'Bigots' oppose memorial rite

ITALY. A circular inviting schools to observe the 60th anniversary of the death of Antonio Gramsci - founder of the Italian Communist party - has stirred up a hornet's nest.

The circular is the personal initiative of Luigi Berlinguer, education minister in Italy's first ever left-of-centre government. Berlinguer is a former Communist, and, like Gramsci, a native of Sardinia.

In the circular the minister advises teachers that an appropriate way of marking the anniversary would be through a piece of classroom research into the "thoughts of Gramsci". For opposition forces, the invitation is clear evidence of "regime indoctrination". Rocco Buttiglione, secretary of the centre- right CDU group, believes that the initiative "reveals the cultural perspective which lies behind the reform of the education system the government is trying to push through".

Alfredo Biondi, of the main opposition party Forza Italia, and vice president of the camera dei deputati (lower house), said: "There's nothing wrong about Communists or ex-Communists wishing to commemorate Gramsci. The problem is when the education minister starts behaving like a minister for popular culture. "

Party colleague, education spokesperson Lucio Colletti added: "What would happen if the Right were in power and an education minister from Alleanza Nazionale (ex-fascists) were to send out a circular asking teachers to reflect on the life and thoughts of Mussolini? The barricades would be on the streets in no time."

Forza Italia has prepared a parliamentary question seeking the immediate suspension of the circular. It points out a coincidence: Gramsci Day, April 27, is local election day in many big towns, the first political test of the year.

Luigi Berlinguer has dismissed his critics as bigots. But, as Lucio Villari, of the Rome daily La Repubblica, observes, it is strange that Berlinguer has singled out a relatively unimportant (60th) anniversary. Why not, he argues, similar invitations to commemorate 190 years since the birth of Garibaldi? Or what about Spinoza (died 320 years ago) or Giotto (660 years ago), and so on?

Bettino Craxi, the disgraced former prime minister now living in exile in Tunisia, declared from his villa in Hammamet: "The education minister is right to remember the life and works of Antonio Gramsci. I have read everything Gramsci ever wrote, but it didn't make me a Communist."

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