Showing posts with label Cesare Battisti. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cesare Battisti. Show all posts

25 March 2019

Tina Anselmi - ground-breaking politician

Former partisan became Italy’s first female cabinet minister

Tina Anselmi was the first Italian woman to hold a position inside an Italian cabinet
Tina Anselmi was the first Italian woman to
hold a position inside an Italian cabinet
The politician Tina Anselmi, who made history in 1976 as the first woman to hold a ministerial position in an Italian government and later broke new ground again when she was appointed to chair the public inquiry into the infamous Propaganda Due masonic lodge, was born on this day in 1927 in Castelfranco Veneto.

Anselmi was chosen as Minister for Labour and Social Security and then Minister for Health in the government led by Giulio Andreotti from 1976 to 1979.

In 1981, she became the first woman to lead a public inquiry in Italy when she was asked to head the commission looking into the clandestine and illegal P2 masonic lodge, which had among its members prominent journalists, members of parliament, industrialists, and military leaders and was suspected of involvement in many scandals in pursuit of an ultra-right agenda.

Anselmi’s political views were heavily influenced by her upbringing in the Veneto during the years of Mussolini and war. She was from a comfortable background - her father was a pharmacist in Castelfranco Veneto, while her mother ran an osteria with her grandmother - but became aware of the threat to freedom posed by the Fascist system when he father was persecuted by Mussolini’s supporters for expressing socialist views.

The Via dei Martiri in Bassano del Grappa celebrates the memory of the massacred partisans
The Via dei Martiri in Bassano del Grappa
celebrates the memory of the massacred partisans
The defining moment came in 1944, by which time she had finished high school in Castelfranco and was attending a Teaching Institute in nearby Bassano del Grappa. On September 26 of that year, aged 17, she and her fellow pupils were summoned to the town’s main square to witness the hanging of 31 young partisans, many of them not much older than her, by soldiers of the occupying German army.

The executions were intended to strike fear into anyone thinking of joining the growing resistance movement. On Anselmi, it had the opposite effect.

Under the nom de guerre Gabriella, she became a courier for the partisans, making journeys by bicycle of up to 70 miles (113km) a day on behalf of the Cesare Battisti brigade - named after the Italian patriot hanged by the Austrians in 1916 - smuggling weapons and ammunition and delivering messages.

It was extremely dangerous work. Her commander had told her that if she were caught, the best she could hope for was that she would be killed at once.

The experience made her understand what democracy meant and she resolved to spend her life defending the values it enshrined and the rights of the individual, especially those of women.

When the Second World War had ended, she studied literature at the Catholic University of Milan and became a primary school teacher. She held positions in Christian trade unions, including the primary teachers' union from 1948-55.

Anselmi chaired the inquiry into the illegal P2 masonic lodge
Anselmi chaired the inquiry into
the illegal P2 masonic lodge
Her career in politics began in earnest in 1959. Unlike other partisans drawn towards communism, Anselmi had joined the Christian Democracy Party at the end of the war and in 1959 she became a member of the party’s national council as head of youth programmes.

Re-elected five times as a deputy for the Venice-Treviso district, Anselmi served three times as under-secretary to the Department of Work and Social Services, and in 1976 she became the first woman to be a member of an Italian cabinet.

She is best known for having been the main proposer of Italian laws on equal opportunities. She passed a bill which recognised fathers as primary caregivers for their children and supported legislation on gender parity in employment conditions. She played a significant role in the introduction of Italy's National Health Service.

Throughout her career, Anselmi earned respect as a straight-talking campaigner, but also as a politician whose first thought was for her responsibility to the public, rather than the direction of her career.

When she was appointed to lead the P2 enquiry, it soon became clear that she had every intention of disturbing the established order and with so many high-profile and well-connected individuals under suspicion she found herself variously followed, threatened - dynamite was found at her house in Rome - and spied on as part of several attempts to warn her off.

Yet after four years and almost 500 sessions, the inquiry reported in 1984 and concluded that P2’s network of power represented a clear threat to democracy. It was a triumph for Anselmi, although much to her frustration and disappointment, her proposed reforms were left to gather dust.

In the broader picture, however, the work of Anselmi’s commission was an important part of the process of exposing corruption in the Italian political system, which would reach a conclusion a decade later with the dismantling of both the Christian Democrats and the Italian Socialist Party, along with the Social Democrats and the Liberals, with new groups emerging in their place.

After her retirement, Anselmi was mooted as a potential candidate for the presidency of Italy, although ill health counted against her. She died in Castelfranco in 2016 at the age of 89.

Travel tip:

Bassano del Grappa is an historic town at the foot of Monte Grappa in the Vicenza province of the Veneto, famous for inventing grappa, a spirit made from the grape skins and stalks left over from wine production, which is popular with Italians as an after dinner drink to aid digestion. The town’s main attraction is the Ponte degli Alpini, also known as the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge across the Brenta river designed in 1569 by Andrea Palladio. It has been rebuilt several times after being damaged or destroyed by wars but always to the original design. The painter Jacopo Bassano was born in Bassano del Grappa and took his name from the town.

Hotels in Bassano del Grappa by

The walls of Castelfranco Veneto have been providing protection for the old city since 1211
The walls of Castelfranco Veneto have been providing
protection for the old city since 1211
Travel tip:

Castelfranco Veneto, a small town midway between Treviso and Vicenza in the Veneto region, is notable for its fortified old city, which lies at the centre of the town surrounded by high walls and a moat. Inside are a number of streets and the old city’s Duomo, which contains an altarpiece by the town’s most famous son, the High Renaissance artist Giorgione, thought to have been painted between 1503 and 1504. Next to the Duomo is the Casa Giorgione, thought to have been the artist’s home, which is now a museum.

4 February 2018

Cesare Battisti – patriot and irredentist

Campaigner for Trentino hailed as national hero

Cesare Battisti photographed in 1915
Cesare Battisti photographed in 1915
Cesare Battisti, a politician whose campaign to reclaim Trentino for Italy from Austria-Hungary was to cost him his life, was born on this day in 1875 in the region’s capital, Trento.

As a member of the Social Democratic Workers’ Party, Battista was elected to the assembly of South Tyrol and the Austrian Imperial Council, where he pushed for autonomy for Trentino, an area with a mainly Italian-speaking population.

When the First World War arrived and Italy decided to side with the Triple Entente and fight against Austria-Hungary, Battisti decided he could fight only on the Italian side, joining the Alpini corps.

At this time he was still a member of the Austrian Chamber of Deputies, so when he was captured wearing Italian uniform during the Battle of Asiago in 1916 he was charged with high treason and executed.

Italy now looks upon Battisti as a national hero and he is commemorated in monuments in several places in the country, as well as having numerous schools, streets and squares named after him.

At the time of his birth, the son of a merchant, also called Cesare, Trento was part of Tyrol in Austria-Hungary, even though it was a largely Italian-speaking city. As Battisti became politically active as a young man, first while studying law in Graz, in Austria, and later literature and philosophy at the University of Florence, he found himself drawn towards the Italian irredentism movement, one of whose aims was achieving autonomy for Trentino as part of a unified Kingdom of Italy.

Battisti as a student in Florence, where he became drawn to the irredentist movement
Battisti as a student in Florence, where he
became drawn to the irredentist movement
He began a student movement, the Società degli Studenti Trentini, and with like-minded fellow students founded a number of magazines and newspapers to spread the message and rally support for the cause.

In 1911, standing on an SDWP ticket, he was elected to the Reichsrat, the parliament of Vienna, with the aim of achieving change from within.

In 1914, with the support of Guido Larcher and Giovanni Pedrotti, he sent an appeal to the king, Vittorio Emanuele III, exhorting the monarch to respond to his wishes and unite Italy.

By the time the Austro-Serbian war had broken out, later in 1914, Battisti sensed the possibility of Italy being drawn into the conflict in opposition to Austria-Hungary and decided to leave Trento to find a safer part of Italy.

Not long afterwards, Battisti began to campaign for Italy to join forces with the Triple Entente countries – Russia, France and Great British – against Austria-Hungary, and when the First World War broke out he decided he could be true to his principles only by fighting on the side of the Italian forces.

Battisti volunteered for the Italian army and soon won medals for bravery. He was promoted to lieutenant with the Vicenza Battalion of the 6th Alpine Regiment. 

He was captured by Austrian forces during the Battle of Asiago, which took place about 60km (37 miles) east of Trento and a similar distance north of Vicenza. When it was realised who he was he was taken to his home town to face a court martial, at the Castello di Buonconsiglio, at which his parliamentary immunity was over-ridden and he was sentenced to death.

The Mausoleum housing Cesare Battisti's tomb stands on a rocky outcrop overlooking Trento
The Mausoleum housing Cesare Battisti's tomb stands on
a rocky outcrop overlooking Trento
His request to face a firing squad so as not to dishonour the Italian uniform was denied and he was executed by hanging on July 12, 1916, at the age of 41. The incident damaged support for Austrians in the area, particularly after photographs of a smiling execution squad posing with Battisti’s body were published in newspapers. He left a widow, Ernesta, and three children.

At the conclusion of the conflict, Trento became an Italian city as part of the settlement.  Battisti was hailed as a hero and monuments to him have been erected in Rome as well as at the Bolzano Victory Monument in another part of South Tyrol that was successfully reclaimed from Austria. 

With the agreement of his family, his remains were moved in 1935 to a mausoleum built on a rocky outcrop overlooking the city. The structure, consisting of a circular base supporting 16 columns topped by a balustrade, was designed by the architect Ettore Faguioli to resemble a classical temple.

The Piazza Duomo in Trento
The Piazza Duomo in Trento
Travel tip:

Trento today is a cosmopolitan city considered to be one of the most desirable places to live in Italy on the basis of job opportunities and quality of life. With a population of 117,000, it is situated in an Alpine valley on the Adige river between the northern tip of Lake Garda and the border city of Bolzano, about 115km (71 miles) north of Verona. Settled by the Romans in the first century, it changed hands many times before becoming a major city in the Holy Roman Empire. The Austrians took charge in the 14th century and it remained under their control, with the exception of a spell of French domination in the Napoleonic era until the First World War.  It is notable in the 16th century for hosting the Council of Trent, the ecumenical council of the Catholic Church that gave rise to the resurgence of the church following Protestant Reformation.

Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento
Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento
Travel tip:

The Castello del Buonconsiglio, where Battisti was tried and executed by the Austrians, is a castle next to Trento’s city walls built in the 13th century.  It consisted at first of the building now known as the Castelvecchio, which was the seat of the Bishopric of Trento until the 18th century, and saw the addition of several more buildings as various bishops chose to enlarge and reinforce it. Legend has it that there was a secret tunnel linking it with the city’s cathedral. It became a military barracks under the Austrians, then a jail, before falling into disrepair.  It was restored after Trento became part of Italy in the 1920s and now houses a museum and art gallery. 

Also on this day: