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The Years of Lead: A legacy in three generations


When visiting Italy this past summer, I realized that I had a perfect opportunity to put something to the test that I had been pondering for a while: How are the Years Of Lead remembered by Italians? For those of you who don't know, the Years of Lead were a period in Italian history (in the late 60s to late 80s) where political tensions boiled over, leading to violence by both far let and far right terrorist groups. By the end of it, hundreds had been killed in bombings and shootings, as well as in targeted political assassinations (including one against former Prime Minister Aldo Moro). I decided to interview different members of my family, being able to see how these years affected people who lived through them, grew up through them, and people who have learnt from them through popular culture and other means. I expected ant-communist sentiment to be strong throughout all the interviews, as I do live in a region of Italy that it mostly business owners who value capitalism almost as much as polenta.

Interview 1: My grandparents

Being born in 1939, my grandfather was already middle aged once the Years of Lead began in the mid-1970s. He seemed to have been quite disillusioned with the entire time period, not making much difference between the far left and far right groups within the conflict, or blaming one side more than the other. In fact, the only clear opinion he had on the matter was that the government did not do enough to stop the killings, and that there was a palpable fear within the community that the attacks were to boil over into the region him and my grandmother live in, with the state not being able prevent it. When speaking briefly to my grandmother, she echoed the fear and said that people were not afraid of a specific side of the conflict, as most saw all side as criminals and murderers.

Overall, it seems likely that the legacy of the Years of Lead for my grandparent's generation were less to do with competing ideologies and more to do with a breakdown in the system, with the power vacuum being filled with violent extremist groups. I should mention, however, that both my grandparents are not very politically motivated in general, so it could be the case that the ideological aspect was still important among other individuals in my grandparent's generation, and I just happened to interview two outliers.

Interview 2: My parents

My next interview would be with my parents. Unlike my grandparents, both my father and my mother are politically motivated and ideological, but this has not shifted their views on the Years of Lead by much. My parents were born in 1964 and 1970, which also would have had an influence, as they grew up with the events unfolding around them.

From speaking to them, it becomes clear that the ideological component factored into their views on it retrospectively, as they did not have strong political views when they were kids (obviously). My father, who I would say occupies the center-left of the political spectrum, sees the fascist groups as particularly despicable for their actions, but was clear to say that the actions perpetuated by both sides of the conflict meant that personal ideology did not matter after a point, as political assassinations or terror bombings (like the bombing of a train station in Bologna in 1980 which killed 85 people) are indefensible. He also seemed to echo m grandparent's thoughts that the political considerations were an afterthought compared to fear, as his childhood memories of the Years of Lead reflected the paranoia that most adults had, and the lack of security everyone felt.

My mother has similar political leanings, and again told me that the political component of the events were not focused on by many, as the amount of people within the general public that agreed with the extreme views held on either side were small. She also had a more negative perception of the role of the government than my father, seeing them as "useless" and in some ways responsible for the extent to which the conflict went on for.

Interview 3: My cousins

My cousins had very different opinions on what happened, mostly due to the fact that their perception of the events was less influenced by lived experience than their own pre existing political ideas. This means the legacy of the fear and paranoia is much less obvious than in the previous two generations discussed. On the other hand, a number of other individuals barely knew what happened or had a cursory understanding at best, meaning most of them did not have strong opinions on it.

One cousin I interviewed had strong feelings feelings for what happened. He is an outspoken anti-communist, and this translated to his views on the events. Although he did not try and defend the fascist's actions, he did have much more negative things to say to the communist groups, and said that they were tearing Italy apart. Furthermore, he went on to voice his opinions on communism in general, saying it is a stupid and dangerous ideology, as it simply is not right to try and make everyone equal if someone works harder than someone else. His closing statements were mostly to do with him being thankful that the government ended up being able to imprison most of the communist groups, and the fact that the communist party within Italy stopped existing in the 90s.

I don't think my cousin's opinions on the Years of Lead are demonstrative of everyone his age, but I do think it is an effect of the right wing resurgence happening in Italy at the moment. Let's not forget who the current Prime Minister is. Therefore, the people who have strong opinions on politics will have strong opinions on the Years of Lead, as it served as the most recent example of violent political conflict within Italy. The fact that so many people my age barely know about them is probably a testament to the education system in Italy, and the lack of engaging education that most people are provided with.


Overall, I'm not exactly surprised with what I found. it seems that the people who remember the fear and paranoia inherent to the conflict see it as a time of senseless violence, whilst the people who were not alive during those times have used it to strengthen their own opinions. This has led to quite a lot of young people in Italy feeling more hate towards communists than the people who were actually at risk of being killed by them. the reason behind why most younger people have stronger negative views towards the far left is most likely due to the growth in right wing rhetoric within Italy, which has clearly struck a nerve with many young adults.

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