Liberation and Resistance: April 1945-April 2012

April 1945 - Venice. "La Resistenza."

Today, April 25th, Italy marks the 67th anniversary of “Liberation” and “Resistance.” There is nothing accidental in the pairing of those two words. What Italy learned as thousands of “Partisans” – I Partigiani – fought off internal Fascism and the Nazi invasion during WWII was that the first was impossible without the second.

The “hymn” of the Partigiani is the much parodied, much misunderstood (at least in English) “Bella, Ciao!” This lively tune, with its easy-to-remember lyrics, bouncy chorus, and stylistic traces of klezmer music (yes; they’re there) all but contradicts the realities that gave rise to its composition. And there’s no point trying to do justice to them here. The history is available: go read about it and weep. Meanwhile, the net is full of versions of the song in a dozen languages: here’s a decent one in Italian:

In “Bella, Ciao!” the singer awakes one day to find his homeland invaded, the values that informed his existence trampled. To live in such a way would be death, he sings, and so he asks to accompany the resistance fighter, the Partigiano, into the mountains, where the fighting is, even though it means leaving behind the person whom he loves. Although it may mean never coming home again. He imagines the possibility of being killed on the mountain and hopes, if that should happen, that his grave will be marked by a flower which, in some unknown future, others might see and consider beautiful: the “bel fior” of the Partigiano who died so that freedom could live. Most important of all: He imagines that a better future is possible. He imagines that people will be able to walk on the mountain one day, endowed with the freedom of mind to reflect and to remember.

Partisan comrades under fire.

It’s not for nothing that one of the slogans of this year’s Festa della Liberazione is: “‘che bel fior’ è la democrazia” (Democracy: what a ‘beautiful flower’).

On another day, it would be worth reflecting on whether “democracy” actually exists in Italy, on whether it actually exists in America, the country always so ready and willing to export this fine product to the entire world (for the right price). It would be worth considering whether the “invader” — the TeaParty, the saintly Santorums and the Righteously Reaganistic Romneyites, the shadow government of American corporations, the Wall Street priests and acolytes of capitalism, the Supreme Court of the Systematic Dismantling of the Constitution — is not already at our door, hasn’t invaded our homeland, hasn’t trampled the values that inform our existence.

On another day, but not this one. Today’s a day to remember why the words “Liberation” and “Resistance” go together.

—————————-

“Bella, Ciao!”

One morning, I was awakened,
(Oh, good-bye, my love. Good-bye, my love. My love, good-bye!)
One morning, I was awakened,
To find the invader at my door.

Oh, Partigiano, take me with you.
(Oh, good-bye, my love. Good-bye, my love. My love, good-bye!)
Oh, Partigiano, take me with you.
Because to live this way is death.

And if I should die as a Partigiano,
(Oh, good-bye, my love. Good-bye, my love. My love, good-bye!)
And if I should die as a Partigiano,
It will be you who must bury me.

Dig my grave there, on the mountainside.
(Oh, good-bye, my love. Good-bye, my love. My love, good-bye!)
Dig my grave there, on the mountainside.
And let a beautiful flower shade the place where I lie.

And one day all the people who pass by,
(Oh, good-bye, my love. Good-bye, my love. My love, good-bye!)
And one day all the people who pass by,
Will say, “What a beautiful flower!”

This is the flower of the Partigiano,
(Oh, good-bye, my love. Good-bye, my love. My love, good-bye!)
This is the flower of the Partigiano,
Who died to make freedom live.

Partigiani in procession through the liberated streets of Milan.

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Posted on 25 April 2012, in Italy, Italian, Italians (in that order). Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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