Monday, 2 August 2010
Thirty years ago today I was teaching English at a summer school in Malvern. The students, aged between 12 and 16, were mostly from Europe and the largest group came from Italy. They rarely watched the television - I don't remember now if they were discouraged from doing so or simply preferred to do other things; there are few things less interesting, after all, than watching TV in a language you barely understand, and most of the students there spoke very little English. But on the evening of 2 August the television room was packed with Italian students because a bomb had destroyed Bologna station. Some of the students came from the area; two or three of them had relatives who were starting their holidays that day and might easily have been involved. When the first images of the station, parts of which had been reduced to rubble, appeared on the screen, the room fell silent, and remained silent until one of the older girls began to cry, which set the other kids off. I wasn't the only teacher there who spoke some Italian, and we were kept busy translating the news as it came in. There were no satellite dishes then, no Sky; all we had was the BBC. Mrs Smith, the person in charge of the school and herself Italian, was also busy, comforting the younger children, organising sandwiches and coffee, phoning people who might know more. I'd been through Bologna - one of the busiest stations in the country - but never stopped there. I didn't know then that I'd be living only thirty miles away two months later, in what was still the aftermath of the event, an aftermath that continues to echo. Around 80 people, many of them children, died in the explosion; others were wounded, or blinded, or permanently crippled. Not to speak of the collateral effect of this kind of tragedy, friends lost and families destroyed. To begin with, the assumption was that there had been an accident, but that assumption didn't last. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, which was attributed to right-wing terrorists, on the grounds that left-wing terrorism was more selective. In the thirty years that have passed since then, people have been accused and convicted of the crime, and in some cases have completed their sentences and are now free. But no one genuinely believes that the perpetrators of the crime have been punished, or even identified. It's hard for me to read about the bombing without remembering the faces of those children - one of whom actually lost a cousin in the attack - stranded so far from their homes, frustrated by distance and language; children who might just as easily have been blown to shreds themselves. There's a commemoration of the event each year, organised by the families of the victims, and presumably this will continue as long as these families survive. Most years, whichever government is in power sends a representative or two, and the reaction of the crowd is a useful indication of public perceptions of guilt and the complicity of certain elements within the Italian power structure, or palazzo, as Pasolini called it. Few people doubt such complicity. This year, with a contempt that's hard to stomach, the government is totally absent from the commemoration - not even a deputy minister has been sent off to take the flak and express at least formal condemnation of the massacre. If proof were required of the continuity of responsibility - moral, if nothing else - that links Berlusconi and his gang to the people that murdered 85 innocent travellers and wounded a further 2000 thirty years ago, we need look no further.