It is no coincidence that the victims of political barbarism of our time are so often people who write and aspire to write for il manifesto. Except for Giuliana Sgrena, a staff writer who suffered the now-familiar dramatic story in Iraq, neither Vittorio Arrigoni, who was killed in Gaza after having written several stories for us, nor Giulio Regeni, who had just begun to approach il manifesto and considered it his “newspaper of record in Italy,” were journalists.
That’s because — with exceptions such as staff writers Anna Maria Merlo, Michele Giorgio, Luca Celada, Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan, Geraldina Colotti and not to mention “historical” employees like Roberto Livi — almost all of the authors of our many reports from abroad are written by “part-time” journalists. They’re almost all young people writing from countries where they’re studying on Erasmus grants, as graduate students, researchers or aid workers.
With all due respect to my fellow professional journalists, I must say that the work of our “correspondents” has a special quality: It is the result of daily immersion in the societies in which they live. Because of this, they can give a deeper sense of the experience that can only come from everyday human relationships, and friendships, far apart from the political and institutional realm. One of them was Simone Pieranni, now a pillar of our foreign desk, who landed in our central office two years ago after working in China for eight years as a researcher and freelancer.
One could say that the financial poverty of our newspaper sharpens our wits. The inability to send staff correspondents to a select few permanent bureaus has offered us an alternative resource that, I can say without vanity, makes il manifesto’s foreign reportage among the best.
This is not, mind you, exploitation of independent laborers. They themselves do not feel like journalists, and often they have no intention of taking up this line of work. They are people who like to stay in touch with those back in Italy and discover the world, both its ugliness and its beauty.
But those who travel the globe are naturally more exposed to the risks of local repression, as are the native citizens with whom they have close relations. Sometimes they end up sharing the same fate. Regeni’s case is the dramatic evidence.
All the more dramatic when you consider that Regeni was perfectly aware of what he risked by writing on the sensitive question of labor rights in Egypt, where just a few years ago an extensive wave of strikes was crushed by the military regime. By email, he asked us to sign the article, for him and his companions, with a pseudonym as a precaution.
On Friday, after his death, we published his last dispatch under his real name. By then every precaution was unnecessary, and it would have been absurd not to tell the world why Regeni died, a testament to his courage and that of all those who work in difficult conditions around the world.
We owed it to Regeni, not only because his writing is the clearest proof of the political character of all the murders that Egyptian authorities try to explain otherwise, but also more generally to bear witness to the important role played by so many people in distant and difficult countries, who are not resigned to busy themselves with private affairs, but endeavor to change the world.
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