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(en) Italy, Media, Obituary, RIP: Pietro Valpreda

From Dan Clore <clore@columbia-center.org>
Date Tue, 30 Jul 2002 10:15:48 -0400 (EDT)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

> by John Foot The Guardian 
The bar owner, sometime dancer and novelist Pietro Valpreda,
who has died of cancer aged 69, was an "individualist
anarchist", a fall-guy labelled the "Italian Dreyfus", and
part of the milieu that inspired Dario Fo's play Accidental
Death Of An Anarchist. 

In December 1969, Valpreda had been scratching a living as a
dancer when he was arrested at Milan's central law courts,
where he had gone to answer charges of "insulting the Pope".
There, he was charged with one of the most horrendous crime
of Italy's turbulent postwar period, the bombing of a Milan
bank on December 12 1969, which left 16 dead and 88 injured. 

His name was splashed across the media as "the monster of
Piazza Fontana" - the site of the bombing - and a television
reporter claimed that "the guilty man has been found". For
three years, he languished in jail, awaiting trial. A
special law was passed to release him to house arrest in
1972, but it was not until 1985 that he was cleared. Finally
last year, three neo-fascists were convicted of the

The evidence against Valpreda was always slight. A taxi
driver, Cornelio Rolandi, claimed to have taken a man
fitting his description to the bank just before the bombing,
and to have picked him up again soon afterwards, without his

Quite apart from the inconsistencies in Ronaldi's story -
and an illegal identification parade - Valpreda denied
everything, claiming to have been at home with the flu, and
his aunt, Rachele, who backed up his story, and was charged
with false testimony for her pains. Ronaldi died in 1972,
leaving his incomplete testimony for judges to misuse. 

The case was taken up in all major Italian newspapers and
magazines. All over Italy, there were huge pro-Valpreda
demonstrations, often with the formidable figure of his aunt
in attendance, and the trial was moved to the deep south, to
avoid "political interference". Insultingly, the case was
combined with those of a number of neo- fascists who, it was
claimed, had organised the massacre. Valpreda published his
prison diaries, entitled It Is Him - the words used by

Valpreda came from a poor working-class family in Milan,
and, after the end of his formal education, attended dance
school. He made his living as a minor dancer on stage and -
in the background - on television; a limp did not help his

Mystery still surrounds a case which involved neo-fascists
and others in a plan to create chaos - to be blamed on the
Italian left - as a prelude to a military coup. The plot was
designed partly around Valpreda; it was claimed that a
lookalike had taken the famous taxi ride - some
arch-conspiracy theorists even identified two lookalikes.
But the Italian state took 16 years to conclude that
Valpreda was clearly completely innocent and 32 years to
find someone else guilty of the bombing. 

After his release, Valpreda campaigned for justice for
himself and his friend Giuseppe Pinelli - the anarchist who
inspired Fo's Accidental Death, and who "fell" to his death
from a window on the fourth floor of the central police
station in Milan on the same day that Valpreda was arrested. 

After it was all over, Valpreda continued to work as a
dancer, but prison and court took their toll. In the 1980s,
he opened a bar, 1898: The Barricades!, in his own, rapidly
gentrifying neighbourhood. He was often to be seen there,
with his trademark long hair and shabby appearance, serving
magnificent Irish coffees in a truculent manner, reluctant
to talk politics. His clientele mixed old comrades and those
he deigned to admit. The bar was festooned with posters from
campaigns for his release. 

After the bar had been taken over by yet another yuppy
emporium, Valpreda wrote a series of intriguing detective
novels, all set in his beloved Milan and all with a strong
political edge. The last three, co-written with crime
journalist Piero Colaprico, featured a methodical policeman
named Pietro Binda, whose language veered between Milanese
dialect and Italian. 

Valpreda was frequently to be found in Milan's anarchist
circles and clubs, or in the city's anarchist bookshop in
Largo La Foppa. He leaves his wife Pia, and son Tupac. 

· Pietro Valpreda, anarchist, born June 22 1933; died July 6

Dan Clore

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