Bat­tisti: A life on the run

Kuwait Times - - International -

PARIS: Con­victed as a mur­derer for blood­shed in the 1970s, for­mer left­wing Ital­ian ac­tivist Ce­sare Bat­tisti, who was caught in Bo­livia, has spent al­most four decades on the run, de­tail­ing his ex­pe­ri­ences in a string of ac­claimed thrillers. His cap­ture at the week­end was the lat­est twist in a near 40-year le­gal and diplo­matic saga wor­thy of the kind of au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal novel the 64-year-old made his spe­cialty.

Con­victed in ab­sen­tia to life be­hind bars by an Ital­ian court, he has spent years on the road, trav­el­ling from Mex­ico to France and Brazil, de­spite reg­u­lar threats of ex­tra­di­tion. Bat­tisti was con­victed by an Ital­ian court in 1993 and sen­tenced to life for in­volve­ment in four mur­ders in the 1970s when he was a left­wing ac­tivist. Al­though he ad­mits be­ing part of an armed rev­o­lu­tion­ary group, he has al­ways de­nied re­spon­si­bil­ity for any deaths. But Rome re­mains de­ter­mined to pun­ish one of the last fig­ures from Italy’s so-called Years of Lead, a decade of vi­o­lent tur­moil which be­gan in the late 1960s and saw dozens of deadly at­tacks by hard­line left­wing and rightwing groups.

A softly spo­ken apol­o­gist who can tire­lessly ar­gue in mul­ti­ple lan­guages, Bat­tisti was born in south­ern Rome on De­cem­ber 18, 1954 into a Catholic fam­ily of com­mu­nists. In the late 1970s, after spend­ing sev­eral brief stints in prison for mi­nor of­fenses, he joined the Armed Pro­le­tar­i­ans for Com­mu­nism (PAC), a rad­i­cal left­wing group which staged a string of rob­beries and at­tacks.

“As­pir­ing to change so­ci­ety with arms is id­i­otic,” he said in an in­ter­view in 2011. “But lis­ten, at the time ev­ery­one was pack­ing a gun. There were gueril­las all over the world, Italy was in a pre­rev­o­lu­tion­ary sit­u­a­tion.” Ar­rested in Mi­lan in 1979 and sen­tenced for be­long­ing to an armed gang, Bat­tisti man­aged to es­cape from prison near Rome two years later, flee­ing first to France and then to Mex­ico in 1982.

Fol­low­ing a pledge by France’s then so­cial­ist pres­i­dent Fran­cois Mit­terand not to ex­tra­dite for­mer Ital­ian ac­tivists who had turned their back on their past, Bat­tisti re­turned to France in 1990 and be­gan his writ­ing ca­reer. Three years later, a Mi­lan court con­victed him in ab­sen­tia of per­son­ally killing two Ital­ian po­lice of­fi­cers, par­tic­i­pat­ing in the mur­der of a butcher, and plan­ning an at­tack on a jeweller who died in a shoot-out that left his 14-year-old son in a wheel­chair. But Bat­tisti has de­nied hav­ing any blood on his hands over the four mur­ders, which took place in 1978 and 1979.

Like hun­dreds of other Ital­ians who were po­lit­i­cally ac­tive in the 1970s, Bat­tisti re­built his life in Paris, where he stayed un­til 2004. Work­ing as a care­taker to make ends meet, he be­gan writ­ing thrillers, pub­lish­ing more than a dozen of them, many with a strongly au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal bent fo­cus­ing on the ex­ile and redemp­tion of for­mer hard­line ac­tivists. In 2004, the gov­ern­ment of Jac­ques Chirac de­cided to end Mit­terand’s pol­icy and ex­tra­dite Bat­tisti back to Italy.

De­spite the sup­port of sev­eral high­pro­file fig­ures, in­clud­ing best-sell­ing crime nov­el­ist Fred Var­gas and philoso­pher Bernard-Henri Levy, Bat­tisti’s le­gal ap­peals were re­jected. —AFP

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