by Ambra Visentin

Forty-three years have passed since the fascist terrorist attack on Bologna railway station on 2 August 1980. The attack, the bloodiest in post-war Italy, left 85 people dead and over 200 injured. Despite the fact that the courts have found several far-right terrorists guilty, there are still those in Italian politics who would like to deny responsibility. Several politicians from the governing party, Fratelli d’Italia, want to open up other avenues of investigation. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni did not attend the commemoration and sent Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi to represent the government. More than four decades after the Bologna massacre, Italy has elected a right-wing government that wants to deny the fascists’ responsibility for the attack. “None of us were in Bologna” is a historical slogan that was also used in the past by members of Meloni’s party to refer to the events of 2 August 1980. A phrase that expresses the right’s claim of innocence, but also the connection between the ancestors of the Fratelli d’Italia, the Italian social movement, and the right-wing terrorists found guilty of the massacre.

The historical period between the late 1960s and the early 1980s is known in Italy as the ‘anni di piombo’ (Years of Lead), when extremist terror from both the left and the right shook the foundations of Italian democracy. It usually begins with the Piazza Fontana massacre on 12 December 1969 at the Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura in central Milan and ends with the Bologna bombing in 1980. The clock at the main entrance to Bologna station still shows the time of the explosion, 10.25am. In memory of the victims, the time of the bombing was frozen on that Saturday. Investigators discovered that the time bomb, which the killer had placed in a suitcase in the waiting room, consisted of 23 kilos of TNT and other highly explosive material.

The day after the attack, the then police chief of Bologna, Italo Ferrante, said he was ‘at least 95 per cent sure’ that it was a terrorist attack by right-wing extremists. A year after the massacre, a memorial plaque was unveiled bearing the names of the victims and condemning fascist terrorism. In three separate trials, the perpetrators of the Bologna bombing were tried by the neo-fascist Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari (Armed Revolutionary Nuclei, NAR). In 1988, NAR leaders Valerio Fioravanti and Francesca Mambro were sentenced to life imprisonment. They were released on parole after 20 years in prison.

In almost forty years of trials, the verdicts have established responsibility for the Bologna massacre. In addition to Valerio Fioravanti and Francesca Mambro, Luigi Ciavardini (sentenced to 30 years in 2007) and Gilberto Cavallini (sentenced to 20 years in 2020), neo-fascists belonging to the NAR, were also found guilty. But the man who, according to the prosecution, brought the heavy suitcase containing the explosives to the Bologna train station and left it in the waiting room, was not prosecuted until 2020. He is Paolo Bellini, from the Avanguardia Nazionale, who was sentenced to life imprisonment at first instance in 2022 for conspiracy to commit massacre. Bellini had already appeared during the investigation of the massacre in the early 1980s and then during the trial of Gilberto Cavallini. The trial against him had begun in April 2021 and was known as the “trial of the principals” because it also mentioned the principals and financiers.

The involvement of some Italian secret service officers and the head of the secret ‘Propaganda Due’ (P2) lodge, Licio Gelli (1919-2015), in the Bologna massacre has also been proven. Also implicated were Umberto Ortolani, Gelli’s fixer and right-hand man, Federico Umberto D’Amato, director of the Confidential Office of the Ministry of the Interior, and Mario Tedeschi, an elected politician of the Italian Social Movement (MSI) and former director of the right-wing newspaper Il Borghese. Gelli, Ortolani, Tedeschi and D’Amato died. The powerful supporters, who were well-connected in politics and business, not only inspired the massacre and tried to deflect the judicial investigations, but also played a more active role by financing the young right-wing terrorists. In fact, the sentence reads: “The Bologna massacre had ‘commanders’ among the persons named in the indictment, not a general conceptual indication, but names and surnames against whom the circumstantial framework is so substantial as to justify the assumption of a political scenario, characterised by the activities and roles played by these persons in international politics, as the operational context of the Bologna massacre”.

On the day of commemoration of the Bologna massacre, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, in her official statement, avoided referring to the political matrix of the attack by speaking in general terms of ‘terrorism’. Gianfranco Pagliarulo, president of the Associazione Nazionale Partigiani d’Italia (National Association of Italian Partisans), among others, criticised Meloni, saying that ‘the judiciary has established the responsibility of neo-fascists and the involvement of occult forces behind this massacre. However, attempts at denial and, more generally, manoeuvres to rewrite the history of the decade of black massacres (the colour refers to neo-fascist exponents in Italy, ed.) are still under way, particularly by the leaders of Fratelli d’Italia’.

Cover image: © Radio Città del Capo on Flickr