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Anarchist Revival? Italy Risks Turning Alfredo Cospito Into A Martyr For A Lost Cause

Until a few weeks ago, Alfredo Cospito was a faceless holdout from a largely forgotten movement serving a life sentence for two separate attacks in the name of anarchism. But now his hunger strike has become a rallying cry for anarchists across Europe following a series of attacks protesting his prison conditions.

Photo of a demonstration of anarchist protesters in Rome in November

Anarchist protesters in Rome in November

Ginevra Falciani

An anonymous telephone call breaks the morning quiet of a newspaper office, warning that a “major bombing” will soon happen in response to the treatment of a jailed anarchist.

As much as it sounds like 1970s Italy, when bombs went off in train stations and piazzas, and politicians and business executives were kidnapped in broad daylight, the telephone call arrived three days ago at the Bologna headquarters of the Italian newspaper Il Resto del Carlino.

It’s the latest twist around the case of Alfredo Cospito, a member of the Informal Anarchist Federation, whose ongoing hunger strike has dominated Italian public debate for the past several weeks, and become a rallying cry for an anarchist movement across Europe that many thought had faded away.

Indeed, Italy has a long history of anarchists: In the 19th-century, theorist Errico Malatesta gave speeches and rallies around the world about his dream of a post-revolution libertarian society where equality and solidarity prevail; Italian immigrant anarchists Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti died on the electric chair in 1927 in Massachusetts after being wrongfully convicted of murdering a guard and a paymaster during an armed robbery; Gaetano Bresci, who assassinated King Umberto I of Italy in 1900.

More recently, anarchists played a significant role in the upheaval of the post-1968 generation, such as Giuseppe Pinelli, who died under suspicious circumstances after falling from a window during a police interrogation.

Attacks in Rome, Athens, Berlin and beyond

Yet, in 2023, we’re back to talking about anarchists where Cospito’s fate has set off a series of attacks around Europe carried out in his name. The 55-year-old native of the eastern city of Pescara is currently sentenced to life in prison without parole for kneecapping the CEO of an Italian nuclear power company in 2012, and for a bombing that damaged a Carabinieri military police school in 2006.

Cospito began a hunger strike more than 100 days ago after the Italian courts subjected him to a strict detention regime designed for Mafia and terrorist leaders.

The anarchists did not let this go unnoticed. The anonymous call of Tuesday is just the latest in a series of episodes, which began last December.

If Cospito dies, all judges will become a target.

In Turin, the cables of a mobile phone tower were set on fire, while in Rome a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a police station. Several demonstrations took place, with violent clashes with the police resulting in dozens of charges.

Two letters containing bullets were sent to the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Tirreno and attorney general Francesco Saluzzo. The letters also contained the message: “If Cospito dies, all judges will become a target.”

In the Greek capital of Athens, the car of the first counselor of the Italian embassy was set on fire, without causing any injuries, while an unexploded Molotov cocktail was found next to another of her cars.

On the same night between Jan. 27 and 28, the car of another Italian official was set on fire in Berlin, while in Barcelona, five people entered the Italian consulate after breaking a window and wrote on a wall “Free Cospito, “Murderous Italian State” and “Total Amnesty.”

1923 black-and-white photo of \u200bBartolomeo Vanzetti handcuffed to Nicola Sacco

Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco in 1923.

Superior Court - Wikimedia Commons

Conditions designed for mafiosi

Alfredo Cospito is currently being held under the so-called 41-bis regime, a strict detention regime established in 1992 as an emergency measure at the height of the fight against the Mafia, which became permanent in 2002.

Its aim is to isolate certain convicts from the rest of the criminal organization, after episodes in which Mafia bosses continued to run their operations from inside the prison. Under the regime, people live in solitary confinement with one hour of yard time a day to spend with a maximum of three other 41-bis inmates decided by the prison. Contact with family is usually limited to one hour a month and happens behind a glass, except for children under 12.

It affects all of us, it is not a left-wing or right-wing issue.

There are currently 750 prisoners in Italy living under this regime, all sentenced for Mafia crimes except for four terrorists.

For Cospito, it was implemented because he was writing articles from jail for anarchist newspapers praising armed resistance and encouraging people to follow his footsteps. He has protested the decision, arguing that he does not actively participate in the running of any organization. And late last year, he started a hunger strike, declaring that it will continue until 41-bis as a detention measure is abolished on the grounds that it violates the Italian Constitution.

photo of Anticlerical demonstration "Facciamo Breccia", 9 february 2008, Rome, Italy.

Italian Anarchist Federation demonstration in Rome

Stefano Bolognini - Wikimedia Commons

Meloni’s hard line

As his condition worsens, the right-wing government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has let it be known that it “will not negotiate with those who threaten the institutions.”

In a surprise phone call this week to the TV program Stasera Italia, Meloni declared that “the challenge is not to the government, but to the State. It affects all of us, it is not a left-wing or right-wing issue.”

Meanwhile, many criticized the Constitutional Court's decision to set the hearing of the Cospito case for mid-April, which had since been brought forward to the end of February. Attention has turned to Cospito’s doctors, who can request that his 41-bis regime is interrupted for health reasons, though the anarchist has already said that changing only his sentence will not be enough to break his hunger strike.

Massimo Giannini, the top editor of Turin-based La Stampa, cites the risk of letting the hunger strike continue.

“The State must prevent Cospito’s death both because it has a duty to protect the health of all citizens, and to avoid turning Cospito into a martyr,” said Giannini. “Perhaps such an outcome would suit the anarchists, who need symbols to continue to believe in a blind faith that is as anachronistic as it is illegal.”

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BOGOTÁ — A 2021 report from the United States (the Youth Risk Behavior Survey) found that 42% of the country's high-school students persistently felt sad and 22% had thought about suicide. In other words, almost half of the country's young people are living in despair and a fifth of them have thought about killing themselves.

Such chilling figures are unprecedented in history. Many have suggested that this might be the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but sadly, we can see depression has deeper causes, and the pandemic merely illustrated its complexity.

I have written before on possible links between severe depression and the time young people spend on social media. But this is just one aspect of the problem. Today, young people suffer frequent and intense emotional crises, and not just for all the hours spent staring at a screen. Another, possibly more important cause may lie in changes to the family composition and authority patterns at home.

Firstly: Families today have fewer members, who communicate less among themselves.

Young people marry at a later age, have fewer children and many opt for personal projects and pets instead of having children. Families are more diverse and flexible. In many countries, the number of children per woman is close to or less than one (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong among others).

In Colombia, women have on average 1.9 children, compared to 7.6 in 1970. Worldwide, women aged 15 to 49 years have on average 2.4 children, or half the average figure for 1970. The changes are much more pronounced in cities and among middle and upper-income groups.

Of further concern today is the decline in communication time at home, notably between parents and children. This is difficult to quantify, but reasons may include fewer household members, pervasive use of screens, mothers going to work, microwave ovens that have eliminated family cooking and meals and, thanks to new technologies, an increase in time spent on work, even at home. Our society is addicted to work and devotes little time to minors.

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