A cultural war on the streets of Rome - GulfToday

A cultural war on the streets of Rome

Rome Cultural War

Street artists continued their cultural fight against the far-right in the district. Reuters

Alessio Colonnelli, The Independent

Seventy-five years ago this month Rome was liberated by Anglo-American forces supported by Italian guerrilla fighters. Now, the organisation founded by those home-grown heroes is cheering on a 2019 street battle against the far right, and it is one that evokes the literary connections of that moment in the Second World War.

Back in 1944, young German soldiers roamed the streets, disbanded. In the distance, some kept firing back at resistance fighters; others simply watched the allies’ convoy rattling through the city’s southern fringes.

One soldier sat there “with a weary, faraway look, his head thrown back and his two hands resting on the stone step. He seemed remote from everything – from the war, from his surroundings, from time,” as the Italian novelist Curzio Malaparte wrote in The Skin.

Malaparte, whose real name was Kurt Suckert (his father was German), took part in the liberation as a liaison officer among the various armies, Italy’s skeleton force included. The French were there too that day (and the Polish), with General Guillaume leading the Moroccan Goumiers soldiers who killed and raped civilians on their journey across the peninsula, as retold in Two Women with Sophia Loren, from the famous book by Alberto Moravia.

Moravia, miraculously fled Rome and hid in a cave, without knowing if the capital would ever be freed. It was precisely those mountains between Rome and Naples that Hitler had counted on. He hoped to win at Cassino, the lengthy and savage battle the Allies successfully endured for the sake of Europe. (The Nazis’ barricades were built by slaves captured in the central Apennines. Thousands of others were deported to forced labour camps in Germany. Italy’s darkest hour.)

In the run-up to the liberation, the resistance in Rome had relentlessly chipped away at the Wehrmacht, making life for the allies slightly easier on that 4 June, 48 hours before D-Day. And it was those fighters who went on to found ANPI, the Italian Association of Partisans.

Which brings us to last week, when the ANPI congratulated anonymous activists who covered up the omnipresent swastikas and assorted far-right symbols in Fiumicino, Greater Rome, by papering poems over them.

Nobody knew who’d done it; and nobody among the public tore them down. People took pictures instead, and these went viral on social media. The poetry lovers’ nocturnal adventure took place overnight towards the end of May. The next morning, the whole place was shimmering in A4 whiteness.

But of course the local far-right wasn’t having any of it. They tore down some of the poems but mostly repainted Nazi, fascist icons over copies of Shakespeare’s 28th sonnet plus any other literary lyrics they could find – it was a blindly furious spray can rampage.

And in an apparently separate battle, street artists continued the cultural fight against the far-right in the same district. They posted four sardonic large-size obituaries where, two days before, posters reproducing painting masterpieces had been shredded to bits for their anti-totalitarian undertones.

What will happen to these pretend obituaries? The far right will probably take them down because it loves having the last word. Organised bigotry, however vapid, does affect democracy: it holds sway over large sections of the population. Civil society can oppose this by voting, but also with inventiveness and irony, as we have seen. There is hope.

Politics in Italy sometimes resembles the tit for tat insurgency on the streets of Fiumicino, and certain political parties – in and out of parliament – are harnessing the far right posturing’s to boost their message. Italy’s governing coalition is no exception, of course.

Three-quarters of a century seems a long time, and yet it isn’t. As some sections of society drift lazily back into the thinking that took so much to overcome on the streets of Rome back then, the best counter-strategy is humour, art and literature – whether that’s on the walls of Fiumicino, on social media or in political debate. The one lesson from Rome that we keep hearing will always be the same – until the message finally sinks in.