Terrorists under French protection

The terrorists, who were in France at the invitation of President Mitterrand, made the public believe that there was a kind of war going on in Italy in the 1970s, which they admittedly lost, but they were morally right and their intentions as pure as possible.

At the end of March, the French Court of Cassation ruled against the extradition to Italy of ten former terrorists from what is known in Italy as the anni di piombo - the years of lead, which span two decades: from 1970 to 1990. The 1970s were at their hottest, while in the 1980s terrorist acts were less frequent, as the most dangerous organisations were broken up by the police. In turn, the police's successes were possible because of the use of crown witness legislation originally created to combat the Mafia.

Forgiveness of guilt

Most of the ten mentioned above are former members of the notorious Red Brigades, although there are also veterans of other organisations in this group. Hardly surprising, in the 'best' year of leftist terror, 1978, there were as many as 269 of them.

The excerpts from the justification of the verdict given in the French press, followed by the world media, are interesting. Among other things, one can read that: "These refugees have established stable families in France, so extradition would entail disproportionately harmful consequences for their private and family life".

During the years of lead, the terrorists protected by France today killed and permanently maimed (a speciality of the Red Brigades - shots to the knees) people they considered to be against the happiness of the proletariat. The harmful consequences for the private and family lives of the victims, however, did not catch the attention of the French Court of Cassation. It was a long time ago, and as we say in Poland about things that no longer matter - long ago and not true.

And red terror, and the corresponding black one, claimed some 450 lives and more than four thousand injured in Italy.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE Attempts to explain the motives behind left-wing terrorism - mainly Italian, but also German - have taken up many pages of paper, which does not mean that then and now anything can be understood from these explanations. Partially, in elements and fragments and aspects yes, but for someone who lived through those years on our side of the Iron Curtain it is still exotic.

The Red Terror, and the corresponding Brown Terror, claimed some 450 lives in Italy.

On this better, in every respect, side of the Iron Curtain, and especially in France, Italy had a reputation as an illegitimate and authoritarian regime. And never mind that a country where, from the end of the war to the time of Silvio Berlusconi, most governments statistically lasted less than a year - 42 governments were counted in the 40th anniversary year of the Italian Republic - was poorly suited to a police state. The French left thought otherwise. This probably explains the fact that former Italian left-wing terrorists, despite in absentia sentences against them in their homeland, were able to enjoy freedom in France and cultivate the virtues of family life. All Italian extradition requests were rejected by the French authorities, which did not improve mutual relations in other respects.

France's attitude changed somewhat after 11 September 2001, and certainly after the attacks by Islamic terrorists in Paris. In relation to a recent extradition request, the French interior minister said: "Could we ever accept that any of the Bataclan bombers should flee to Italy to live there peacefully for 40 years?"

The request for the ten mentioned at the beginning of the text received the approval of President Emmanuel Macron and his foreign minister. However, the extraterritorialists appealed to the court and won in a multi-instance procedure.

It has been brought to the attention of the prosecution and the public that one of the former terrorists is an interpreter, another a restaurateur, another an artisan, and all of them have rooted themselves in France, and - obviously - have renounced violence.

If a thug renounces violence in his old age, of course this affects the court's opinion, but he must serve his time. If, on the other hand, a fighter for a better tomorrow for humanity, it is to be forgiven - so think French, and not only, leftist intellectuals.

The Mitterrand Doctrine

One example of this thinking is the attitude towards Cesare Battisti, former terrorist of the Armed Proletarians for Communism. Battisti is serving a double life sentence in Italy because Interpol went to Bolivia for him a few years ago. Therefore, he was no longer in the group on which the last sentence was handed down.

Battisti left home and school as a 17-year-old. He took up stealing and burglary. While serving a three-year sentence in the early 1970s, he was made politically aware by an older fellow inmate. After his release from prison, he therefore did the same things as before, but on a larger scale and already with an anti-capitalist motivation as a revolutionary and avenger. He personally shot dead two 'enemies of the proletariat' and took part in many other murders and assaults, i.e. 'popular dispossessions'.

France protected him for many years under the informal Francois Mitterrand doctrine - the two-time French president offered asylum for renouncing violence.
Cesare Battisti was arrested in Brazil in 2007. He later fled to Bolivia. Photo by Jamil Bittar / Reuters / Forum
When the winds unfavourable to terrorists blew and the Mitterrand doctrine became obsolete, Battisti was taken into custody in 2004. For his release, a letter to the authorities was signed by almost 1,500 intellectuals, including Bernard Henri-Levy, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Roberto Saviano. According to them, Battisti is "a man of integrity, endowed with exceptional intellectual strength, whose modest life was full of difficulties and sacrifices".

In France, Cesare Battisti wrote thirteen well-selling crime novels and was the star of TV studios as an expert on left-wing terrorism. He got out of detention and, with the help of French friends, fled first to Mexico and then to Brazil, where he was granted asylum by leftist President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva. After Lula lost power, Battisti had to flee to Bolivia and there he was finally, after many years, arrested by Interpol.

Battisti was considered a left-wing activist around whom an aura of a romantic fighter for the happiness of humanity had grown. When he confessed to the murders after his capture in 2019, one French writer publicly declared that he was certainly innocent, because a man like him could not have lived so many years in a lie.

The terrorists, who were in France at the invitation of President Mitterrand, made the public believe that there was a kind of war going on in Italy in the 1970s, which, although they lost, they were the ones who were morally right and had the purest possible intentions.

Political refugees? Marina Petrella, one of the former Red Brigades terrorists defended against extradition in March this year, spoke to the media ahead of the final trial. She stated that the families of their victims have already received satisfaction, as some of her colleagues in Italy are still serving sentences. " This idolisation of the victims is a big philosophical step backwards - Italy is not a country that can account for its history," she announced.

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Petrella, accused of involvement in the kidnapping and assassination of multiple prime minister and minister of many departments, Christian Democracy leader Aldo Moro in 1978, added: " We are coming to the end. I have lived all these years in great pain. Pain and compassion for the victims, for all the victims. For all the families, including mine." Threatened with arrest, the exterrorist was not allowed to visit Italy. She further stated that her generation, born just after the war, felt they were heirs to the anti-fascist partisans.

Instead, the real guerrilla was General Enrico Riziero Calvaligi, whom the Red Brigades shot in retaliation for the bloodless suppression of a mutiny in one of the prisons. Petrella was in the leadership of the Red Brigades at the time and is responsible for the general's death. When she was threatened with her first extradition to her homeland during Nicolas Sarcozy's presidency, the always subtly elegant Carla Bruni successfully intervened in her case for her husband. All veterans of the Italian Red Terror enjoy respect in French salons and are considered 'political refugees'.

A revolution like Lenin's

In their homeland, if they serve time, it is usually in the semi-open system as a reward for good behaviour. And it should come as no surprise to learn that two now respected doctors from Milan, as medical students in the 1970s, clubbed a technical school student to death with nut keys for a critical judgement about the Red Brigades expressed in an essay. Before that, the boy had to change schools as a result of ostracism from his peers. The sentences for the gentlemen doctors could not have been long.

In Italian opinion-forming circles and among the intelligentsia, leftism, including terrorism, had had an overwhelming advantage since at least 1968. There was no Paris May Day atmosphere in Italy. Growing like mushrooms, organisations made up mostly of students, combining with criminal elements, started by brawling at endless demonstrations with political opponents. Around 1974, they started shooting at state officials - police officers and other bureaucrats - and businessmen. The Red Brigadists believed that by doing so they were attacking the 'centre of the state' and revolution according to Lenin, Mao and Herbert Marcuse - whose thoughts were mixed in cocktail in increasingly rambling leaflets - was at hand.
During the kidnapping of Aldo Moro, all the officers protecting him were killed. Photo: Wikimedia
Tensions between employers and workers were discharged in strikes, but there the Italian Communist Party and communist trade unions ruled. The lack of support from the working class and the sympathy of the rallying class - in the Italian universities it was mainly debated for years - resulted in the radicalisation of left movements.

Targets for attacks were selected more and more carelessly. In the Armed Proletarians for Communism, for example, a prison car driver was singled out for bringing 'activists' from prison for interrogation, simply because he was once shown on television as he got out of the carriage. He was killed as an enemy of the revolution. Died at the same hands were a shopkeeper who called the police on a drug addict stealing from him and a jeweller who refused to hand over a jewellery box he happened to have with him in a raided restaurant. The bad luck of the proletarians was that the jeweller was also carrying a pistol and put one of the attackers dead, while the rest escaped. A squad of avengers later visited him in his shop. The same thing happened to the shopkeeper, who, although he opened the cash register drawer at the attackers' request, had a gun in it in addition to the money. Again, revenge for the 'fallen' comrade followed. Were these strikes against the hated, supposedly oppressive state, which is an emanation of sinister multinational corporations?

Sectarian viciousness with an insane ideology and isolation from real social problems condemned leftist organisations to a dead end from the start. Personality-wise, too, these were people in whom a compulsive urge to act at all costs prevails. There was no time for reflection, probably not much opportunity either, and the ruthlessness and cruelty was due to the lateness of this generation - born after the war - to really fight against Italian fascism and the German occupation of the country after 1943. They all repeat - what is known from the French extradition trial - that they were like partisans, they were right, but they lost the "war".

The war is over, they don't shoot any more, so what is it really about? They are innocent and persecuted. The French judiciary and opinion elites think so too. The executive with President Macron may have come to a different conclusion, but it strangely led to an extradition procedure before the presidential election, when Emmanuele Macron had to fight an increasingly powerful Marine Le Pen for a second term.

– Krzysztof Zwoliński – Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

Main photo: Banner with photos of Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro and his security officers who were assassinated in 1978 by Red Brigades terrorists. Photo by Alessandro Garofalo / Reuters / Forum
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