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The kidnapping and killing of Aldo Moro

A seminal event in Italian political history

black and white photo of several parked cars, their doors open, their windows smashed and drivers' side doors riddled with bullet holes. A detective stands by to inspect the scene, while onlookers gather in the background.
Massimo Canario (otvara se u novom prozoru) (Archivio Luce - Cinecittà)

For all these reasons, dear colleagues who have announced our trial in the streets, we tell you that we will not be prosecuted...

Aldo Moro has always been considered a calm politician. Also for this reason, the words he spoke on March 9, 1977 in Parliament, during a discussion on the Lockheed scandal, caused a certain sensation. And surely many of his colleagues will have remembered them a year later, when, on the morning of March 16 1978, the news agencies began to report that the president of the Christian Democrats had been kidnapped by the Red Brigades, who had killed the five men of his escort and had taken him to the "people's prison" to subject him to a "proletarian trial".

The 55 longest days in the history of Republican Italy begin that March 16, and will end on the following 9 May, when the terrorists will leave the body of the Apulian statesman in a red Renault 4, parked in a central street in Rome.

Aldo Moro at that time was probably, together with Giulio Andreotti, the most powerful politician in the country. He is spoken about openly as the next president of the republic and precisely that March 16, the Parliament is preparing to vote for confidence in the new government led by Andreotti, a government strongly supported by Moro, against many of his own party comrades: for the first time since 1947, the Communist Party will be an integral part of the majority. There is also discontent among the communists but his kidnapping and the massacre of the men of his escort overshadow all the doubts that still hovered among the parliamentarians the evening before: the Chamber first and the Senate afterwards take very little time to vote for the confidence in the Andreotti government, in order to have an executive with full powers in what will immediately be announced as the most difficult days in the history of the Republic.

Terrorism is not an exclusively Italian phenomenon: if Spain and Ireland have to deal with separatist armed groups such as ETA and IRA, France and Germany live experiences, albeit at a lower intensity, similar to those in Italy: in France between 1979 and 1987 a group called Action Directe operated, while in Germany, the Rote Armee Fraktion, also known as the Baader-Meinhof Group, active from 1970 to 1998, just a few months before the Moro kidnapping, had kidnapped the head of the German industrialists Hanns-Martin Schleyer, kidnapping which ended dramatically with the killing of the man and the death in prison of the group's founders.

a black and white poster with red accents, showing a man holding a sign that reads 'prisoner of the RAF'. In bold, the poster reads in Dutch above and below the image 'Is Hanns Martin Schleyer innocent?'

A media kidnapping

During the kidnapping, the Red Brigades tried to exploit the press, trying to transform the media into a sounding board for the communications coming from the so-called people's prison, with which they intended to update the country on the "process" they were subjecting the Christian Democratic leader to. Many newspapers questioned whether it was the case not to publish those communiqués and some did.

The first communiqué, in which the terrorists claim the kidnapping and massacre of the escort, is dated 18 March and it is accompanied by a photo of the Christian Democratic leader, proof that Moro is alive, something that some had questioned; they speak for the first time of the “SIM”, the imperialist state of multinationals and, as in the other communications, the language is twisted and you can read in filigree studies of the Marxist classics and an analysis that tries to take hold of the working class from which, however, precisely in those days, they seem sidereally distant.

The killing of Aldo Moro

a black and white photograph of a weary-looking Aldo Moro in a suit and tie staring straight into the lens, in front of a backdrop of Italian town façades.

This will be followed by eight other communiqués, to which the terrorists soon begin to add letters that Aldo Moro writes to his family and, above all, to the politicians on whom, he realizes, his fate partly depends on.

The political parties firmly reject any hypothesis of negotiation and mediation, with the only exceptions of the PSI and the extra-parliamentary left: they are afraid of creating a precedent, they are afraid that the citizens may not understand. Thus we arrive at 5 May when the Red Brigades send the ninth communiqué: “In words, we have nothing more to say to the DC, its government and the accomplices who support it. The only language that the servants of imperialism have shown they can understand is that of weapons, and it is with this that the proletariat is learning to speak. We, therefore, conclude the battle that began on March 16, carrying out the sentence to which Aldo Moro was convicted”.

Four hectic days of meetings and indirect messages will follow, but on 9 May the Red Brigades announce the execution of the Christian Democrat leader, giving directions to find his body in via Caetani in Rome, a few steps from the national headquarters of the Christian Democrats and the Communist Party.

What emerged clearly during the 55 days of the kidnapping was that the state was totally unprepared to handle an event of that magnitude. Terrorism was defeated a few years later, with the repentants, and because it was isolated in the country and very far from the interests of the classes it said it wanted to represent.

The Moro kidnapping between literature and cinema

A few months after the killing of the Christian Democrat leader, Leonardo Sciascia, one of the greatest Italian intellectuals, wrote "The Moro Affair" an instant book on the kidnapping, thus explaining the reason that prompted him to do so:

Aldo Moro dying, despite all his historical responsibilities, acquired an innocence that makes us all guilty, even me […]. By dying, Aldo Moro stripped himself, so to speak, of his Christian Democratic tunic. His body does not belong to anyone, but his death puts us all under accusation.

Many other texts, essays and novels have been written, but it was above all cinema that tackled terrorism in general and the kidnapping and killing of Aldo Moro and his escort in particular. The first was Gianni Amelio who in 1983 directed “Colpire al cuore”, in which the “years of lead” surround a difficult relationship between a father and a son.

Many controversies welcomed, in 1986, the release of Giuseppe Ferrara's film "Il caso Moro", almost a chronicle of the days of 1978, but which evidently touched nerves still very much exposed, something of which the director was well aware, but which he boldly claimed.

On the other hand, Marco Bellocchio, who in 2003 directed 'Boungiorno, notte', completely changed the register: while not renouncing the news elements, he chooses an almost fairy tale ending, in which he imagines Aldo Moro, let escape by a terrorist from his prison, on a spring morning, who finds himself walking in a deserted Rome on the notes of the splendid 'Shine On Your Crazy Diamond' by Pink Floyd.

This post is part of the editorials of Europeana SUBTITLED, a Europeana Generic Services project including seven major national broadcasters and audiovisual archives from seven European countries.

Under the theme of 'Broadcasting Europe’ our editorials showcase how society has been reflected on the television screen in the past eight decades during times of conflict, restrictive regimes, political change, and peace. To this end, we’re using a diverse range of material from Europeana, with a focus on lesser-known and newly aggregated AV content. For more information about Europeana SUBTITLED, visit this page on Europeana Pro.