Tags: Italy | Journalist Statue Defaced

Legacy of Late Italian Journalist Stained by Colonial past

Legacy of Late Italian Journalist Stained by Colonial past

Sunday, 14 June 2020 10:39 AM

MILAN (AP) — Milan’s mayor on Sunday resisted calls to remove a statue from a public park of a late Italian journalist who had acknowledged having had a 12-year-old Eritrean bride during Italy’s colonial occupation in the 1930s.

Giuseppe Sala said in a Facebook video that he was perplexed by “the lightness” with which Indro Montanelli had confessed to having bought the child bride from her father, in a widely circulated video of a 1969 talk show appearance. But he said “lives should be judged in their totality.”

“Montanelli was more than that. He was a great journalist, a journalist who fought for the liberty of the state, an independent journalist. Maybe for these reasons he was shot in the legs,” Sala said, referring to a 1977 attack on Montanelli by the Red Brigades. “For these reasons, I think the statue should remain.”

The statue of Montanelli, inside a Milan park that bears his name near where he was attacked, has been a flashpoint in Italy’s Black Lives Matters protests, which have put renewed focus on Italy’s colonial past. Activists also are pushing for automatic citizenship to foreigners born in Italy to parents with permanent residency and to do away with laws that limit immigration.

Over the weekend, protesters covered the statue with red paint and scrawled “racist” and “rapist” on the base. The statue has been covered previously in pink paint in feminist protests, but this is the first time that Montanelli’s past has faced a serious reckoning, with calls to remove the statue and rename the park.

Montanelli, who died in 2001 at age 92, was one of Italy’s most revered journalists, honored by the Vienna-based International Press Institute in 2000 as among the 50 World Press Freedom Heroes.

A noted foreign and war correspondent, Montanelli chronicled contemporary Italy from its colonial era through fascism, Italy’s postwar reconstruction and the anti-corruption scandals that overturned Italy’s political class in the 1990s.

He worked for many years at Corriere della Sera, before becoming founding editor of Silvio Berlusconi’s il Giornale. He famously quit the paper when the media mogul became a politician. He mentored some of today’s top Italian journalists.

But his legacy is being challenged by his having taken a child bride while he 24 years old and leading a battalion of 100 Eritreans during the Fascist regime’s colonial rule.

One of his protégé’s, Beppe Severgnini, wrote in Corriere della Sera this week that “while toppling a statue of a dictator can be a gesture of liberation, removing the statue of a free journalist stinks of fanaticism.”

Montanelli himself, on several public occasions, freely acknowledged the relationship with the girl named Desta.

“I think I chose well. She was a beautiful girl of 12 years,” Montanelli told the 1969 talk show appearance, adding a smiling “excuse me. But in Africa it was another thing.”

The Eritrean-born journalist, Elvira Banotti, who was in the audience, challenged his romantic account, accusing him of rape and of “violent” colonialist behavior. He defended himself, saying there was no rape because girls in Eritrea married at the age of 12, but acknowledged that it would have been considered rape in Europe. “What difference is there physically, or psychologically?” Banotti pressed.

Montanelli, writing in Corriere della Sera in 2000 in response to a letter from an 18-year-old reader, put the girl's age at 14 and said she married an Eritrean after he left, and named her first of three children Indro. He traveled to Eritrea in 1952, and she “received me like a father,” he wrote.

“I hope I haven't scandalized you,” he wrote to the 18-year-old who solicited the account. “If I have, it's your fault.”

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Milan's mayor on Sunday resisted calls to remove a statue from a public park of a late Italian journalist who had acknowledged having had a 12-year-old Eritrean bride during Italy's colonial occupation in the 1930s.Giuseppe Sala said in a Facebook video that he was...
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Sunday, 14 June 2020 10:39 AM
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