Fondazione Erri De Luca

I use a simple screen to judge whether a political program—and the behavior which follows—is progressive. Two sides of one coin: for a political program to be progressive requires people to behave progressively. For me, the Urugrayan ex-President Pepe Mujica and the mayors of Barcellona and Napoli are progressive. The Italian Constitution is progressive.

We Italians tend to be pleased with a catchphrase falsely attributed to Machiavelli: “The end justifies the means.” I’ve found the opposite to be true: the way you pursue your principles and programs, your lifestyle, decides whether the end will be worth achieving. Soberness, modesty, and respect are the ways and means that justify the end to be reached. Without them, no achievement is solid or durable.

After this precondition is satisfied, my screen for sifting out a progressive politics comes directly from the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. I respect the secular trinity that grounds these rights: liberty, equality, fraternity. In both public and private actions, a progressive politics must pursue these three principles.

Free speech, freedom of religion, the free movement of people, freedom to dissent, the freedom to pursue education, scientific knowledge, and happiness—liberty is no permanent condition. Even in official democracies it can regress, get squeezed, or trampled upon. When a state forces its projects on an unwilling people, such action reduces democracy to despotism. Any threat to public health in a state’s productive activity reduces citizens to subjects.

Equality contains every measure of justice: equal access to health care, to education, to representation before the court.

Locking up an immigrant guilty of travel is equivalent to discrimination between members of the human race, belying the principle of equality. Equality does not flatten fates, though at the start it does put them on the same plane. Equality is the sustenance called manna, promised to each of us in the desert; once tasted, it gives the coveted sense of satiety. Equality is the precondition of liberty.

And finally fraternity: as a right, it is not like the others. It is the attitude that allows them to be achieved.

I’ve come across it in the struggle of workers, after earthquakes, on the island of Lampedusa, and in the Susa Valley. Fraternity closes its ranks spontaneously in times of emergency. But it also needs to be taught in normal times.

Fraternity establishes the routine of a progressive person or behavior. Those who feel a sense of fraternity are best placed to make their choices in the field. Fraternity isn’t an exclusive property of progressives, it belongs to the human race, but it does ground our pursuit of a society based on freedom and equality, and these, yes, are progressive principles.

If we are indeed all the children of a single couple, of an Eve and Adam, we are each exposed to the risk of Abel and Cain. Against uncountable occasions for conflict, a progressive life increases the number of antibodies, boosting our immune system.

English translation by Jim Hicks

“I’m back in a courtroom to hear the closing speeches of my accusers—their explanations and their petition for a sentence to encumber the days to come. The public prosecutor seeks to demonstrate the danger I pose as a writer, and the criminal culpability of my words. He speaks for roughly an hour. I know that the sentence can vary between one and five years of prison. I expect him to ask for the maximum, given the criminal profile sketched during his closing. Instead I hear a petition for the minimum: one year, and taking into consideration the general mitigating circumstances, the sentence would be reduced to eight months. I don’t understand. If found guilty, at my request, my own lawyers will not ask for mitigating circumstances to be considered. Such considerations shouldn’t be applied to our words, otherwise their value would also be diminished.

And instead mitigating circumstances are offered by the prosecution, despite the fact that for the past two years I have restated my allegedly criminal words in every possible public place. Despite my repeated offense in defending these words charged with instigation (aggravating circumstances that surely must outweigh such general mitigations), here is a polite request for the minimum sentence. I never imagined the prosecution losing so much accusatory zeal in its crusade against the words of a writer.

My heart didn’t sink, and it didn’t start pounding either. For the fourth time this year I was in a courtroom where my words were under indictment; I was there to reiterate them and defend them. My words themselves are safe, both from sentencing and from detention. They’re scattered across bookshelves and have been spoken aloud in hundreds of open air venues, where readers decided to give evidence of their support—reading aloud, adding their own pulse and breath. Should they be freighted with a criminal conviction, I’ll take charge of them, since I’m their porter. My words themselves will stay, and remain, free to circulate.

I am not a spokesperson for the cause of the Susa Valley and its people. I serve as their antenna—in these two years under indictment I’ve managed to relay a message about their resistance and legitimate self-defense, to make their cause more widely known. A guilty verdict will not succeed in cancelling this effect.

On Monday, October 19, the final hearing will be held, I will read a statement of my own, and I will listen to the verdict. I make no predictions. Whatever happens, for me it will be the last word in a dispute, between the state and one of its citizens, concerning the right to employ dissent.”

English translation by Jim Hicks

 Editor’s Note. On May 20, 2015, Erri De Luca appeared in a courtroom in Turin, as a witness in his own defense, to counter the charges brought against him by the Italian state for “instigating violence.” De Luca’s alleged offense was simply expressing his opinion during a 2013 phone interview with the Italian site of The Huffington Post. The writer has long supported the No TAV movement, an Italian resistance group opposing the construction of a high-speed train line between Turin and Lyon, a project that they see as unnecessary and as an ecological disaster. When queried by HuffPo about the then-recent arrest of two No TAV activists (who were allegedly carrying shears and other implements in their vehicle), Erri commented that “the TAV should be sabotaged. This is where shears have been useful: they’re good for cutting through nets. It’s not terrorism at all … it’s what’s necessary to make it understood that the TAV is a useless and harmful project… [N]egotiations with the government have failed, mediation has failed: sabotage is the only alternative.” Shortly before the trial, De Luca also published A Dissenting Word, his own commentary on the case. The comments below were published in Italian on the Fondazione Erri De Luca site on May 26, 2015.

Translations by Jim Hicks.

I know the difference between an interview and an interrogation. The questions of an interview—even hostile questions—are asked in order to learn something. They want to know a point of view, a story, an idea. In an interrogation the questions are asked, not in order to learn anything, but to get confirmation of something thought to be known already. It’s a search.

I’ve been subjected to both sorts of questioning.

An unexpected variation on this theme took place this past week, on the twentieth of May, in a room crowded with the faces of friends: neither interrogation nor interview. What took place was a linguistic debate about an interesting verb, “to sabotage.” About what this verb means in the dictionary, about what I mean by using it, and about what the accusation claims, in mistaking its meaning. In the unseemly setting of a courtroom, the interpretation of a verb was reasoned out. And a criminal conviction was at stake, not a modified definition.

In support of the prosecution’s thesis, reference was made to my statement, “That’s what the shears were for.”

Shears: large scissors sold in hardware stores, used by gardeners and mechanics. There was no difference between the two sides about the interpretation of the word.

Are shears a tool for sabotage? Could the future TMA—the Train of Modest Acceleration between Lyon and Turin—be sabotaged by shears?

With my full faculties for comprehending and contesting, I say, “Obviously not.” Shears used to damage a fence of the construction site in question perform a symbolic act that in no way could sabotage its operation. In the remaining sentences of mine under indictment, there occurs no other hardware or armory.

On the twentieth of May in the year two thousand and fifteen, the following personnel were present at the public’s expense: two state prosecutors with their security details, the judge with court stenographers, and military police. I’ve tried in vain to count up total expediture of public funds in that place and time. Still lacking in this total is the value in a waste of time and resources taken from other more important and urgent causes.

I’ve recognized my role as cause and pretext for this expense.

I’ve repeated to myself that, in case of a conviction, I will not contribute to any further waste of this kind by appealing the decision.

Though it may not register on a first read, I wrote the above lines with an unshakeable sense of sadness.


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