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Peter Kiefer, "Dead anarchist becomes cause célèbre in Italy"

Dead anarchist becomes cause célèbre in Italy

Peter Kiefer

From the International Herald Tribune

Until this week, Passannante's skull and brain - preserved in formaldehyde -
were on display at a criminology museum in Rome in what ranked as one of
Italy's more macabre showcases. It was a strange punishment in a
museum-loving society for someone who tried to kill the king of Italy 120
years ago.

At the anarchist's death, the head and brain were removed to be studied by
sociologists, an act in keeping with the scientific eugenicist theory made
popular at the time by a criminologist named Cesare Lombroso. Lombroso
believed that criminality was inherited and could be identified by physical

For the last 70 years the brain and skull have been in a neon-light display
case, framed by old anarchist manifestos on the second floor of the
Criminology Museum, just off the Via Giulia.

But this week the skull and brain were to leave the museum in front of
reporters and photographers, for burial with the body, under pressure
brought by an eclectic group of hundreds of petition signers. Instead, on
Thursday, under a cloak of secrecy, the remnants were whisked away and
buried in his hometown in the Basilicata region of southern Italy.It was supposed to be the final chapter in a bizarre story that has been
drawn out for decades pitting leftist intellectuals against Italy's
dwindling traditionalist monarchists. Instead, it added further intrigue to
the pitiable legacy of Passannante.

"It's terrible," said Ulderico Pesce, an artist who has been the leading
flag-bearer of the bury-Passannante campaign. Pesce was speaking by phone
from the cemetery in the town of Savoia Lucania where the burial took place
Thursday night and where, he said, a crowd of onlookers had formed Friday

Pesce was baffled and angered by the decision to bury Passannante a day
earlier than had been announced by the government. "He was buried like an
empty bottle," said Pesce, who added that his four-day-old hunger strike
will continue until a proper, public burial for the skull and brain of the
dead anarchist takes place.

In a statement the regional government said the decision to change the date
was made for security reasons and out of "feelings of human pity."

Passannante's story began in 1878, when he earned a place in Italian history
by trying to assassinate King Umberto I of Savoy while they were in Naples.
(Umberto was later assassinated by another anarchist.) Passannante was
arrested, tortured and received a death sentence, later reduced to life in

As further punishment his entire family was jailed (except for his brother
who escaped) and Passannante's hometown, formerly known as Salvia, was
forced to change its name to Savoia di Lucania.

As the tale goes, Passannante was jailed in squalid conditions on the island
of Elba. He remained in solitary confinement in a tiny cell and went insane.
In 1910 he was sent to an asylum and died shortly after.

It was at that point that his head and brain were removed to be studied by

"It seems like something that primitive people would never have even thought
to do," said a communist politician, Oliviero Diliberto, who as former
minister of justice authored the decree allowing for the removal of
Passannante's remains to his hometown. That was in 1998.

That eight years elapsed before the authorities of Savoia di Lucania
responded prompted speculation that Passannante's sin was not yet absolved.

"No one wanted to deal with this case," said Vito De Filippo, president of
the Basilicata region. "No one had it in mind to confront this problem."

Others see nefarious forces at work. Pesce lays the blame directly at the
feet of the current mayor of Lucania, Rosina Ricciardi, who he claims was
under pressure from traditionalists in the region to delay the burial and
who he says had hoped to put Passannante's remains once again on display,
but this time in Lucania.

"In Italy there is a strong monarchical movement that should not be
underestimated even though it seems ridiculous," Pesce said. Repeated calls
to Ricciardi's office seeking comment were not returned.

De Filippo sees a parable in what could be the end of this long tale.
"Passannante is a symbol of the south, and while everything is not resolved
and the south still has many problems, we have the civility to close this
story, by bringing him home."