Showing posts with label Cold War. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cold War. Show all posts

14 July 2017

Palmiro Togliatti – politician

Communist leader gunned down near Italian parliament

The Communist leader Palmiro  Togliatti, pictured in 1950
The Communist leader Palmiro
Togliatti, pictured in 1950
The leader of the Italian Communist Party, Palmiro Togliatti, was shot three times on this day in 1948 near Palazzo Montecitorio in Rome.

Togliatti was seriously wounded and for several days it was not certain that he would survive, causing a political crisis in Italy.

Three months before the shooting, Togliatti had led the Communists in the first democratic election in Italy after the Second World War, which would elect the first Republican parliament.  He lost to the Christian Democrats after a confrontational campaign in which the United States played a big part, viewing Togliatti as a Cold War enemy.

On July 14, Togliatti was shot three times near the Parliament building. It was described as an assassination attempt, the perpetrator of which was named as Antonio Pallante, an anti-Communist student with mental health problems. While the Communist leader’s life hung in the balance a general strike was called.

He eventually recovered and was able to continue as head of the party until his death in 1964.

Togliatti was born in Genoa in 1893. He was named Palmiro because he was born on a Palm Sunday.

Togliatti, pictured with the surgeon, Pietro Valdoni, who saved his life, recovers in hospital after the assassination attempt.
Togliatti, pictured with the surgeon, Pietro Valdoni, who saved
his life, recovers in hospital after the assassination attempt.
His father, Antonio, was an accountant and the family had to move frequently because of his job.  When his father died of cancer in 2011, the family struggled financially, but with the help of a scholarship, Togliatti was able to graduate in law from the University of Turin in 1917.

He served as a volunteer officer during the First World War but was wounded in action and sent home.

Togliatti became part of the group that gathered around Antonio Gramsci’s L’Ordine Nuovo newspaper in Turin. He was an admirer of the Russian Revolution and helped Gramsci refocus the newspaper to be a revolutionary voice. The newspaper supported the general strike of 1921 and began to be published daily.

A member of the Communist faction within the Italian Socialist Party, Togliatti was one of the founders of the Italian Communist Party in 1921.

The young Togliatti, pictured in about 1920
The young Togliatti, pictured in about 1920
In 1922, Fascist leader Benito Mussolini took advantage of the general strike and demanded that the Government should either give political power to the Fascist Party or face a coup. The Fascists demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Luigi Facta.

King Victor Emmanuel III had to choose between the Fascists and the anti-monarchist Socialists. He picked the Fascists and appointed Mussolini as Prime Minister.

Mussolini pushed a new electoral law through parliament and, coupled with his intimidation tactics, it resulted in a landslide victory for the Fascists in the 1924 election.

In 1924, international Communists began a process of Bolshevisation, which forced each party to conform to the discipline and orders of Moscow.  Mussolini banned the Italian Communist Party in 1926 and some officials, including Gramsci, were arrested and imprisoned, but Togliatti escaped arrest because he was in Moscow at the time.

In exile abroad in the 1920s and 1930s, Togliatti organised clandestine meetings. He stayed in the Soviet Union during the Second World War, broadcasting radio messages to Italy calling for resistance against the Nazis.

In 1944 Togliatti returned to Italy and joined in a government of national unity. He served as Deputy Prime Minister and then Justice Minister.

Togliatti with his partner, Nilde Iotti, at a Communist Party conference in Russia, which they visited many times
Togliatti with his partner, Nilde Iotti, at a Communist Party
conference in Russia, which they visited many times
The writer Carlo Lucarelli gives a vivid, fictional account of the day of the shooting in his novel Via delle oche, the final book in his De Luca trilogy.

Togliatti survived the shooting to see his party become the second largest party in Italy and the largest non-ruling Communist party in Europe. The party held many municipalities and was powerful in some areas at local and regional level.

Togliatti died as a result of a cerebral haemorrhage in 1964 while on holiday with his partner in the Black Sea resort of Yalta, which was then in the Soviet Union. His favourite pupil, Enrico Berlinguer, was elected as his successor.

The Russian city of Stavropol-on-Volga, where Togliatti had helped establish a car manufacturing plant in collaboration with Fiat, was renamed Tolyatti in his honour in 1964.

The Palazzo Madama is one of the features of what is known as 'royal' Turin
The Palazzo Madama is one of the features of what is
known as 'royal' Turin
Travel tip:

Turin, where Togliatti went to University and helped launch a Communist-sympathising newspaper, is the capital city of the region of Piedmont. It is an important business centre with architecture demonstrating its rich history, which is linked with the Savoy Kings of Italy. Piazza Castello, with the royal palace, royal library and Palazzo Madama, which used to house the Italian senate, is at the heart of ‘royal’ Turin.

The Palazzo Montecitorio was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for the nephew of Pope Gregory XV
The Palazzo Montecitorio was designed by Gian Lorenzo
Bernini for the nephew of Pope Gregory XV
Travel tip

Palazzo Montecitorio in Rome, which is near the spot where Togliatti was shot and seriously wounded, is the seat of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Italian Parliament. The building was originally designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for the nephew of Pope Gregory XV. The palace was chosen as the seat of the Chamber of Deputies in 1871 but the building proved inadequate for their needs. After extensive renovations had been carried out, the chamber returned to the palace in 1918.

17 December 2016

NATO boss seized by Red Brigades

Brigadier-General James L Dozier held for 42 days

General James L Dozier pictured when he returned to Italy in  2012 for a reunion with the special forces team who freed him
General James L Dozier pictured when he returned to Italy in
2012 for a reunion with the special forces team who freed him
Three years after the kidnap and murder of the former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro shocked Italy and the wider world, terrorists representing the ultra-left group Brigate Rosse - the Red Brigades - returned to the headlines on this day in 1981 with the abduction of the high-ranking United States Army officer James L Dozier.

Brigadier-General Dozier, who was serving in Italy as deputy Chief of Staff of NATO's Southern European land forces, was seized and taken from his apartment in Verona and held for 42 days before being rescued by Italian special forces.

The kidnap took place at between 5.30 and 6pm when four men turned up at the door of the apartment posing as plumbers.  The general was overpowered and then struck over the head before his wife, Judith, who was initially held at gunpoint, was tied up with chains and plastic tape.

According to his wife, 50-year-old General Dozier was then bundled into what she described as a "steamship trunk", which the men carried out to a waiting van.  Mrs Dozier was left in the apartment, alerting neighbours later by banging on the walls.

It was the first time the Red Brigades had held a member of the American military, or any foreign national, although kidnappings were a major element of their strategy, either for  political objectives to raise funds via ransom demands, during the so-called "Years of Lead".

The Italian authorities were hampered in their search for General Dozier by a succession of calls by people purporting to know where he was being held, including one from an Arabic-speaking caller in Beirut.  Police carried out numerous searches of premises in Verona, Venice and Trento, but all the supposed tip-offs turned out to be hoaxes.

However, they eventually received information that was genuine and an apartment in Padua became the focus of the search.

The front page headline in the Rome newspaper Il  Messaggero the day after General Dozier was freed
The front page headline in the Rome newspaper Il
Messaggero the day after General Dozier was freed
The apartment was kept under surveillance for three days before a team of 13 officers from the Nucleo Operativo Centrale Sicurezza, led by Major Eduardo Perna, captured the building on the morning of January 28, 1982.

Six officers secured the perimeter of the apartment block before Major Perna led six others in forcing their way in.

Inside, they found General Dozier chained by his right wrist and left ankle to the central pole of a small tent.  He was barefoot, gagged and wearing a tracksuit but was otherwise unhurt, although he had lost some weight.

There were five Red Brigade members in the apartment, including one who pointed a gun at their captive's head as soon as the raid began.  It later transpired that he had been instructed to kill General Dozier in the event of a rescue attempt but failed to do so.

In fact, all five of his captors - three men and two women - surrendered with little resistance and no shots were fired.  During the 42 days the American was held, the Red Brigades issued a number of messages outlining their complaints but none contained any ransom demand.

The objective of the terrorists seemed to be to extract information from General Dozier, in particular with relation to NATO plans to deploy nuclear missiles in Western Europe, including in Sicily, to counter the threat of Soviet missiles aimed at European cities.

In between interrogation sessions, General Dozier was exposed to constant artificial light and forced to endure loud music played through headphones for hours at a time, which left him with permanent hearing damage.

Eduardo Perna pictured at his reunion with  General Dozier in 2012
Eduardo Perna pictured at his reunion with
General Dozier in 2012
The Red Brigades gang was led by Antonio Savasta, the head of the terror group's operations in Venice, and included his girlfriend, Emilia Libera.  Police also seized guns, hand grenades, explosives and ammunition in the apartment.  Savasta, who had also played a role in the Aldo Moro abduction, was later sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Using intelligence obtained from the five arrested in the raid, the Italians launched a crackdown on Red Brigades activity soon after General Dozier's release and early the following year 59 of the group's members stood trial for the murders of Aldo Moro and 16 others, with a number of those convicted receiving life sentences.

General Dozier returned to Italy in 2012 for an emotional reunion with Major Eduardo Perna and the other members of his NOCS team.

Travel tip:

The former NATO headquarters in Verona, Caserma Passalacqua, was situated on land between the city's Monumental Cemetery and the University of Verona, less than one kilometre from Piazza Bra and the Arena di Verona.  There are plans to redevelop the Caserma Passalacqua site, which was abandoned in 2004, to include social housing and market housing and to provide the city with its largest park.

Hotels in Verona from

The Arena di Verona undergoes preparation for a concert
The Arena di Verona undergoes preparation for a concert
Travel tip:

Verona, a city in the Veneto region, has a medieval city centre built alongside the winding Adige River. Famous for being the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to the 14th-century building on Via Cappello, with a tiny balcony overlooking a courtyard, which is said to have been Juliet’s house. The city's other major attraction is the Arena di Verona, the vast Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Bra that stages music concerts and large-scale opera performances.

More reading:

Aldo Moro - Italy's tragic former prime minister

How Moro death and Operation Gladio haunted career of former president Francesco Cossiga

A bombing in Milan and the accidental death of an anarchist

Also on this day:

1749: Birth of 'comic opera' composer Domenico Cimarosa


26 July 2016

Francesco Cossiga - Italy's 8th President

Political career overshadowed by Moro murder

Francesco Cossiga served Italy as both Prime Minister and President
Francesco Cossiga
Former Italian President Francesco Cossiga was born on this day in 1928 in the Sardinian city of Sassari.

Cossiga, a Christian Democrat who had briefly served as Prime Minister under his predecessor, Sandro Pertini, held the office for seven years from 1985 to 1992. He was the eighth President of the Republic.

His presidency was unexceptional until the last two years, when he gained a reputation for controversial comments about the Italian political system and former colleagues.

It was during this time that another heavyweight of the Italian political scene, Giulio Andreotti, revealed the existence during the Cold War years of Gladio, a clandestine network sponsored by the American secret services and NATO that was set up amid fears that Italy would fall into the hands of Communists, either through military invasion from the East or, within Italy, via the ballot box.

Cossiga, said to have been obsessed with espionage, admitted to have been involved with the creation of Gladio in the years immediately following the end of the Second World War.

This led to renewed speculation surrounding the kidnap and murder of former Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1978, an event that prevented a vote in the Italian parliament on the so-called 'historic compromise' whereby the Italian Communist Party, which was riding a peak of popularity at a time in which Italy seemed especially vulnerable to social unrest, would be given a direct role in government for the first time.

The event was a key moment in Cossiga's political career. As interior minister - effectively home secretary - in an Andreotti-led government, Cossiga was in charge of the operation to find and free Moro during the 55 days he was held captive.  He received a personal plea from Moro to negotiate with his captors, the ultra left-wing group Red Brigades, but the government's stance was not to talk with terrorists and Moro's pleas were ignored.

When Moro's body was discovered in the boot of a car parked almost exactly halfway between the Rome headquarters of the Christian Democrats and the Italian Communists, Cossiga rushed to the scene immediately and resigned the following day, declaring himself to be "politically dead".  Yet he returned within a year to be Prime Minister, his 14-month stint coinciding with another event that shook the Italian nation, when a bomb supposedly planted by terrorists from the extreme right killed 85 people at Bologna railway station.

Francesco Cossiga (right) pictured with Giulio Andreotti shortly after the kidnap and murder of Aldo Moro
Francesco Cossiga (right) pictured with Giulio Andreotti
shortly after the kidnap and murder of Aldo Moro
The Gladio revelations re-opened debate over the Moro affair, particularly over the question of how the authorities never located the Rome apartment where he was held, despite numerous tip-offs. As President, Cossiga survived an attempt by the Democratic Party of the Left to have him impeached but resigned in 1992, two months before his term of office was due to end.

Italy had no government at the time following the collapse of a third coalition led by Andreotti but Cossiga said he was unwilling to approve any more coalitions if he did not think they could tackle the problems of debt and organised crime, or prepare Italy adequately for monetary and political union with Europe.

He did not disappear from politics. By the late 1990s, he had formed his own small centrist party, the Democratic Union of the Republic, which he hoped might pull together the various strands of Italy's centre-right. However, the party was dissolved in 1999.

Thus ended a political career that had begun with Cossiga's election to the Italian parliament as a deputy for Sassari in 1958.

Although his father was a director in a bank, politics was in the family. One of his cousins was Enrico Berlinguer, who would later become secretary-general of Italy's Communist Party, and he was related to another former Prime Minister born in Sassari, Antonio Segni.  He joined the Christian Democrats aged only 16.

After his election he quickly scaled the Christian Democrat ladder, serving as Under-Secretary for Defence from 1966 to 1970, and in 1974 taking the unlikely brief of a roving minister charged with reforming government bureaucracy.  He became Interior Minister in 1976.

In 1960, he married Giuseppa Sigurani, from whom he was divorced in 1998. They had two children, Anna Maria, a writer, and Giuseppe, who followed his father into politics, serving as junior minister for defence in Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia-led government between 2008 and 2011.

Cossiga senior suffered from depression in his later years.  He died in 2010 aged 82, following cardiovascular problems.

Sassari's elegant Piazza d'Italia lit up by night
Sassari's elegant Piazza d'Italia lit up by night
Travel tip:

Sassari, the second largest city in Sardinia with a population of 275,000 in the metropolitan area, is rich in art, culture and history, notable for beautiful palaces and elegant neoclassical architecture, examples of which can be found around Piazza d'Italia.  Also worth seeing are the Teatro Civico and the Fountain of the Rosello.

Travel tip:

Sardinia's white, sandy beaches and blue seas make it one of the most popular summer holiday destinations for Italian families as well as visitors from overseas, and is particularly crowded in August, when the population of many mainland cities decamp almost en masse for the cool of the mountains or the lure of the sea.  The Costa Smeralda, to the north-east of the island, remains a celebrity haunt and is consequently expensive, but there are plenty of less developed areas where the beaches are just as good.

(Photo of Francesco Cossiga courtesy of the Presidency of the Italian Republic)
(Photo of Piazza d'Italia in Sassari by Enigmatico27 CC BY-SA 3.0)

More reading:

How Enrico Berlinguer turned Italy's communists into a political force

The Red Brigades and the tragedy of Aldo Moro

Antonio Gramsci - Sardinian founder of the Italian Communist Party