The kidnapping and assassination of Aldo Moro
Avv. Antonio Distaso
Mr. President Roy Campbell,
Mr Diego Solinas, in representation of the Consulate General of Italy,
Mr. Vice President of the Law Society Simon Davis,
Kind members and guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I‘m very grateful to the British Italian Law Association for the opportunity given to me this evening, in particular for the possibility to address such a qualified audience and, above all, to be able to talk about a subject to which I feel particularly attached, both because of my personal history and also for the commitment that I have dedicated during most of the ten years of my parliamentary experience at the Chamber of Deputies of Italy.
I would also like to extend a special thanks to my Dear Friend and Colleague, Ugo Palazzo, for the esteem, which I reciprocate, and confidence that he has placed in me. I sincerely hope I am up to the task.
I hope so, sincerely for you too, Dear Ugo!
The political history and the personal story of Aldo Moro, I think are fundamental for those who want to understand and deepen the political dynamics of Italian history, from the period following the second world war and for about half a century later.
Born in Maglie (Lecce) in 1916, a university professor, member of the Constituent Assembly, Minister, Secretary of the Christian Democracy party and Prime Minister, Aldo Moro, equal only to Alcide de Gasperi, was, in my view, one of the very few Italian statesmen of the past century.
Especially marked in him is the ability to see in advance, the ability to understand contemporary phenomena, but, at the same time, the consequences that those phenomena would have produced in the political field and in society.
 Avv. Distaso, in his capacity as an Italian MP, was on the parliamentary inquiry committee which investigated the kidnapping and assassination of Aldo Moro. The results of the parliamentary inquiry can be found at http://www.camera.it/_dati/leg17/lavori/documentiparlamentari/IndiceETesti/023/029/INTERO.pdf
2. A) Chronology
Aldo Moro was born in Maglie (province of Lecce) on 23 September 1916.
He was one of the youngest Prime Ministers that Italy has ever had.
When he took part in the works of the Constitutional Assembly, for the drafting of the Constitution of the new born Italian Republic, he was not 30 years old yet.
He was always very aware, even as a University Professor, of the changes and transformations in Italian society and he was convinced of the necessity to expand the basis of democracy in his Country, or rather to reinforce the democratic system by widening its base.
This is why he is considered the theorist and advocate of the first Centre-Left Government after WW2, which saw the participation of the socialist party (1963).
In 1978 he supported the Government’s policy of “national solidarity” and, therefore, the inclusion of the Italian Communist Party in the parliamentary majority. This position of his, probably, was the reason behind his kidnapping and killing.
When the Red Brigades kidnapped and killed him, he was 61 years old.
Pope Paul VI, who was one of Mr Moro’s closest friends, defined him “a good, mild, wise, innocent man and a friend”.
When analysing Aldo Moro’s works, it feels like facing a mission on the verges of the political archaeology of the so-called First Republic.
His style is characterised by long sentences, dense subparagraphs, which recall a system and a vision which was dated already at the time of his writing.
Having said this, it is from an adequate and thorough reading of his works and speeches that one can deduce the reasons why Aldo Moro was kidnapped and killed.
Indeed, among the recurring topics of his works, was an obsession (of sorts) for the widening of the base of Italian democracy, which he thought to be alive though very fragile, especially considering the recent experience of fascism.
This need of inclusiveness was matched by the need to balance, i.e. to limit, politics’ invasion of society, on the one side supporting its drive and, on the other, trying to govern it. This was the attitude of somebody who considered politics as having an indisputable leading position but, precisely for this reason, as having to be respectful of everything happening outside the political parties’ life.
The leading position of the individual had to come before the leading position of politics.
Aldo Moro represented, at the highest levels, a political force able to listen and understand what was happening in the remotest areas of the Country. He was fully aware of international allegiances and the obligations, as well as opportunities, that this entailed.
In order to understand the historical and political conditions in which his kidnapping and, after 55 days, killing, occurred, it is necessary to carry out an analysis of his political view as it developed over the 30-year period between the entering into force of the Italian Constitution (1 January 1948) and the day of his death (9 May 1978).
3. Political view [PLEASE NOTE THIS IS JUST A SUMMARY OF THIS SECTION OF THE SPEECH]
The works and political view of Aldo Moro acquire a particular significance, in the context of the political framework of the second half of last century, as they are closely linked to the crisis of the parliamentary government system (which came about in a particularly evident way during the XX century). Aldo Moro’s attempt, essentially, was to widen the base of the parliamentary government system, and thus of Italian democracy, with the aim to include the needs of the new mass politics.
At the end of WW2, in most parts of western Europe there was a rise in the Christian sentiment, due to the fact that the Catholic Church had overcome the war almost unscathed. In particular, in Italy together with the rise of the Christian sentiment, the Country witnessed a rise in the liberal doctrines; all parties (with the exception of the Communist party) tried to occupy this new “liberal territory”. Everyone was in favour of a parliamentary government system, so as everyone (again, except the Communist party) were in favour of a system of liberal economy, as well as of freedom of thought and of conscience.
It was, without a doubt, a reaction to the 20 years of fascism as it was, without a doubt, one of the most important consequences – in a positive sense – of the second world war.
In this sense, Aldo Moro persuaded himself that in Italy the Socialist party – between the end of the 1950s and the early 1960s – was ready to become one of the supporters not just of the parliamentary democracy system but also of the government and leadership of the Country.
Indeed, even the Communist party, which at the end of the 1950s (but even more so during the 1970s under the leadership of Enrico Berlinguer) had started a process of gradual detachment and autonomy from Moscow, started looking with interest at freedom policies and at working classes. During the 1970s, with Aldo Moro as the leader of the Christian-Democratic party and Enrico Berlinguer as the leader of the Communist party, there was talk of “attention strategy” between the two parties.
The above political framework is useful to better understand Aldo Moro’s attempts and efforts to lead the Christian-Democratic party in a wider political space and to give the party a new and enhanced dynamism.
The THREE PHASES of Aldo Moro’s political view.
The Italian Constitution came into force on 1 January 1948. The first real elections after the end of the second world war took place on 18 April 1948, in a situation of strong conflict between the Christian Democracy and its allies on the one side and the “Popular Front” (i.e. the Communist party and the Socialist party) on the other. The Christian Democratic party prevailed (led by Alcide de Gasperi) with a majority of 48% and strong of the support of other homogeneous political parties.
This is the first phase, which would last approximately 10 years (1948-1958), during which there was a political and governmental cooperation between essentially homogeneous parties.
At the end of the 1950s (in 1959) Aldo Moro became the leader of the Christian Democratic party. That same year, during a political meeting in Milan, he stated that “the role of Christian Democracy is to build the democratic State”, which was happening 12 years after the entering into force of the Constitution! At the basis of such statement of Aldo Moro, one can perceive his constant care of the changes in society, so that the political system could adapt accordingly.
In Italy more than in any other European Country there was a problem of lack of integration of the so-called alienated masses. One of the possible solutions was the attempt to widen the area of consensus towards liberal views and ideas. In this context, it was crucial to maintain alive the parliamentary government system, so the system itself had to put in place reforms that would allow it to adapt to the changes of the Italian society, thus involving an increasing number of people.
Moro’s intention was to create the conditions for the various groups in society to focus their energies and needs in the democratic process. He believed that, to that end, the Socialist party needed to be involved.
The second phase takes place with the Moro-Nanni joint government (Mr Nanni being the then leader of the Socialist party), in 1963. Soon afterwards, however, political and social circumstances would change dramatically the political framework.
More specifically, I refer to:
- the students’ movement and the organisation of a new working-class movement at the end of the 1960s (more clearly in 1968);
- the referendum which aimed to repeal the 1974 Divorce Act: the referendum resulted in the NOs winning and in the Act in question remaining in force (Christian Democracy and the catholic world that this represented, who had advocated the repeal of the Act, lost);
- the local elections in 1975, which saw the Communist party reaching 31% of consensus (Christian Democracy 35%), followed by the general elections in 1976 where the Communist party reached a 34% consensus (Christian Democracy 38%).
It is important to remember that, during these years, Italy was still a “blocked” democracy, especially for international reasons: I refer to the relationship with the United States and other Countries of the western block on the one side, and the Soviet Union on the other.
The relationship with the Soviet Union was particularly important for the Communist party, though, as I mentioned before, the Communist party had started a process of gradual distancing from Moscow, thanks to its leader Enrico Berlinguer, who developed a policy of attention to the middle and working class and of acceptance and recognition of NATO.
Moro followed closely these changes, and this is why, since the late 1960s, he started a strategy of dialogue and attention towards the Communist party. His aim was not simply to include the Communist party in the government base, but to widen the base of democracy itself, by legitimising the Communist party..
The third phase is certainly the most interesting one, but unfortunately it is destined to end with Aldo Moro’s kidnapping and killing.
For reasons that we can describe as “similar and at the same time opposed”, both the United States and the Soviet Union were very sceptical towards Aldo Moro’s and Enrico Berlinguer’s attempts to establish a dialogue between their respective parties.
The United States, and in particular the Home Department (in the person of Henry Kissinger), in the context of the cold war, could not accept that an ally such as Italy – in a geographically strategic position – could even imagine starting a political cooperation with a political party close to Moscow, even though purely at a parliamentary debate level.
The Soviet Union feared that it could lose its influence on a party that it considered its direct offspring as well as for Italy’s geographically and geopolitically strategic position.
Personally, I believe that the Red Brigades’ armed action, which led to Aldo Moro’s kidnapping and killing, cannot be fully understood if you do not consider the abovementioned international framework.
4. The kidnapping and assassination of Aldo Moro – The works of the parliamentary inquiry commission.
More than 40 years have passed since the kidnapping and killing of Aldo Moro.
The Parliamentary inquiry commission, created by Law 82 of 30 May 2014, worked on the case for three years (2015, 2016 and 2017).
The commission heard politicians, priests, judges, police officers, ex members of the red brigades, etc.
According to one of the judges who oversaw one of the five proceedings concerning the death of Aldo Moro, the whole sequence of events of his kidnapping and killing did not start the morning of 16 March 1978, in Rome, in via Mario Fani [where Mr Moro was kidnapped], but 15 years earlier when, in July 1963, the President of the United States, JFK arrived in Italy for a State visit.
Apparently, the American President was a strong supporter of the leader of the Christian-Democratic party (i.e. Mr Moro) and of his approach of open dialogue with socialist and communist politicians, openly against the opinion of the American conservatives and the big oil tycoons.
This shared view of the two statesmen concerning the new frontiers of the western world, eventually made them the target of the same enemies, in America and in Italy: people hostile to any kind of dialogue with the progressive forces.
John Kennedy and Aldo Moro, despite being strongly anti-communism (due to their catholic background) did not share with others the demonization of communism: they both paid attention to the fact that this ideology involved millions of people around the world and that these people could not be ignored.
Let’s go back to the morning of 16 March 1978, in Rome, in via Mario Fani.
It’s two minutes past 9am.
The leader of the Christian-Democratic party is going to Parliament to discuss the vote of confidence in Mr Andreotti’s government. The car where Aldo Moro is travelling, followed by the security detail car, is intercepted by a commando of men of the Red brigades who, in only a few minutes, kill two carabinieri aboard Mr Moro’s car and three police officers who were following him in the security detail car.
Aldo Moro, who was not provided with a bullet-proof car (despite the multiple requests by the head of his security detail, Maresciallo Leonardi) is taken away by the commando men.
His security men (all five of them) have been slaughtered: four of them die immediately, whilst the fifth, Francesco Zizzi, will die soon afterwards.
That morning the 55 darkest days of the Italian Republic begin.
This is history to be written with a lower case h, because the few certainties we can today look at, after 40 years of investigations, show a scenario of intrigues, red herrings, deviated secret services, etc. That is, a State and a Government strongly permeable of infiltrations of any kind.
Tonight, I would start from the end, this is to say from the conclusions I – and others – have drawn.
On Aldo Moro’s incident (and, in particular, on his 55 days in captivity) dozens of books have been written. “He had to die” is one of them, written by a judge, Ferdinando Imposimato (the judge mentioned above) and by a journalist.
From this book a very bleak picture emerges: Italy was a chronically fragile Country in relation to the strength of its democracy, so fragile and corrupt that it would never be truly transparent (and to be honest, I do not think that nowadays the aspects of such fragility have been overcome).
From the book it emerges that the “Crisis Committee” [Comitato di crisi], created by the then Home Secretary Francesco Cossiga a few hours after the kidnapping of Mr Moro, never really carried out its duties, and was largely infiltrated by the members of the masonic lodge P2.
It emerges that the Red Brigades’ dens in via Gradioli and via Montalcini, in Rome, have purposefully never been found.
There also emerges the shocking episode of the alleged spiritualist séance - which took place in a small town on the outskirts of Bologna and in which Romano Prodi (who later became Prime Minister) and other famous University professors participated – where the name GRADIOLI allegedly emerged; police officers then raided the municipality of Gradioli (near Viterbo), instead of raiding no. 96 Via Gradioli in Rome – an actual hideout of the red Brigades.
That indication, far from being somehow connected with supernatural activities, apparently was given by prof. Franco Piperno (one of the leaders of “Autonomia Operaia” [labouring autonomy]) to prof. Beniamino Andreatta – both of them were university professors in Cosenza – who would later become a Minister of the Christian-Democratic party.
It is worth pointing out that the hideout in via Gradioli had been subjected, on 18 March (i.e. just 2 days after Mr Moro’s kidnapping), to a police search. The police officers, once at the apartment’s threshold, instead of breaking down the door to get in, somehow persuaded themselves that the place was abandoned and left.
It emerges that there had been undeniable foreign interferences: most of all from the American State Department, through the CIA, and the Soviet KGB, both very interested – for different but converging reasons – in stopping Moro’s attempt to dialogue with the Communist party.
It is important to stress the following:
Since 1969 the political environment in the US had dramatically changed.
In 1968 Bob Kennedy had been killed, just five years after JFK’s killing.
In 1969 the new US President was Richard Nixon, followed by Gerald Ford in 1974.
In September 1974 a symptomatic episode occurred: during a State Visit to the US of the Italian President Giovanni Leone, who was accompanied by the then Foreign Secretary Aldo Moro, Mr Moro was harshly criticised by the then Home Department Secretary, Henry Kissinger who openly “warned” Mr Moro that, unless he ceased his attempts to promote a dialogue between all Italian political forces, including the communists, he would “… personally pay the price for it”. Apparently at the end of this meeting Aldo Moro fell ill and had to cut short his visit and go back to Italy, where he intended to stay out of politics for about two/three years (something that never happened).
“He had to die”.
He was a troublesome character, he knew too many truths, he had gone too far in the attempt to make the communists “jump on the train of democracy”, so as to allow in Italy a democracy of political variation, so as to create a system of complete democracy, like in all other western countries.
These are, therefore, my conclusions.
He had to die!
He must not be saved.
Those who truly tried to do so had no chance of success against a force of which the red brigades were just the vanguard. The real force was the State apparatus itself, the influences of foreign powers, the deviated secret services (in Italy, SISDE and SISMI).
Why, then, Aldo Moro’s political views and actions have influenced so deeply the events in Italy in those years and in the years to come?
As mentioned in my forewords, Aldo Moro could see in advance, like only few true statesmen can, how events would unfold, could foresee scenarios, could shape them. His idea of making Italy a complete democracy, of making possible a democracy of political variation, will become reality only in the mid-90s’.
His premature demise was a blow to the Christian-Democratic party but most of all was a blow to the whole Country.
In 1992 the so-called First Republic came ingloriously to an end, due to the numerous judicial inquiries from which no political party was spared (not even the Communist party).
But that’s not all.
The First Republic, which started after WW2, fell also due to a ruling class and a government that had remained unchanged since Aldo Moro’s times. Nobody, of the Christian-Democratic leaders or of the leaders of other political parties had made an attempt to grow a ruling class up to the task of bearing the most important political and governmental responsibilities.
As Giulio Andreotti once said, “power wears out those who do not have it”. But most of all it can be a corrupting factor, particularly when there is no chance of variation (turnover). And this is one of the risks that Aldo Moro had already foreseen.
Finally, I wish to add a personal note.
My father, Walter Distaso, a lawyer, immediately after graduating was an assistant to Aldo Moro and Renato Dell’Andro, at the University of Bari (Criminal law).
Mr Moro supported his political engagement, since the late 60s’ (engagement that ended in 1985, when he prematurely died at the age of 52).
When Aldo Moro died in 1978, he was 61. I was 12 at the time and the memory of those days never left me.
As a matter of character, my father was very different from Aldo Moro. He was cheerful, open, gifted with a rare intelligence.
At the same time, I am sure that his moral rigour, honesty, respect of the democratic institutions partly derived from his relationship with Aldo Moro.
This “education”, as far as I am concerned, was passed on to me through blood, I believe, as well as through his example.
My political action, way humbler, started 25 years ago, cannot ignore what I learned and lived. This is my commitment, a commitment that is part of my own life.
This is my experience, which I have tried to convey to you tonight in the straightest way possible.
Thank you very much.
Avv. Antonio Distaso
London, 25 January 2019