At the end of 2010, there was widespread protest by students and university precarious workers against the reform of the university system in Italy. This reform took place during Silvio Berlusconi’s government, and was drafted by minister Mariastella Gelmini.
If two images were chosen to represent this struggle, they would be the occupation by students and workers of university roofs and monuments (including the Coliseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa), and the demonstration in Rome on 14 December 2010 which culminated in clashes in Piazza del Popolo. Throughout that day, the Italian capital’s streets were filled by students and workers as Parliament discussed whether to approve the reform. Over the previous few days the government had shown many signs of instability, and it was thought that the reform vote would bring it down. The demonstration aimed both to stop approval of the reform and to accelerate the fall of the government.
The reform was finally passed, prompting a number of clashes between demonstrators and police. Mainstream media celebrities, like Roberto Saviano, tried to classify the movement into “violent” and “non-violent” protestors, stigmatizing the former and “forgiving” the latter. This view was rejected as senseless by those involved who explained that the people on the streets all felt the same and had the same political aim, and acted in a reasonable way, defending themselves from the attacks of the police.
After more than three years, that time is being debated publicly once again, both inside and outside Italian universities which are suffering so badly as a result of Gelmini’s reform and the austerity cuts. Students from various cities (currently particularly Siena and Rome) are still directly involved in legal proceedings connected to activities back in 2010.
In Siena, home to the infamous Monte dei Paschi Bank, a bus was delayed for about 15 minutes on 30 November during a demonstration in the city centre. As a result, 12 students were charged with “interruption of public service”, and they are currently facing legal proceedings. In Rome, a group of students from the biggest Italian university, La Sapienza, who took part in the demonstration on 24 November are charged with “attacking a constitutional organ”.
These two trials are very similar to the one involving the four members of the No-TAV movement, charged with terrorism and damage to the Italian public image for allegedly having burnt an air compressor, and to the charges made during the housing occupation eviction in Ancona. There are also echoes of the destruction and looting sentence against 10 protesters involved in the protest during the G8’s Genoa 2001 meeting.
Bringing these legal cases is a way of intimidating and threatening any opposition to the government’s plan and making it clear the Italian state will not tolerate this kind of organized protest.
As the families of the four No-TAV demonstrators arrested for terrorism, pointed out,
“If this argument wins, from tomorrow, anybody who challenges a choice made by those on high could be accused of the same things because, in theory, they could put the country in a bad light, they could be accused of bringing about, potentially, damage to the public image. And everyone’s freedom is in danger. And that’s not a freedom to be taken for granted.”