Tag Archives: History

Cosa fare con le tracce scomode del nostro passato

Roma è una città fascista. La frase potrebbe suonare come una bestemmia. Probabilmente lo è. Ma il fatto è che nella storia della capitale sono evidenti le tracce del ventennio. Chi abita nella capitale lo sa bene, i fasci littori spuntano stampigliati sui tombini quando meno ce lo aspettiamo, compaiono su un ponte o in alcuni murales. Spesso quando andiamo in una scuola, all’università o in un ufficio postale incappiamo in qualche palazzo d’epoca che presenta segni più o meno occulti del passaggio del regime. Molte delle case in cui abitiamo sono state costruite negli anni trenta e nei cortili di certi palazzi è visibile la grande M di Mussolini.

C’è l’ombra del fascismo anche nei nomi delle strade. A volte ci capita di attraversarne alcune che rimandano a conquiste coloniali o, peggio, abitiamo in vie dedicate a feroci gerarchi. Quel passato di violenza e coercizione insomma è ancora tra noi, vivo nello spazio urbano. È un passato che contamina il presente e che se non viene discusso può provocare danni alle generazioni future.

In occidente il dibattito sui monumenti con un portato storico “pesante” si apre ciclicamente, spesso dopo una qualche azione pubblica. Il dilemma è sempre lo stesso: rimuovere o non rimuovere quelle tracce funeste? Quale azione è più efficace?

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Posted by on June 12, 2020 in European Union


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The Dangerous History of Immunoprivilege

Late last month, a conservative website called The Federalist published an article advocating that healthy, young Americans deliberately infect themselves with Covid-19, as part of a national “controlled voluntary infection” strategy meant to build “herd immunity.” If enough Americans expose themselves to the virus and become immune, the theory goes, the country would have a mobilized cadre of immune citizens. This immune elect could reopen businesses, return to work, and save the American economy.

The article was widely discredited by public health experts and economists, as both logically dubious and ethically specious, but such thinking has already metastasized. The likes of Glenn Beck and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick of Texas have fashioned the willingness to endure a bout with coronavirus as a patriotic, pro-economy act; Germany, Italy, and Britain are all toying with notions of “immunity passports” — proof that a person has beaten Covid-19 — that would allow people with antibodies to go back to work faster.

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Posted by on May 6, 2020 in Uncategorized


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In the Battle Against Coronavirus, Humanity Lacks Leadership

Many people blame the coronavirus epidemic on globalization, and say that the only way to prevent more such outbreaks is to de-globalize the world. Build walls, restrict travel, reduce trade. However, while short-term quarantine is essential to stop epidemics, long-term isolationism will lead to economic collapse without offering any real protection against infectious diseases. Just the opposite. The real antidote to epidemic is not segregation, but rather cooperation.

Epidemics killed millions of people long before the current age of globalization. In the 14th century there were no airplanes and cruise ships, and yet the Black Death spread from East Asia to Western Europe in little more than a decade. It killed between 75 million and 200 million people – more than a quarter of the population of Eurasia. In England, four out of ten people died. The city of Florence lost 50,000 of its 100,000 inhabitants.

In March 1520, a single smallpox carrier – Francisco de Eguía – landed in Mexico. At the time, Central America had no trains, buses or even donkeys. Yet by December a smallpox epidemic devastated the whole of Central America, killing according to some estimates up to a third of its population.

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Posted by on March 25, 2020 in Uncategorized


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Un pacifista intransigente

Lo chiamavano Menè. Il suo aspetto era inconfondibile: aveva la barba lunga (“la barba del profeta”) e quasi completamente bianca. Era ebreo, veniva dalla città portuale di Livorno e di mestiere, come tanti intellettuali socialisti del tempo, faceva l’avvocato. Riformista e grande oratore (aveva, scrisse Gaeta­no Arfé, “una voce tenorile”), deputato dal 1913, Giuseppe Emanuele Modigliani veniva da una famiglia in vista della città, il pittore Amedeo era suo fratello. Arrestato più volte, Menè era idolatrato dalla base operaia, ma rimase per lo più estraneo alle dispute ideologiche nel Partito socialista prima e dopo la grande guerra.

Pacifista, nel 1915 si oppose all’intervento dell’Italia in guerra, il che lo espose all’odio e fece di lui un predestinato alle violenze. Nel 1917, in un ristorante di Roma, due uomini lo riconobbero ed esclamarono: “Cacciatelo fuori dal locale, non è degno di frequentarlo”. Scoppiò una rissa durante la quale il deputato socialista affermò di essere stato afferrato per la barba. Modigliani fu aggredito o minacciato in molte occasioni e spesso l’oggetto delle minacce era proprio la sua barba, vista come un trofeo, un simbolo della sua forza e virilità. Ma la barba era importante anche per i suoi sostenitori: dicevano che somigliava “a un sacerdote dell’Aida, per via del grande e ieratico barbone sempre agitato e sempre accarezzato”, scriveva l’Avanti! nel 1914.

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Posted by on March 24, 2020 in European Union


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Forgotten by whom? Why it’s more important than ever to remember the Roma Holocaust

If you asked me what I learned in my public education about Roma and Sinti genocide during the Holocaust, it would be a lie to tell you I was taught nothing. I remember it vividly in my Texas high school World History textbook, the small footnote that included Roma and Sinti victims as an asterisk, a tacked-on fact that labelled us “gypsies” with a lower-cased G. There was no further explanation. Omitted from the main narrative, it would have been easy for anyone to miss. Nevertheless, as a Roma woman, it was the first time I saw any non-Roma media mention it. I would soon learn those small moments of inclusion are few and far between. That memory would become the status quo for how to feel on the historical silencing of Romani oppression: be happy with what you get; they could have not included you at all.

When many people think of the Holocaust, they often recall it as primarily a Jewish genocide, perhaps with some awareness of the oppression of other groups such as disabled people. The Encyclopedia Britannica, for instance, takes care to contextualise the systemic murder of the six million—but while it adds that “millions of others” were also killed, its consideration of Nazi racism is limited to anti-semitism. In reality, the racist ideology of the Nazis extended to Roma and Sinti people (known as Zigeuner in German or “Gypsies” in English) as well as the black European population. The total number of Roma and Sinti victims of the Holocaust remain unknown, with scholars and activists claiming anywhere from 200,000—a conservatively estimate, widely debunked given how many countries were occupied—to as high as 2 million.

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Posted by on March 4, 2020 in Reportages, Uncategorized


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The myth of Eurabia: how a far-right conspiracy theory went mainstream

In July 2011, a quiet European capital was shaken by a terrorist car bomb, followed by confused reports suggesting many deaths. When the first news of the murders came through, one small group of online commentators reacted immediately, even though the media had cautiously declined to identify the attackers. They knew at once what had happened – and who was to blame.

“This was inevitable,” explained one of the anonymous commenters. And it was just the beginning: “Only a matter of time before other European nations get a taste of their multicultural tolerance that they’ve been cooking for decades.”

“Europe has been infested with venomous parasitic vermin,” explained another. “Anything and everything is fine as long as they rape the natives and destroy the country, which they do,” said a third.

As the news grew worse, the group became more joyful and confident. The car bomb had been followed by reports of a mass shooting at a nearby camp for teenagers. One commenter was “almost crying of happiness” to be proved right about the dangers of Islam. “The massacre at the children’s camp,” another noted, “is a sickening reminder of just how evil and satanic the cult of Islam is.”

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Posted by on November 15, 2019 in European Union


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America Wasn’t a Democracy, Until Black Americans Made It One

My dad always flew an American flag in our front yard. The blue paint on our two-story house was perennially chipping; the fence, or the rail by the stairs, or the front door, existed in a perpetual state of disrepair, but that flag always flew pristine. Our corner lot, which had been redlined by the federal government, was along the river that divided the black side from the white side of our Iowa town. At the edge of our lawn, high on an aluminum pole, soared the flag, which my dad would replace as soon as it showed the slightest tatter.

My dad was born into a family of sharecroppers on a white plantation in Greenwood, Miss., where black people bent over cotton from can’t-see-in-the-morning to can’t-see-at-night, just as their enslaved ancestors had done not long before. The Mississippi of my dad’s youth was an apartheid state that subjugated its near-majority black population through breathtaking acts of violence. White residents in Mississippi lynched more black people than those in any other state in the country, and the white people in my dad’s home county lynched more black residents than those in any other county in Mississippi, often for such “crimes” as entering a room occupied by white women, bumping into a white girl or trying to start a sharecroppers union. My dad’s mother, like all the black people in Greenwood, could not vote, use the public library or find work other than toiling in the cotton fields or toiling in white people’s houses. So in the 1940s, she packed up her few belongings and her three small children and joined the flood of black Southerners fleeing North. She got off the Illinois Central Railroad in Waterloo, Iowa, only to have her hopes of the mythical Promised Land shattered when she learned that Jim Crow did not end at the Mason-Dixon line.

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Posted by on October 23, 2019 in North America, Reportages


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Real American pizza in Moscow in 1988

The Soviet-American company Dialog, created in 1987, was the first Russian high-tech company to attract Western capital investment. Dialog was the mother company of the first Russian investment bank, Troika Dialog, which a recent investigation revealed as the source of a number of suspicious offshore money flows used by powerful Russians. But Dialog also founded another company: Astro Pizza, a pioneer of Western fast food in the Soviet Union, which sparked nostalgic reminiscences in the Facebook group “Yes, Moscow” shortly after the publication of the Troika investigation. Meduza tells the story of Astro Pizza, which opened in Moscow long before Pizza Hut or McDonald’s — but ultimately failed to compete with them despite its initial success.On April 12, 1988, a GMC truck pulled up to Moscow’s Sparrow Hills, then still called the Lenin Hills. It was not unusual to see trucks like this one in the city: they used to deliver Pepsi. But this one was even more outlandish than the quirky soda vans: its silver body glistened, Soviet and American flags could be seen on its sides, and slogans in both Russian and English slogans flashed red underneath them.

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Posted by on August 28, 2019 in Europe, North America, Reportages


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The Comeback of a Soviet Dictator

It’s May 9 and around 200 people have gathered in a parking lot in Novosibirsk, the third largest city in Russia. They are here to dedicate a monument, with some waving World War II flags, including the flag of a rifle division that conquered the Reichstag in Berlin in 1945. Veterans with medals covering their breasts sit in the first row.

Next to the monument, a man is waiting, a slip of paper in his jacket pocket on which he has outlined his speech. He has been waiting 20 years for this moment. A recording of Beethoven’s Fifth plays as the man steps forward and, together with the mayor, loosens the red tape to allow the white covering to fall from the monument. The crowd cheers as Stalin is revealed in the glittering sunlight.

Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, who later gave himself the name Stalin, or “Man of Steel,” was the son of a shoemaker and attended church school. And, until his death in March 1953, he was the dictator of the Soviet Union — and one of the biggest criminals of the 20th century.

The man who unveiled the monument to Stalin on this May afternoon in the parking lot of the Communist Party’s regional headquarters is named Alexei Denisyuk. The 41-year-old is a lawyer and the editor-in-chief of a newspaper called Hammer and Sickle — and he is convinced that he will live to see the return of the Soviet Union.

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Posted by on August 9, 2019 in Europe, Reportages


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The scorched corpses of Nagasaki should be a grim restraint to the chest beating in India, America and Iran

We like our anniversaries in blocks of 50 or 100 – at a push we’ll tolerate a 25. The 100th anniversary of the Somme (2016), the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain (2015). Next year, we’ll remember the end of the Second World War, the first – and so far the only – nuclear war in history.

This week marks only the 74th anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It doesn’t fit in to our journalistic scorecards and “timelines”. Over the past few days, I’ve had to look hard to find a headline about the two Japanese cities.

But, especially in the Middle East and what we like to call southeast Asia, we should be remembering these gruesome anniversaries every month. Hiroshima was atomic-bombed 74 years ago on Tuesday, Nagasaki 74 years ago on Friday. Given the extent of the casualty figures, you’d think they’d be unforgettable. But we don’t quite know (nor ever will) what they were.


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