Poems vs swastikas – there’s a cultural war being waged on the streets of Rome

The battle for ideological hegemony in the city mirrors that of wars gone by

Alessio Colonnelli
The Independent Voices

Seventy-five years ago this month Rome was liberated by Anglo-American forces supported by Italian guerrilla fighters. Now, the organisation founded by those home-grown heroes is cheering on a 2019 street battle against the far right, and it is one that evokes the literary connections of that moment in the Second World War.

Back in 1944, young German soldiers roamed the streets, disbanded. In the distance, some kept firing back at resistance fighters; others simply watched the allies’ convoy rattling through the city’s southern fringes.

One soldier sat there “with a weary, faraway look, his head thrown back and his two hands resting on the stone step. He seemed remote from everything – from the war, from his surroundings, from time,” as the Italian novelist Curzio Malaparte wrote in The Skin.

Malaparte, whose real name was Kurt Suckert (his father was German), took part in the liberation as a liaison officer among the various armies, Italy’s skeleton force included. The French were there too that day (and the Polish), with General Guillaume leading the Moroccan Goumiers soldiers who killed and raped civilians on their journey across the peninsula, as retold in Two Women with Sophia Loren, from the famous book by Alberto Moravia.

Moravia, miraculously fled Rome and hid in a cave, without knowing if the capital would ever be freed. It was precisely those mountains between Rome and Naples that Hitler had counted on. He hoped to win at Cassino, the lengthy and savage battle the Allies successfully endured for the sake of Europe. (The Nazis’ barricades were built by slaves captured in the central Apennines. Thousands of others were deported to forced labour camps in Germany. Italy’s darkest hour.)

In the run-up to the liberation, the resistance in Rome had relentlessly chipped away at the Wehrmacht, making life for the allies slightly easier on that 4 June, 48 hours before D-Day. And it was those fighters who went on to found ANPI, the Italian Association of Partisans.

Which brings us to last week, when the ANPI congratulated anonymous activists who covered up the omnipresent swastikas and assorted far-right symbols in Fiumicino, Greater Rome, by papering poems over them.
Nobody knew who’d done it; and nobody among the public tore them down. People took pictures instead, and these went viral on social media. The poetry lovers’ nocturnal adventure took place overnight towards the end of May. The next morning, the whole place was shimmering in A4 whiteness.




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