Marco Pannella, born in 1930, was a civil rights fighter, a laic and liberal intellectual. From divorce to abortion, from prison to euthanasia, to moral objection and to information, Pannella seeded in Italy ideas related to cultural emancipation in a political system that has never recognized his role as a critical conscience. Pannella died Thursday. A commemoration is being held in Piazza Navona today.
I think I am the still-living person who has known Marco Pannella for the longest period of time. Many of our contemporary friends have already passed away (surely into Paradise), and the younger ones haven’t had the tough privilege of a friendship/enmity like ours, which began in the academic year 1947 and ‘48.
We met during our first year at the faculty of law of what today is called La Sapienza but, back then, was simply the University of Rome because, during those times, there was just one and no specifications were needed.
It was still full of fascists, including the rather violent ones, gathered in the “Caravella” group, and a large number of very moderate Catholics lead by Raniero la Valle (now, luckily, more left-winger than I am).
Both me and Marco were on the other side, laics and anti-fascists, but I was already a communist, while he was a liberal-democrat.
We’ve remained like this throughout our entire lives.
We started immediately as adversaries; there were the first elections for the inter-faculty, the student’s parliament, and I was a candidate together with Enrico Manca, a socialist (then a major leader in the Italian Socialist Party and also the chairman of the Italian RAI), for the C.U.D.I. list (Italian University Democratic Center, in which all the left identified itself), he for the list to which he gave, as he usually did, an extravagant name: “The Pacifier,” which was an emanation of the already very famous Goliardic Union, the UGI.
Marco was the chairman of this organization for a decade, and he had the merit of having politicized it, thus the entire laic leading class of the first Republic came out from within its ranks in the ‘60s (for the good and the bad of the country). We communists too ended up merging in the UGI, in the middle of the ‘50s, when the separation of the world which, after April 18, 1948, had confined us in the excluded part, was shattered and we became normal, including in the universities. I joined too, overcoming, with some difficulties, the hate left in me by the UGI at the first important meeting: At the first national congress of the UNURL (the National Students’ Parliament), when I dared to speak and was welcomed by a male choir (there were almost no women at all) screaming toward me “catwalk, catwalk.” To intervene was for me like doing a strip-tease is for a woman. Luckily I was tough, otherwise I would have never spoken again my entire life. Marco, anyway — although he was the chairman — had nothing to do with those screams, but he was the one who redeemed the organization and we all believe he deserves all the merits for it.
Not only that, he dealt throughout his entire life with issues related to women, especially since the birth of the Radical Party and Emma’s appearance on the horizon.
I met Marco again properly thanks to the issues related to divorce and abortion, and I can say I’ve spent almost my entire life beside him. First in the struggles during the university years, in which both I and he participated personally until old age, him because he was the UGI’s irreplaceable leader, I because I was the manager of the “New Generation,” which, being the Communist Youth Federation’s weekly, had the obligation to follow the events related to the students. After that, except for a short “vacation” between the ‘50s and ‘60s (when Marco moved to Paris and he dealt a lot with Algeria) because of the explosion of the issues related to divorce, when the radicals were the diamond tip of the struggle in favor of the first law signed by the Socialist Member of Congress Loris Fortuna.
We struggled once again on the same front but, once again, quarreling. I was working in Botteghe Oscure, in the women section with Nilde Jotti, tasked with convincing a very conservatory Communist Party about the issue being at hand, well convinced that, if the right to interrupt a marriage would not have been accompanied by a reform of the Family Law that recognized some rights to the woman (to housing, to the financial acknowledgment of her contribution to the house’ economy even as a housewife, etc.) the eventual victory would have been a disaster for the great majority.
We didn’t even agree on abortion for which, nonetheless, we struggled, again, together: the radicals wanted more, we, from the PDUP-Manifesto considered the law obtained — the most advanced in all of Europe because maternity leave would have been ensured and, therefore, it assured the women without the financial means — as something to protect; and, in fact, we lined up when, after that, the clerics promoted the referendum to abolish it.
In the meanwhile, in 1976, we were voted in the Chamber of Deputies; the radicals with four deputies, us, with a left wing list called Proletarian Democracy, with six.
Groups that small had never been seen in the parliament, and there weren’t even the spaces to house them. The officials tried for a long time to convince us 10 to stay together: We resolutely refused from both sides and the management in Montecitorio was forced to erect a dividing wall in a large environment, evacuating, among the others, the poor Bozzi, leader of an historical party, the Liberal one who, in that session, had only two congressmen.
(The 1953 Scam Law having, we thought, been definitely defeated, we were light years from guessing that, one day, the Italicum would have arrived, to deprive the country of the contribution given by people like us.)
The toughest period in my relationship with Marco Pannella started a few years later, in 1979, when we found each other in the first directly elected European Parliament.
Even though it was for five years for the first time, we remained in the same group. Which, nonetheless, prudently, and well aware of our different views of the world, we decided to call “Technical Coordination Group.” In order to underline the fact that, when we were united, it was just because of the need, as Strasbourg’s regulation did not allow for mini-aggregations.
Together with the Flemish nationalists, with Antoinette Spaak, a Belgian socialist dissident and with an Irish deputy near to the IRA, we’ve gone through the new Institution’s first legislature, disagreeing on many things: on Arafat, against whom the radicals organized demonstrations when he entered the European Parliament for the first time, guest of the socialist group; and, then, on the vote to recognize Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (while he was still in jail). Both times because guerrillas were in countries — Israel and South Africa — where there was a nice parliament.
They’ve been tough struggles, like the one on financing to the parties, and in contrast with the unions, called “Trimurti.”
In a few words, as you can understand from this recollection: a life together but, nonetheless, never in agreement. Nonetheless, we were never enemies, and not only that, we were humanly friends: particularly with Emma but, also, with the impossible Marco.
I loved him and I think he loved me too. We were always happy when we happened to meet each other.
I acknowledge his merits in having popularized, bringing them to public attention, the issues on which no political force has been involved enough, especially the issue of jails.
His honesty and his stubbornness in the struggle in favor of moral causes are a political richness of our time.
If we fought a lot, it’s because we’ve been divided by a political culture each one of us could not renounce and was, from many aspects, distant one from the other, but never so much as to not see each other, in the end, as being part of the same society. Different, because of a view of democracy: as an absolute individual freedom for him, the prevailing of the “us” over the “I” for me.
Oh God: it has always been a serious political fight: and this is why now that he’s gone, I feel not only a personal pain but, also, a political sadness; for the nostalgia of a time in which we, almost 90 years old, lived, which has been a beautiful period, because politics is beautiful. When it’s truly politics. It is when everyone feels the need, the responsibility to get involved, to make the world a better place.
Marco Pannella must be remembered for this; and it’s a lot.
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