Memoria della violenza politica. Un intervento di Jessica Matteo

Jessica Matteo ha partecipato al convegno su Dangerous oral histories: risks, responsibilities and rewards, alla Queen’s University Belfast, lo scorso 29 giugno (su cui si può leggere un resoconto scritto da Roberta Garruccio per AISO).
Jessica ha alle spalle una ricerca per la tesi di laurea magistrale su L’antifascismo militante a Roma, 1970-1976 , da cui ha tratto anche un articolo che si può leggere quiCi ha inviato il testo della sua relazione presentata a Belfast, che crediamo troverà molti lettori perché è breve, ben scritta, semplice, ricca di osservazioni tratte da esperienza diretta di ricerca sul campo.


di Jessica Matteo


Starting from my master thesis, I will briefly explore the complex theme of the memory of the political violence.
I researched on militant anti-fascism in Rome during the first half of the Seventies.
Militant antifascism was a political phenomenon for radical left-wing groups in the 70s and resulted in a violent struggle between the radical left-wing and extreme right-wing groups.
I collected 13 interviews (one of them was a group interview) with 15 former militants from Rome, and from three left-wing radical groups. The interviewees had engaged in political activism mostly as ordinary militants, I interviewed a few leaders as well. They were all men who were born between 1943 and 1958, so they were either high school or university students at that time in the 70s. Unfortunately, I couldn’t gather any female testimonies because every woman I asked refused to take part in my project.


The political violence was such a thorny issue that talking about the militant antifascism of the 70s has unavoidably meant the exploration of some dangerous matters, like the choice to use violence, the deaths, the possession of guns, the trials and the terrorism, as well as memories of prison experiences. It also meant the interviewees had to measure themselves against their past moral choices, which nowadays even they themselves are critical of.
One of the interviewees told me: “You’ve chosen a hard topic”, when the interview ended, and the recorder was off. He was right.
When asking the interviewees about the use of violence, they tended to intertwine the past and the present. On the one hand, each interviewee basically constructed his narrative based on his own life experience; and on the other hand, his memory was shaped by the public discourse which now criminalizes the violence. During the past fifty years the violence of that time has been seen in a criminal light, but during the 70s it was accepted as a natural consequence by militants.
The following interviewee clarifies this.
F.S. was an ordinary militant of two left-wing radical groups, and was also later engaged in a left-wing terrorist group. In the 80s he lived a clandestine life in South America. He was later imprisoned. He is still engaged in political activism today.

“Now I feel ashamed to say it, but at that time I was happy. I was happy, but now I feel shame, because I believe that we should not feel proud of those actions. […] Whether it was right or wrong [silence]… because nowadays honestly, I don’t know if it’s a good thing for guys of twenty to be shooting each other. I don’t know. […] If you think about it, I could have killed someone in their twenties, and say: ‘What have I done?’ What have I done? I have not done anything. I have not provoked anything. […] I repeat: that situation was a war for us, […] because it might happen that you met some fascists, who attacked you, and then you could die.”

There is another distinct issue regarding the complexity of oral history on political violence: due to their refusals, the corpus of oral sources lacks female testimonies. I want to point out that not one of the male interviewees shared any female contacts with me. Nevertheless, I found some female activists, but they wouldn’t take part in the project, and they wouldn’t meet up with me either. I don’t know the reason for this, they didn’t tell me why, but I guess it was because of the dangerous nature of the topic.
Generally, it was hard recalling violent actions when the speaker wasn’t a leader or someone who had joined a terrorist group. This is actually truer for women than for men.
Memories of male experiences of violence overshadow the political realm, forming the basis for the articulation of private memories. This lack of representations of women’s involvement in political violence makes their experiences more difficult to remember and tell on a personal basis.


So, my hardest challenge was finding the oral source, that is to say, the construction of networks, and then building a relationship of trust between myself and the interviewee.
I want to share with you my experience of constructing the oral sources because I believe it’s helpful to take into account the social differences which often emerge in the context of the interview itself. For example, a young person interviewing an older person, women interviewing men, outsiders interviewing members of a close community or culture.
I was, I am, a young woman. I’m Italian, I studied in Rome but I don’t come from there, and neither am I a political activist. Despite this, I decided to study a political topic with research based on interviews with people who have been engaged in political activism for a long time, and whose lives have been shaped by it. In this regard, I can claim I am an outsider. Not being a political militant myself, this allowed me to gain significant advantages for the study of the sources, but at the same time it meant I had many problems finding the interviewees. And I also got many refusals.
I’d like to mention a few significant episodes about it.
I met with the first interviewee three times before recording his interview. Despite this, while the recorder was still off, he asked me: “Are you a cop?”.
After one interview, I asked the interviewee, who was a leader, whether he could help me find other militants. He answered abruptly: “I don’t know anyone, I don’t know anyone’s name, we used only combat names”. I knew he was lying. This was one of the hardest interviews I did.
In some cases, I couldn’t develop a close relationship with them before the interview because they decided to be in touch with me only through their trusted intermediary.
Nevertheless, some of the witnesses got independently organized via a Facebook group where they exchanged information about me and my interviews.


I’m ending my presentation by reflecting on my role of interviewer.
As I said, the interviewees felt uncomfortable telling me their political experiences, and so did I as the interviewer. I was younger than them, I hadn’t experienced their political activism or lived at that time. I had merely studied the 70s and so I wasn’t convinced that I was the right person to be talking to them, collecting their memories and sharing them with other people. In the end, I overcame this by attempting to reward the interviewees through a fair and careful interpretation of their narratives.
These feelings were the source of my struggle in collecting and constructing oral accounts.