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Another meaning of 25 April – when words are stones

By Dr George Venturini

Born in the grandfather’s home which was frequently honoured with the presence of Giacomo Matteotti, one of the most famous victims of Fascist brutality, son of Natale and Alda; reared by the father, a young Republican anti-Fascist fighter, in the wake of Giustizia e Libertà, he was privileged to be reading classics – there being no scarcity or limit in the home by way of books.

Clearly, the shameful war of 1940 early appeared to be lost, or so the forbidden radio sources confirmed, encouraging an atmosphere of optimism and restless expectation.

When finally the traitorous king betrayed even his ‘cousin’ Mussolini – to whom he was linked by the other ‘cousin’, the early-Fascist Pius XI – and fled South, the German predator descended once again, as he had done for centuries, invading the former reluctant ally and taking with him his brutal forces and the unforgettable smell of creosote.

It was time for action. And in action – barely fifteen of age – he was caught, ‘tried’, sentenced to death, but lately destined to Große Deutschland, probably to work as a slave. Fortune helped: the transport train was bombed on the way. Escape became possible and ‘Aldo’ was born. His new duty, dangerous most of the time, was as a courier – everywhere.

In April 1945 Liberation came, by sacrifice of 100,000 fighters “who voluntarily gathered for dignity not for hatred” to reclaim their dignity. That 25 April has been remembered every year. ‘Aldo’ returned home, to his studies, to his favourite readings: Carducci, Mazzini, Foscolo, Camus, Orwell, Levi and many others, to graduation, to law school and later to the profession.

Liberation has been celebrated since 25 April 1945. Its cantor became Piero Calamandrei, with whom George’s father, first, and he, later, studied.

On 2 June 1946 Italians, mainly in the North, chose the Republic. On 1 January 1948 they were given – as a testimony of those 100,000 – the Constitution, still one of the most glowingly beautiful in the world.

But in the meantime the old agents of moneybags who had hired Fascism came back  – first timidly, then encouraged by the Nazi Pope Pius XII – he of ‘the rat line’, under cover of the new allies against ‘the East’, and with the re-emergence of collaborators spared by Republican grace.

Even Kesselring, the Supreme German Butcher of Boves (Cuneo) 8 September 1943: 45 men, women and children, of the Ardeatine Fosses, Rome 24 March 1944: 335 civilians – mainly Jews, of Sant’Anna di Stazzena (Lucca): 12 August 1944, 560 civilians, of Marzabotto (Bologna): over 770 civilians … and hundred other massacres, called for a stone to remember – as he dared saying – how merciful he had been to Italians during twenty months of occupation.

Calamandrei dictated the text to remember the popular revolt by that pact, “sworn amongst free people, who voluntarily gathered, for dignity and not for hatred, determined to erase the shame and the terror of the world” – a surge which has name Resistance.

By 1948 a new Resistance – civil this time – was called for. It won again in 1953; the fight continued, until, as many, long visits to saner and wiser Scandinavian countries plainly showed, that the battle for the complete liberation of Italy had once again, in the short historical time anyway, been lost. (Garibaldi had stopped instead of clearing Rome from the two-thousand year old cesspit).

Thomas Paine had opened a new world to George. In 1958 an invitation from Northwestern University in Chicago, with an attractive fellowship, gave way to four years, new studies, master of law and post-doctoral studies. What remains as ‘lesson’, seared in the memory, is from Louis Dembitz Brandeis (1856-1941), between 1916 and 1939 a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States: “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.”

A chair in Toronto was followed by a very pleasurable position in Singapore and gave meaning to the words: good, serious, motivated students.

In difficult times between Malaysia and Indonesia, concern for the safety of the family, suggested accepting an invitation to Brisbane – 1966. Four years into a tenured position, George and four other colleagues – three British and one from Melbourne – were referred to by a towering grandee of the ‘local’ staff, in the presence of the ‘profession from downtown’ which would always control the faculty, as “our visitors.” From Queensland the impression remains: nothing but privilege, nepotism, clientelism, intellectual corruption and colonial servility. In the sclerosis of a corporate state, if there was a rule it was this: that nothing should ever be done for the first time for fear of creating a precedent. Away from the Establishment detritus some names of excellent students still shine in the memory: Michael, Paul and Ross.

While on leave to Chicago, after Valparaiso, an invitation came to serve the Whitlam Government as trade practices commissioner. George would document his experience, as he saw it: “the Commission administering a law of prohibition as a law of abuse – the abused being all those citizens, consumers, lawfully restrained entrepreneurs and parliamentarians who had placed trust in the Commission. Antitrust – as Lionel had envisaged was being re-interpreted not as Arnold’s ‘folklore’ or Galbraith’s ‘charade’ but as the Russian word poshlost, which implies a frightening, debasing and interminable vulgarity – even of a metaphorical kind.” George witnessed the abuse by an encrusted ‘public’ service on the theoretically democratic structure of Australian institutions: duplicitous in matters antitrust, suppressive in matters information, repressive in matters statistics, one-way free in matters trade, authoritarian in matters civil liberties. The condition was systemic; not much has changed in forty years; it comes with the imposed, thoroughly foreign System. The System rests secure on the Empire of illusion, the illusion of action – and viceversa.  Ample documentation of such abuse of the Murphy Act had been collected and would have been produced.

It was then that a personal problem – and risk appeared on the horizon, after the 1975 royal-CIA-‘Coalition’ coup, and the return of the born-to-rule.

A Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, who had been called an ignoramus by the ‘maverick commissioner’ (Justice Michael Kirby’s words) could pass a word on to the minister in charge of deportation: ‘Get rid of the troublemaker, deport him back where he came from’. (Other ‘agitators’ were to suffer a similar fate).

With growing family responsibilities, an unknown barrister was asked by a friend to give an opinion on the manuscript for a revelatory book. The verdict came: some thirty pages, at different points, should be expurgated to avoid the easier way-out of deportation of the foreigner, rather than the trouble of legal action. The suggested remedy was obtaining ‘naturalisation’.

George thought that debasement of the contents was unacceptable. Reluctantly, he accepted ‘naturalisation’ even in contemplation of legal action. Towards the end of April 1980 he approached the relevant office. The personal slate was clean – always had been, there were no problems, attendance to the ‘ceremony’ was provided. The first trial was a failure – some words stuck in the throat; and so was the second. An agreement was reached for a third at which the objectionable words were to be said quickly, by George himself, almost like swallowing a large dose of castor oil. (An appropriate similitude in retrospect: castor oil was the most common punishment inflicted by the marauding Fascists on their opponents).

And what were those words ? What was the emotional stumble to surmount? These: the request made on an aspiring ‘naturalised’ to “[renounce] any previous allegiance.”

Here were the stones on the way to committing such ‘unnatural act’. Here were the words, part then as now, of the make-up of a young republican resister to the German and his Fascist vassals.

And here is what was ringing in his mind and pulsating in his heart: the powerful words of a familiar stone.

“You will have,

Kamerad Kesselring

The monument you demand from Italians,

but with what stone it will be built

will be for us to decide.

 

Not with the blackened stones

of the defenceless places torn apart by your slaughter,

not with the earth from the cemeteries

where our young friends

rest in peace,

not with the untouched snow of the mountains

which defied you for two winters,

not with the spring of these valleys

which saw you flee.

 

But only with the silence of the tortured

harder than any stone

only with the rock of this pact

sworn amongst free people

who voluntarily gathered

for dignity and not for hatred

determined to erase

the shame and the terror of the world.

 

On these roads should you wish to return

you will find us at our place

the dead and the living with the same commitment

a people clasped around the monument

which is called now and forever

Resistance.

 

Calamandrei dictated that stone, dated 4 December 1952 and placed in the atrium of the city palace of Cuneo – one of the martyred cities.

Every 25 April is a remembrance of that day of Liberation – not the occasion to celebrate the senseless slaughter of almost 9,000 poorchrists at Gelibolu, the unaware, uneducated pawns of Churchillian ‘strategy’ and of commanders’ incompetence, or to celebrate any of the other 84 invasions for which, in one way or another, Australia should be responsible and is certainly remembered.

Listening to those words, remembering those stones, it was un-humanly difficult to pledge “renouncing any previous allegiance”, thirty five year after that Liberation. Thirty five years after that unfelt affirmation, it remains the only unnatural act of Venturino Giorgio Venturini.

He will not ‘celebrate Anzac Day’. Half a life in this part of the world has yield some impression of a ritualistic occasion, with its bugles, and alien stumping of feet, and totally un-congenial military salutes. This year it will open a litany of recallings, cheap fossilised rhetoric, or – as it has been called – a ‘four year festival for the dead which in some cases looks like a military Halloween’, or an empty, formal ‘reverence divorced from understanding’. As usual immoderate consumption of alcohol and customary gambling would occupy the mind. And overseas, once again, the slopes of Gelibolu will be crowed by Patrick White’s ‘beautiful youths and girls [to] stare at life through blind blue eyes’. On 25 April an English-born ‘tit’ may, just still may, be leading an inert populace, deceived by indolence and carelessness, unable to emote, and devoted to the ‘she’ll do, mate’ attitude to the job to be done. There will persist what Robin Boyd branded as ‘resigned acceptance of social restrictions and censorship narrower than in almost any other democratic[?] country in the world’. Here is concern for ‘law-and-order’, much more important that love of justice, a mythical commitment to equality and equal opportunity for all, except for black Australians and others, too – as designated from time to time, as suitable to the occasion. There has a been for a generation gaoling of attempting asylum seekers, minors included, in ‘factories for mental illness.’ The myth of the ‘fair go’ survives.

George remembers and wishes to thank all those friends who were part of the Resistance. His life as an ‘outsider’ in this part of the world – truly a sub-tropical re-enactment of an alien monarchical racket   –   has been made more bearable by the encounter with Jim, Ted, Harry, Tom, Maurice, Allan, Manning, Russel, Hans and Faith  –   others too – and by the trust placed in him by Gough and Lionel.

5 comments

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  1. john o'callaghan

    This is a beautifully written wonderful story of human experience,of trust and loyalty and betrayal,and i agree with your sentiments to the letter.”

  2. hemingway13

    I am a Vietnam veteran who, after becoming an academic in California, migrated to Sydney a few months before Gough’s government was elected. In these years that I have witnessed ANZAC Day commemorations here, it has been saddening to see them increasingly become akin to the way “rednecks” in the Deep South of America had whooped it up during Memorial Day Parades and the 4th of July, flushed with pride and cheap moonshine whiskey.

    These Good Old Boys of the Deep South celebrated joyously because their grandfathers had not, contrary to God-Damn Lies in history books written by those God-Damn Yankees, lost The Civil War. The proof, as they would say, was in the grits: Southerners under the righteous leadership of the Klu Klux Klan had put the former slaves back in their place at the bottom of the American society. So assiduously had they segregated the Niggers that the U.S. Armed forces were still unashamedly, rigidly segregated throughout both of the World Wars. In fact, only when the grind of defeating the Axis powers and Japan dragged out an extra year were the technical specialist units of Black airmen and tankmen given the “privilege” of entering active combat.

    The start of the Vietnam War coincided with the middle of the Civil Rights War (euphemistically termed a Movement) lead by Martin Luther King. This meant that the same President who concocted The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution to bamboozle his Congress into full scale land combat operations throughout Souteast Asia simultaneously contorted Congressional limbs to pass The Civil Rights Act. Of course, the KKK’s Kamikaze following had no intention of backing down without a last ditch struggle, so Good Old Texan LBJ had his appeasement strategy at hand when the feces hit the fan: Conscription.

    Now, during the massive 1965 Conscription call up, there was no birthday lottery and the only certain deferments were medical and tertiary education. Failing a deferment, the least undesirable option was to enlist in the technical services, preferably the Air Force. If you had graduated college, an Air Force Officer. As expected, this resulted in a disproportionate percentage of Black conscripts enterting the supposedly fully integrated armed forces as infantry or “grunts” as they were unofficially designated. My high school slacker younger brother was one of them, and being a recent Bacelor of Science I became an officer. He is still close friends with members of his unit. Of course, many of them are black veterans, while I encountered only a half dozen black officers during the five year stretch of duty ——- none at all in any unit where I was assigned.

    So, when you see every month another unarmed black American being gunned down by a white police officer or vigilante, it is just business as usual in the Land of the Free. Why Australia continues to be such an enthusiastic participant in the enforcement of the American Military Industrial Complex Empire around the globe, currently not far as the crow flies from Gallipoli, is beyond my comprehension.

  3. mark delmege

    The words stuck in the throat – I know them well and never spoke them even though I still carried a British passport and was on my way to get the Aussie.
    We have had a week of thought control, propaganda useless endless rubbish and mythology.
    Turkey … now there is a topic Lets Talk Turkey. Firstly let me mention the ABC again and how a report from the ME this week ended with the words describing al Assad as a Dictator. It is what you get on our national broadcaster these days. It’s as if we are still under war censorship. Thoughts controlled – its never news but something else. So lets hear from someone who is believable. Of course it is only part of story but if you join the dots they link all the way back to another neighbour to the West of Syria who lives its own biblical mythology but that is another story for another day.

    http://www.democracynow.org/2014/4/7/sy_hersh_reveals_potential_turkish_role

  4. mark delmege

    It’s a good thing I reread the article. And it’s a good thing the Australian Citizenship oath/pledge has changed. In my day it required allegiance to the Queen and her family. Something I couldn’t/wouldn’t do.

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