The 2nd of August is a sad day, here in Bologna, at least for those who still remember or force themselves to remember. Twenty-five years ago the city was the 'location' for a tragic event that changed for ever the lives of hundreds of people, an event organised and then covered up by hidden forces, an event that was considered for years the worst terrorist attack in both Italy and Europe, until the more recent cruel events of Madrid.
Three Monkeys Online decided to publish this article, in which we run through the last quarter of a century, in its Current Affairs section, not in History, for two reasons that are of vital importance. The first is because there are numerous aspects of this affair that remain obscure. There are people condemned as the physical perpetrators of the attack, and others convicted of obstructing justice. The first group have always claimed their innocence, despite admitting other murders. The second group, officials of the Italian secret service, and members of the secret P2 organisation, were believed to be the actual mandators of the attack and to be behind its arrangement, but the investigation into their role, motives, and connections with other parts of the body politic however have, to use an expression coined , run into a ‘rubber wall’. That is to say, there is still a mystery surrounding who sent the bombers, and for what purpose.
The other reason to consider a massacre twenty-five years old as current, is the inevitable comparisons that in these months are made between the post 9/11 world and that of Italy during the 'Lead Years' [Translator's note: literal translation of the Italian expression Anni di Piombo, i.e. the period from 1969 to the end of the '80s, that according to others stretched until 1994], during the so-called 'strategy of tension'. What can be learned from the Bologna bombing? Can lessons be applied to the current ‘war-on-terror’?
The Massacre: a bomb shakes Bologna's central station on the first saturday of August, 1980
It's almost unbearably hot during the summer in Bologna. It's humid, and one can't find a cool refuge even under the marvellous porticoes of this medieval city. The city becomes a ghost town: shops and bars close their shutters, lawyers, doctors, and office workers go to the seaside or to the mountains, or to the countryside villa in the hills, students and professors of the Alma Mater University have finished their summer exams and take a break to recover before the autumn term; even the mayor is on holidays.
At 10.25 a.m. on the 2nd of August 1980, a bomb explodes in the heart of the Emilian capital, the nerve centre of the entire north east, and some would hazard of the whole peninsula: the packed train station of Bologna, a hub – said by many to be the most important in Italy, or at least one of the most crowded – through which pass thousands of people, heading to the holiday resort of their choice, emigrants returning to their birthplaces, people coming and going, waiting for connections. A huge station that employs railway workers, not to mention porters, barmen, newsagents, transport police, taxi drivers….
Seventy-six victims initially, and hundreds injured, amongst whom are the gravely injured whose deaths will bring the final grisly balance, in the autumn of that year, to eighty-five. A whole wing of the station, which includes restaurants, offices, an underpass, and a train stopped by the platform, are devastated by the explosion (the bomb was hidden in an abandoned suitcase that was left in the second class waiting room).
The emergency services: the immediate mobilisation of the city
Bologna the learned, Bologna the fat, but also Bologna the hard-working and generous: the dismay, the fear, the uncertainty of those first moments don’t halt the Bolognese who arrange the first emergency services in the big station square devastated by the blast. From the first moments in fact, the survivors can count on help from courageous volunteers, followed in turn by firemen, policemen and health workers, that dig through the rubble organizing the rescue work and the transport of the dead and injured, offering help and solidarity. Doctors on holiday return voluntarily to work, other medics hurry to cover the shifts of their colleagues still on holidays or overloaded with work, taxis and buses double as ambulances, into which hundreds of the injured survivors collapse. A bus, the number 37, is used to transport the dead, a red coloured hearse that weaves back and forth between the station and the mortuaries in Via Irnerio and the various hospitals of the city.
The people of Bologna, and their administration, react quickly to the shock, to the point of giving the impression that there was already an emergency plan, as illustrated by the later statement of the Mayor of Bologna during this period, Renato Zangheri, &ldquo…it was unanimously judged as being very effective […] a government in Northern Europe asked us for our plan because they found it so effective, but I repeat, there wasn't one. It was limited to coordination work.”
A year later the Gold Medal of the Republic for civilian bravery was conferred on the city, 'for its timeliness and efficiency in saving numerous lives”, as the official recognition reads.
The search for justice: from the initial investigations to the arrests and sentencing
The first hypothesis was that the blast was an accident, caused by a boiler in the station restaurant. Even in the course of the morning though, the more sinister explanation of a bomb was being outlined, and thus a deliberate and organised massacre. The first confirmation came by lunch time: the press agency Ansa released a statement according to which &ldquoAt 13.46 a male voice, perhaps recorded, said: ‘This is NAR; we claim responsibility for the attack on Bologna Train Station. Honour to comrade Mario Tuti'”. Nar (Armed Revolutionary Squads) are a right wing group who, without being an actual organisation or political force, had taken fascist ideology as its own, was based on the principle of violence and of revolutionary force, and was also close to various criminal organisations such as the Banda della Magliana, connected itself with Cosa Nostra. The telephone call would later be revealed to be fake, originating from the Florence office of the SISMI [Italian Secret Service]. During the day other claims of responsibility are received, including one allegedly from the left-wing Brigate Rosse [Red Brigades]. From the outset the authorities investigating receive claims and counter-claims from anonymous sources. Investigating Magistrate, Libero Mancuso, will later comment that “no other investigation has ever been subjected to so many diversions, so many attempts to distance the investigating magistrates from the truth, as that of the investigation into the attack on Bologna”. Confirmation that the explosion was caused by a bomb is received when a crater is uncovered, in the remnants of the 2nd class waiting room, typical of that produced by explosives.
There are various elements that indicate a neo-fascist origin for the attack [information provided by imprisoned neo-fascists; documents obtained by DIGOS, the investigative branch of the Italian Police, that outline the political strategy for terrorism; the murder of investigating magistrate Giuliano Amato the previous june, who had been investigating Nar and possible attacks]. The first arrest warrants are issued, and various neo-nazi 'personalities' are arrested, many of whom later prove to be innocent of the massacre. Part of the investigation is transferred from Bologna to Rome in the spring of 1981. In the meantime Giuseppe Valerio (Giusva) Fioravanti and Sergio Piccafuocco are arrested, accused of having participated in the massacre. Later Francesca Mambro and Massimiliano Fachini are also arrested. The four will be condemned to life imprisonment for the massacre on the 11th of July 1988, sentences which will be completely quashed in a court of appeal two years later: all absolved. This sentence from the appeal court will in turn be overruled by the Supreme Court in 1992 where the life sentences for Mambro, Fioravanti and Picciafuoco are upheld. Fachini though is cleared at this stage. Three years and three appeals later, Picciafuoco will also be cleared definitively. Other suspects will be condemned for being members of an armed group.
In '86, another member of Nar, Luigi Ciavardini, a minor at the time of the massacre, becomes involved in the investigation and is accused of being one of the perpetrators. Being 17 at the time of the attack, his case follows a different path, and, for reasons that are not entirely clear, he has to wait until January 2000 before the Juvenile Court of Bologna clears him of charges. His trial though doesn't end here, and on the 9th of March 2002 he is finally recognised as the third physical perpetrator of the Bologna massacre. Ciavardini is sentenced to thirty years in jail.