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Saturday, July 13, 2024

A very Italian salsa of populism and conspiracy theories

On 23 May in Piedmont, Northern Italy, a cable car crashed and killed 14 people. The following morning, on the radio, the former editor of the venerable Corriere della Sera Paolo Mieli suggested a terrorist attack due to some of the victims being of Israeli origin. The suspicion, however, as Mieli himself admitted, was based on nothing.

The episode demonstrates how easy it is, even among those “above suspicion”, to slip from level-headed analysis to conspiracy theories which often simplify reality, reassure the audience or play into their sense of identity. It is no surprise that such reorganization of reality proves so effective at a time when, in the West, the great secular or religious ideologies are in crisis and citizens find themselves disoriented. However, in Italy there are also historical specificities driving citizens to dig below the surface.

Doubt as a tool against the state
In the second half of the twentieth century, doubt has been Italians’ primary tool against the convenient versions of history promulgated by authorities.

This was a period in which the mingling of the Mafia and politics permeated society at various levels; it was also the period which gave us the “Years of Lead”: a wave of terrorist attacks, far-right massacres and radical left armed struggles, causing hundreds of deaths and injuries and leaving several serious judicial cases unsolved.

The facts behind some of these events have subsequently been brought to light thanks to the counter-investigative work of journalists, historians and victims’ families. But this work, often confirmed by the Courts, has been hindered or led astray by the state apparatuses all too often found to be involved in those same events.
“I know the names of those responsible […] but I have no proof,” wrote writer and director Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1974 in the Corriere della Sera. Of the counter-investigative work of those decades, the contribution of Pasolini – who was killed a few months after writing those words, in circumstances that have never been fully clarified – is more poetic than concrete. Nevertheless, it still marks the watershed between two eras: the first, where doubt has led to truth, through an evidence-based reconstruction of events that challenges official accounts, and the second, where everyone, as the political scientist Marco Revelli has written, “is a judge of everything. Big Pharma with their vaccines, viruses “that are nothing but a scam to manipulate us”, 5G technology and microchips, Bill Gates and Soros controlling everything, migratory floods driven by the Kalergi plan. Suspicion”, Revelli concludes, “has won”.

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