages. Thus, posts that try to open their eyes to how an event that would like to promote quality food is sponsored by a company that produces the worst junk food, or how the young people called to work at Expo are exploited and paid paltry wages, or how the spaces set up for Expo have resulted in acres of arable land being lost, they become the venting ground for Sunday moralists who, comfortably seated in their armchairs and adequately hidden behind their keyboards, wish, even on the quietest and most harmless protesters, massive doses of truncheons, or evoke the worst figures in the history of Italy from Unification to the present, from Bava Beccaris to Mussolini. And the “good people” who wish truncheons on the protesters can only welcome the liberticidal proposals of the politicians we find ourselves.

Because if history teaches us one thing, it is that acts of violence such as those in Milan have always provided an opportunity for power to propose legislation to limit the freedom of citizens. Or, at least, to discuss the possibility of introducing them. And so here comes the Minister of the Interior, Angelino Alfano, launching a proposal to introduce preventive bans, giving prefects the power to prevent risky demonstrations in historic centers. The dangerousness of such a proposal and the damage it could cause to freedom of expression are glaring, but despite this there are already laughs of well-thinkers who are welcoming the proposal that will remove protesters from historic centers, so that the well-thinker can conduct his Sunday walk without thinking about the fact that his neighbor might be someone who is worse off than he is, because he may have lost his job, and who is therefore demanding more rights for everyone. Even for the well-wisher who, despite no one wishing him well, could or might have been in a similar situation.

It has been said before that dissent is certainly not blameless, but it is also true that dissent cannot be instrumentalized, nor pointed to as solely responsible for the violence perpetrated by bangs whose objectives and especially whose real identity we do not even know well. And instrumentalization must not leave the way open for the restriction of fundamental freedoms. Associating vandals’ graffiti with protesters’ movements is also a way to trigger repression. Not distinguishing between peaceful and violent protesters, making it appear that they all belong to the same faction and all pursue the same goals, is another way to trigger repression. And of course, advocating measures to restrict the freedom to demonstrate is an even too thinly veiled form of repression. Dissent should make its stenting voice heard both against repression, because we cannot allow our freedom to be curtailed, and against violence, because we cannot allow the latter to become a tool for letting laws that might limit our basic freedoms run free.

Warning: the translation into English of the original Italian article was created using automatic tools. We undertake to review all articles, but we do not guarantee the total absence of inaccuracies in the translation due to the program. You can find the original by clicking on the ITA button. If you find any mistake,please contact us.