On April 25, Italy celebrates the liberation from Nazi-fascism. On April 25, 1945, the Allied forces and the Italian partisans broke through the Gothic Line, and the Germans and Italian fascists withdrew from the main Italian Northern cities. It was the beginning of the full liberation of the country. Hundreds of parades and rallies have taken place in my country in the last hours, with people chanting ‘Bella Ciao’, and institutions paying tribute to the partisans who died for freedom. It is ‘the day’ when we Italian people classify ourselves between liberals and non-liberals, between progressive and nostalgics. It is a day of national catharsis when the founding values of our Republican institutions are revisited and celebrated.
On April 25, 2022, however, something went wrong, and skirmishes, accusations, or swearwords have raged through the community of marchers, with the war in Ukraine in the background. In Milan, some demonstrators were shouting at politicians of the Italian Democratic Party saying, “You are servants of the NATO, get out of here”, or “You are warmongers”. In Turin, flags of the NATO and of the Democratic Party have been burned during the rally by people declaring to be “against the interests of multinational companies, bankers, and capitalists”, against wars and militarisation. These acts are carried out by a minority, but they denote a climate of confusion whereby many have been reluctant or slow in distinguishing between aggressors and aggressed.
The day before, April 24, a crowded peace march took place between Perugia and Assisi, the birthplace of Saint Francis, calling for this war to be stopped. It is the traditional gathering of Italian peace and nonviolent activists and movements. The poster the organizers chose for this march say “Fermatevi! La Guerra è una follia! Stop (you both)! War is madness!”. The image is a screaming mother with her baby, and two bullets going in opposite directions around their heads. So, you both, aggressors and aggressed, you both must stop.
Is this what we offer to the people of Ukraine? The belief that any war, any use of weapons must be stopped, even if it is to defend yourself from an aggression? I joined the ranks of pacifist organizations in the eighties, and I do not regret it at all. I believed that disarmament is the solution to most of the current world problems, and that the United Nations must be reformed and relaunched, and I still defend this view, but I am afraid I disagree with the recipe offered by some of these movements when people are dying under bombardment. 1945 the war was lost by Nazi-fascism because our ancestors took weapons in their hands and asked for international support. Pacifism is a powerful mean of struggle when you are a citizen of the aggressing country, not so much when you are from the aggressed, nor when you are from a non-belligerent country and – in the absence of a serious willingness to engage in dialogue on the part of the aggressor – you offer speeches of peace and love instead of material, logistical and political support to the aggressed. Pacifism and nonviolence traditionally belong to the system of values of the political left and progressive forces. In our part of the world, however, social mobilisation against militarisation has often been associated to anti-Americanism and anti-Capitalism, to the point that a habit of double standards has arisen among civil society’s ranks. All in the streets to protest the illegitimate American war to Iraq, nobody in the streets against the Russian-Irani backed repression of the 2011 Syrian uprising. Sit-ins against the illegitimate Israeli occupation of Palestine, silence on China’s ethnical repression against Uighurs. We are forgiving crimes perpetrated in the East; we are viscerally denouncing West-backed colonial moves.
Pacifism is a beautiful way of being and portraying oneself when you have freedom of expression, and your basic needs are guaranteed. That is obsolete and naïve elsewhere. It was right during the Vietnam war. It was right in the Eastern bloc’s repressive societies. It does not really work anymore when you are facing a despot, unless you accept the principle that giving up your right to self-determination and your freedom is a good thing.
If those burning flags of NATO and democratic political parties were now in Russia, they would have been kidnapped, probably tortured, and certainly detained.
In my view, the Western democracies should be criticised not for sending defensive weaponry to Ukrainian people struggling for their land and independence and advocating at any cost for joining the European democracies. The West should be criticised for not using the same standards wherever right to self-determination and freedoms are trampled upon. On Easter Monday, April 18, 2022, the Turkish army started an offensive military action in Kurdistan including Northern Iraq named “Claw-lock”, claiming that they were protecting the State’s territorial integrity – even if no report of attacks or military provocations is of public knowledge. Turkey by the way is a NATO member, but what is currently happening in Kurdistan has not been internationally denounced at all. Such a silent stance by the West would be a very good reason to be in the streets and criticise our leaderships!
For those executed or raped in Bucha, for those starving in besieged Marioupol, for those who were massacred in Srebrenica, our pacifism is obscene and selfish, I have no other words for that. Ideologically defined pacifism carries sometimes with it the risk of concealing a certain inclination to tolerance and undeclared admiration for the resoluteness of anti-imperialist strong leaders. Mr. Putin, according to some people, is one of them, and for the same people, his decision to go to war is “understandable”.
Pacifism has a meaning when you live in a colonialist country, and pacifism and anti-war marches are a sign of heroic civism and political engagement nowadays in countries such as Russia, or Saudi Arabia, or Iran, or Israel, since those joining those acts would be the target of State’s repression. Pacifism has no effective impact with respect to the Ukrainian crisis when it is practiced in our European Union’s nations. In Italy, you suddenly discover that even old friends of the Russian regime are suddenly embracing pacifist and nonviolent stances. As if they were wishing that Ukrainians stop resisting and give up their land to Russia, so that stability and economy are preserved. “Hitler was not defeated with Oster marches” reminds the German press nowadays. Preserving peace in peace times is and remains a virtue of great value. But when there is not any peace left to preserve, priorities should change.
“One morning I woke up,
Oh, goodbye beautiful, goodbye beautiful, goodbye beautiful, bye, bye, bye
One morning I woke up
And I found the invader.”
So goes the beginning of the song “Bella Ciao”. They fought for our today’s freedom, so that we can now go demonstrating in the streets and march against someone or something. If we are not able to defend those who are living today what our ancestors lived seventy years ago, we are prisoners of our myths. And somehow cowards, because after the march, we can go back to our normal life, drink a cappuccino, or watch a movie, while those who found the invader cannot.
April 26, 2022.