'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Banning Books in Italy 

Just before leaving office as President of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva issued a decision refusing to extradite Italian fiction writer Cesare Battisti to Italy for four killings that he was found guilty of committing in absentia as a participant in the violent leftist group Armed Proletarians for Communism in the 1970s. Battisti fled Italy and France for Brazil while protesting his innocence, as he does to this day. For those of you interested in one left perspective about the legal procedures used to convict Battisti, consider this recent World Socialist Web Site article. While the author's tone is someone strident, even by WSWS standards, Marc Hall does make the essential point that Battisti was convicted in the 1980s under special measures used to combat domestic violence, measures that were rightly maligned at the time as a perversion of the judicial process to serve the purpose of political repression.

Not surprisingly, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi continues to make Battisti's extradition a priority when he isn't paying to have sex with the nubile young stars of the reality TV shows of his television network. According to Wu Ming, his supporters have now proceeded to seek to have the books of other authors who have supported Battisti in his efforts to avoid extradition banned:

The Assessor for Culture of the province of Venice, a guy called Speranzon – a former activist of the MSI [the old neo-fascist party, active from 1946 to 1994] and now a member of Berlusconi’s party – approved a proposal from a party colleague and will order Venetian libraries to:

1) Remove from shelves all the books written by any author who signed a 2004 petition asking for Cesare Battisti’s release from jail;

2) Abstain from organizing events featuring such writers (they must be declared undesirable persons, he says).

Any librarian who will not accept this diktat will be held responsible of his behavior. Is this a hint about fund freezing, withdrawal of patronage, mobbing, hostile media campaigning? The proposal was lauded by the COISP, a policemen union. The poor librarian will think twice, before opposing local authorities and the police. A clique of honest democratic citizens is already trying to extend the thing to the whole Veneto, and the initiative is likely to be emulated beyond regional borders.

Many of us are in the proscription list: we, Valerio Evangelisti, Massimo Carlotto, Tiziano Scarpa, Nanni Balestrini, Daniel Pennac, Giuseppe Genna, Giorgio Agamben, Girolamo De Michele, Vauro, Lello Voce, Pino Cacucci, Christian Raimo, Sandrone Dazieri, Loredana Lipperini, Marco Philopat, Gianfranco Manfredi, Laura Grimaldi, Antonio Moresco, Carla Benedetti, Stefano Tassinari and many others. They would almost have to leave the shelves empty.

And maybe, this is their dream.

Quadruppani is right: we can’t react with a shrug, say that it’s only taunting, suggest indifference as a mean to avoid publicity for certain people. Sometimes that is the right thing to do, but not always.

Of course, this is also taunting , but it’s mostly something else:

1) It’s a threat against an entire category of workers (librarians). They should accept an authoritarian and unconstitutional ultimatum, or else pay dearly.

2) It’s an act aimed at isolating and censoring writers and artists as moral accomplices to terrorism. An act by an administrator, a person of authority, who appeals to the gut feelings of the ordinary folks by waving a scarecrow that diverts their attention from other problems. An act that wants to intimidate and keep in line those who produce public discourse.

As our colleague Tiziano Scarpa put it: This puts in peril the citizenship of a writer, which lies in its language and its works.

We should all react against this rubbish, not just the writers that are directly involved or the librarians that are directly threatened.
- Citizens, readers, library goers should make themselves heard.
- Administrators, political organizations and associations in the Venice areashould make themselves heard.
- Whoever works in the media, or has a blog or you-name-it, should write about this.
- The National Association of Librarians should say something.
- Public administration unions should say something.
- Publishers should take action and file a lawsuit against an initiative that damages them economically and morally.
Protest mails to newspapers should be sent, fliers and open letters should be affixed to the bulletin boards of libraries and reading rooms.
- Articles should be shared and linked, like this one (we will post constant updates at the bottom [of the Italian original version, T.N.]) or any other text or video that informs about this guy, his liberticidal intentions and about possible initiatives by his imitators and cronies.

Updates in the comments to the original post indicate that the situation has worsened:

Wu Ming
January 18, 2011 at 4:59 pm
P.S. Librarians from the Veneto region are reporting unofficial pressure to remove certain books from their libraries’ shelves. Eg Roberto Saviano’s books.

Wu Ming
January 18, 2011 at 7:53 pm
They’re still trying, by other means, and the attempt is now at regional level, it involves the whole Veneto region instead of the Province of Venice. The vice-governor of Veneto Marino Zorzato (a member of PDL, Berlusconi’s party), who is also the Regional Assessor for Human Resources, Sports and Culture, stated to the local press:

As ours is a liberal party [!], it is difficult for us to conceive censorship. Instead, we could find a way to inform the library user, to make clear who is the author of any book and what position he took in the Battisti affair.

Wu Ming
January 19, 2011 at 11:33 am
The situation has gotten much worse. The Assessor for Education of the Veneto Region, Donazzan (of the Northern League) announced that she will write to all the principals, asking them to remove from school libraries the books written by the authors who signed the 2004 petition for Cesare Battisti.

And, finally, there is this, most recent update:

Wu Ming
January 19, 2011 at 11:28 pm
by Loredana Lipperini (original text here, translated by V)

Let’s call her Em.

I have erased and replaced her name also in previous comments by her and by other readers. Em works in a public library of the Province of Treviso, I will not tell in which town. I want to protect her identity, and also to thank her for her courage.

Em has told here, and then privately, a story regarding libraries, once again. The day after the Speranzon Case (on which you can find an important article by Massimo Carlotto on Carmilla, by the way), a breach is opening: many librarians are contacting me and Michela Murgia, in order to denounce explicit or underlying forms of censorship.

Some episodes are already well-known: for instance when, in October 2009, the mayor of Musile di Piave asked the library of his town get rid of politically-oriented newspapers, namely La repubblica and Il manifesto [leftist newspapers-RE].

Here you can read the official reply from AIB (TN the National Association of Librarians), which has also taken an official stance on the Speranzon case. Another episode of censorship dates to May 2009, when a library in Genoa was requested to block the public initiative Due regine due re [Two queens two kings].

Back to Em, now. We are in the immediate aftermath of the broadcasting of Vieni Via Con Me [TN a popular TV show on the national channel RAI 3, featuring Roberto Saviano]. One of the library supervisors, vaguely embarrassed, tells his librarians about the criticisms he received from the Mayor (a member of the Northern League). More or less in the same days, the local Councillor for Culture has also expressed his concern: he has noted that one of the librarians is cataloguing works by Marco Paolini [TN a popular left-wing actor in Italy] and, as Em refers, he has explicitly asked to be informed in advance of our new acquisitions, in order to give us his indisputable and binding advice. The supervisor suggests opting for a soft line: to remove the books from shelf, just until the dust settles.

Em then asks for a written order, which will never come. Christmas comes, a New Year begins. Now, Saviano’s books are formally registered in the library catalogue: yet they are materially missing from shelf. Nobody answers those who ask why.

Em says: I decided to write because I had to share my sadness with someone. I really thank her for this, and I invite more librarians to write, and tell us more stories. When the stories proliferate, and when they become a collective heritage, they also gain strength.

An update from Il Corriere Veneto: The Regional Councillor for Education, Donazzan, declares that she will write a letter (with the formal support of Governor Zaia) to all the Headmasters of the Region of Veneto (and through them, to all teachers), asking not to let the works of the blacklisted authors circulate among the youth. To those who denounce her act as a censorship, she replies that hers is not an imposition, but a political address.

Beyond posting this blog entry, as requested by Wu Ming, what to do? Besides what they have suggested, which, in many instances, are specific to Italy, perhaps we should contact the Italian Embassy in the US, or, alternatively, Italian consulates here, and express our solidary with those resisting the censorship currently transpiring in the province of Venice. Perhaps, the second, consular link is more useful for this purpose, as it readily provides e-mail addresses to facilitate communication with consular officials. Of course, any other suggestions would be welcome.

Labels: , , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?