True courage will never be forgotten
Posted by E on July 19, 2012
Twenty years ago today, an Italian Magistrate was assassinated in cold blood via a car bomb in Palermo, Sicily. This murder provoked some of the largest anti-Mafia demonstrations ever held in Italy. It also set the stage for the suicide of Rita Atria, a seventeen-year old girl who was one of Borsellino’s biggest witnesses in a trial against the Mafia. After Borsellino’s death, Rita jumped from the building of her safehouse apartment only a week later, on July 26.
For those who may not be familiar with Borsellino, here is a quick summary. Paolo Borsellino (January 19, 1940 – July 19, 1992) was an Italian anti-Mafia magistrate. He was killed by a Mafia car bomb in Palermo, 57 days after his friend and fellow anti-mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone was assassinated. He is considered to be one of the most important magistrates killed by the Sicilian Mafia and he is remembered as one of the main symbols of the battle of the State against the Mafia. Both Borsellino and Falcone were named as heroes of the last 60 years in the November 13, 2006, issue of Time Magazine (Wikipedia).
I know I’ve neglected this blog for quite a while as I worked on my last two books, but I feel the need to write this today. I admire Borsellino’s work, because in my past I have encountered brave people like him, people who would risk everything and put their lives and careers on the line to do what is right. Every time I think of Rita Atria and Paolo Borsellino, an echo of my own past rises up in me.
Parallelling the Mafia crime wave on the 1990s, Canada had its own homegrown pseudo-terrorist group, the Heritage Front, a vicious gang of white extremists who were keen on piling up guns and infiltrating the right-wing Reform Party in the hope of one day coming to power.
Our spy agency, CSIS, had sent an agent provocateur to infiltrate, stir up shit and escalate aggression and targeted attacks inside the HF, and it was only as a direct initiative of several courageous anti-racist activists that I was able to hide out and eventually testify against several leaders of this group.
I consider Rita Atria not only a true heroine, but a spiritual sister of sorts. I was born only three months after she was, and at the same age we rebelled against powerful, violent men. In our late teens, we both spied on and testified in trials that led to convictions. We both lived in hiding at an age when our lives had only just begun.
There are very few people in this world who can truly say that they understand what it’s like to be seventeen, eighteen years old and on the run for your life. Who know the impossible loneliness and self-hatred that swells us inside you when you’re forced to abandon all trace of your own identity. When you live in the darkness of a series of apartments, always changing names and locations, when you know a whole network of violent, hateful people would rather see you dead. When you’ve been abandoned by the world and the thought of simply ending it all seems like the best prospect.
Neither Rita nor I held any hope that the world would change. We both stood, literally, on the precipice of a great height from where we wanted with all our might to end the suffering within. The difference was, I still knew that out there remained a growing mass of faceless activists dedicated to ending government corruption. Whereas for Rita, all hope ended when Borsellino was murdered.
That day, twenty years ago today, Rita (whose life story was told in the recent film The Sicilian Girl) wrote in her diary: “You have died for what you believed in, but without you, I too am dead.”A week later, right before she leapt to her death, her suicide note said: “I am devastated by the killing of Judge Borsellino. Now there’s no one to protect me, I’m scared and I can’t take any more.”
When I think of the early 1990s, I think of two teenage girls separated by a continent, who may not speak the same language or ever heard of one another, but who are determined to take on a fight that is greater than they ever imagined. It makes me wonder how many such teenage girls are out there today, fighting against oppression, poverty, discrimination, sexism, and organized crime, feeling hopeless yet continuing to pass a symbolic flaming torch of courage from one hand to another.