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Negotiating Memories of Protest in Western Europe. The Case of Italy

Series: Palgrave Macmillan Memory Studies

Publication date: 30 Aug 2013

ISBN: 9781137263773

£50.00 (hardback)

232 pages

Negotiating Memories of Protest in Western Europe explores the transmission of memories of European protest movements in the late 1960s and 1970s. Focusing on the specific case of Italy, the book examines the ways in which different memory agents negotiate memories of violence against left-wing activists, perpetrated by representatives of the state. It does so through a discussion of commemorative rituals, memory sites and other forms of 'memory work' performed by various social groups within the local setting of Bologna, where a left-wing student and protester was shot dead by police in 1977. By drawing on this fascinating case study, Andrea Hajek lays bare the dynamic relation between official and unofficial memories of conflict and explores the challenges of historical research into social movements.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Negotiating Memories of Protest
1. 'Years of lead'? Political Violence in Perspective
2. 'Wonderful years'? Myth, Nostalgia and Possessive Memory
3. The Trauma of 1977
4. Mourning and Moral Duty. The Affective Labour of Victims' Families
5. Political Uses of the Past. The Official Memory of 1977
6. Rebuilding Group Identities to the Far Left
7. Memory Sites: the Negotiation of Protest in the Urban Space
Conclusion: Blocked in Private Spaces


Chapter 1 - ‘Years of lead’? Political Violence in Perspective

This chapter contains a brief historical overview of the most important political, economical and social transformations in the late 1960s and 1970s, and their impact on the development of a new political subject in Italy and Germany as opposed to France and Great Britain, where the 1968 ‘momentum’ had a more limited reach. It provides an account of contentious politics in those years and challenges dominant, ‘condemning’ memories of the 1970s in Germany and Italy, where this period is also known as the ‘years of lead’. The chapter analyzes the origins of this notion, its application, and its emphasis on narratives of victimhood and trauma. It thus identifies strategies of selection and omission in the creation of a national history of the 1970s.

Chapter 2 - ‘Wonderful years’? Myth, Nostalgia and Possessive Memory

The analysis of the difficult historicization of the late 1960s and 1970s is continued in Chapter 2, which focuses on the celebratory memory of the protests of 1968, their reception, and the (de)construction of their myth. It thus investigates activists’ difficult relationship with traditional historiography, their nostalgic and ‘possessive’ memory of this past and the consequences of this attitude for contemporary research(ers) of protest in Europe. In addition to the historical ‘silences’ identified in the first chapter, this second chapter then addresses individual and collective silences in the history of these social movements. In doing so it reflects upon the value of oral history methodology in the creation of a more inclusive and complete history of European social movements in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Chapter 3 - The Trauma of 1977

The third chapter explores the origins and composition of the 1977 student movement in Italy. It outlines the specific characteristics of the ‘Movement of ’77’ and provides a brief historical outline of the political and social situation of Bologna in the mid-1970s. This helps explain the traumatic impact of the incidents that occurred on and after 11 March 1977, when student and activist Francesco Lorusso was shot dead by a police officer during riots in the university zone. A discursive and visual analysis of the local press and news reports on national television demonstrates how the public memory of these incidents was shaped at the time, and to what extent we may speak of a ‘traumatic’ memory of 1977.

Chapter 4 - Mourning and Moral Duty. The Affective Labour of Victims’ Families

This is the first of three chapters that zoom in on one specific memory community and its attempts to negotiate a memory of Lorusso in the public sphere, in the 30 years following the incidents of 1977 in Bologna. It examines processes of ‘affective labour’, i.e. the relation between Lorusso’s family and the families of victims of terrorism in 1970s Italy, who often gathered in victims’ family associations. It demonstrates how Lorusso’s difficult victim status affected his family’s authority as a memory agent, forcing it to develop a variety of strategies to renegotiate his person in the public sphere. It also analyzes the family’s role in the annual commemoration on March 11th, and its interaction with relatives of other victims of ‘state’ violence.

Chapter 5 - Political Uses of the Past. The Official Memory of 1977

This chapter explores the implications of the incidents of 1977 for local politics: it demonstrates how difficult memories of political violence are (re)used and manipulated in an attempt to (re)gain a political electorate. It focuses on the historical left in Bologna, primarily the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and its political heirs in the 1990s-2000s, the way the PCI re-interpreted the events of 1977 in subsequent years, and the historical context which determined these re-interpretations. Next, it discusses the role of other local politicians, political parties and the University in negotiations of Lorusso’s public memory. The chapter is particularly concerned with debates about anniversaries, proposed memory sites and the general question whether Lorusso should be remembered at all, and how he should be remembered.

Chapter 6 - Rebuilding Group Identities to the Far Left

This chapter focuses on the alternative left-wing milieu. It provides a brief history of an alternative commemorative march which served as a ‘counter-memory’ of both the incidents of March 1977 and other incidents of political violence in and beyond the 1970s. It thus examines the meaning Lorusso’s life was given by the various subgroups of the former student movement. It also explores the concessions and compromises his companions made in order to give his memory visibility in the public sphere. Finally, it shows that Lorusso’s death is not an exclusive memory of the 1977 generation. The chapter then provides insight into the relationship between death and identity formation, emotions and protest, the tensions between heroism and victimhood, and the concept of generational memory.

Chapter 7 - Memory Sites: the Negotiation of Protest in the Urban Space

The book concludes with an exploration of the memory sites that were proposed, debated or created in order to commemorate the incidents of March 1977, and Lorusso’s person. Drawing on the concept of grassroots memorials, the chapter centers around two contradictory sites of memory: a commemorative plaque placed by Lorusso's friends and family, which - in spite of the conventional form - represents a highly spontaneous, critical and ‘fragmented’ form of commemoration; a public garden dedicated to Lorusso in the 1990s by the local administration. The chapter explores debates about difficult memories and how these were negotiated in the public sphere, and promotes a more general discussion about the role of memory sites in the creation of shared memory discourses and reconciliation processes.


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