Militant’s jailing a throwback to 1970s leftist terror wave

Cesare Battisti, center, spent nearly four decades on the run following his escape from an Italian prison in 1981. (Reuters)
Updated 15 January 2019

Militant’s jailing a throwback to 1970s leftist terror wave

  • Brazil’s new far-right President Jair Bolsonaro had vowed on the campaign trail to send Battisti back to Italy
  • Battisti was tracked down in Bolivia last week and swiftly extradited after authorities there ignored his asylum request

PARIS: The jailing this week of former communist radical Cesare Battisti, a key figure in the violent turmoil in Italy of the 1970s, has brought back memories of a time when leftist killings raged across Europe and beyond.
Battisti, 64, finally returned to jail in Italy on Monday after nearly four decades on the run following his escape from prison in 1981.
Ultra-leftist groups like his own sowed chaos during the period in Italy known as the “Years of Lead” — named after the number of bullets fired — from the late 1960s to mid-1980s.
Across Europe, it was a time when radical youths sought to smash the capitalist system with a wave of bombings, assassinations, hostage-takings and plane hijackings.
West Germany’s Red Army Faction, whose most extreme members were known as the Baader-Meinhof gang, carried out a string of attacks on “capitalist” targets such as police and US troops.
France’s Action Directe group also waged attacks in the name of the proletariat, while in junta-ruled Greece militants targeted the CIA, banks and industrialists among others.
In Lebanon, radicals in the diaspora set up the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) to fight Turkish interests, mostly in Europe.
And the Japanese Red Army, which waged terror at home and around the world, sought the overthrow of the country’s monarchy along with a global revolution.
Against the backdrop of the Vietnam war, the US-backed 1973 coup in Chile, student demos and trade union battles, a tide of anti-imperialist sentiment helped spur the radicals into violent action.
These groups built links and passed weapons across borders at a time when Palestinian guerillas like the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine were also flourishing.
Venezuelan Carlos the Jackal, for instance — the most-wanted terrorist of the era — was accompanied by the German radical Hans-Joachim Klein for his spectacular hostage-taking at the OPEC headquarters in Vienna in 1975.
“At the end of the 1960s, young rebels were turning to armed action with the idea of fighting the last fascists,” said Mosco Levi-Boucault, a French film director who produced a series about Italy’s notorious Red Brigades.
Just 15 years or so after the end of World War II, ex-fascists were prime targets for leftist revolutionaries.
“At the time, Italian factories still employed former fascists as foremen,” Levi-Boucault said.
“One of them was found with his head shaved, tied to the gates of the Fiat factory in Turin.”
The man survived, but he was one of the lucky ones.
In the most infamous of their attacks, the Red Brigades kidnapped and murdered Italy’s former conservative prime minister Aldo Moro in 1978.
Historian Marc Lazar, an expert on the period from the Institute of Political Science in Paris, said the fact that democracy was still relatively new in some countries made the resort to violence seem more acceptable.
In Italy, he added, leftwing militants were also out to fight the far-right which was itself waging attacks — such as the 1969 Milan bombing that left 16 dead — in a bid to justify a return to an authoritarian regime.
The particular violence in Italy, which Lazar estimates left more than 400 people dead, came from “one-upmanship in the escalation of violence between far-right and far-left.”
Battisti, who belonged to the Armed Proletarians for Communism group, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1971 for shooting dead two Italian policemen.
After his jailbreak he lived for years in Brazil under the protection of former leftist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
But the country’s new far-right President Jair Bolsonaro had vowed on the campaign trail to send Battisti back to Italy.
Battisti went on the run again — but was tracked down in Bolivia last week and swiftly extradited after authorities there ignored his asylum request.


Flying Dutch man’s mission to unite firms over climate change

Updated 23 January 2020

Flying Dutch man’s mission to unite firms over climate change

  • Polman has set his sights on using his sway among business chiefs, governments, finance and civil society to get them to work together on climate change and making economies fairer for everyone

DAVOS: While global leaders take to the stage at Davos in the Swiss Alps, one of the world’s most prominent businessmen is busy behind the scenes — trying to bring together the heads of major companies to tackle climate change and inequality.

Paul Polman became known as a leading voice on sustainable capitalism while running consumer goods giant Unilever for 10 years, and is a regular at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting for the global elite in the upmarket ski resort.

Since retiring from Unilever a year ago, Polman has set his sights on using his sway among business chiefs, governments, finance and civil society to get them to work together on climate change and making economies fairer for everyone.

“If you can bring about 25 percent of the industry together across the value chain, you can create tipping points, and that accelerates things,” Dutch businessman Polman, 63, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview at a Davos hotel.

His new sustainability consultancy, Imagine, set up last year, scored a major victory by organizing a fashion industry pact to announce at the G7 summit in France in August.

The pact involves 62 major fashion companies striving to use sustainable cotton, cut out single-use plastics, and align their businesses with the Paris climate pact to address global warming.

Now Polman wants to convene similar agreements in the food and land sector, tourism and travel, technology and finance, saying these companies had the biggest impact on the UN’s global goals to address inequality and climate change.

He was optimistic an agreement was achievable fairly quickly in the food industry, where he is already well connected as chairman of the Food and Land Use Coalition.

“They all want to be part of it ... six months from now we’ll have a substantial group in the food sector,” he said.

Polman said leaving Unilever had actually given him greater influence to change things for the better.

“As a CEO you had shackles around your legs,” said Polman, who has taken a leading role on a powerful list of bodies including chair of the International Chamber of Commerce.

With global challenges growing, governments could not be relied on, he said, adding that chief executives were starting to step up with bolder initiatives.

He cited Microsoft’s pledge to go carbon-negative by 2050 by removing carbon it has emitted over the past 45 years, and asset manager BlackRock saying it will stop investing in companies with a “high sustainability-related risk.”

“Things are happening at a faster pace than perhaps people think, but the multilateral process is difficult,” he said.

He pointed to disappointment over the recent COP25 climate talks, deforestation rising in Brazil under President Jair Bolsonaro, the US administration quitting the Paris pact, and the Australian government’s reaction over bushfires and climate change.

But there was greater awareness at Davos this year about the need to act, including a commitment to plant one trillion trees to curb climate-heating emissions, he said. “The initiatives are becoming bigger and bolder. Is this enough? No, because you cannot change the world without governments’ buy-in,” he added.