After the landing of the Allies, which took place on 9th September 1943 through Operation Avalanche, southern Italy was liberated from fascism and became the first symbol of the Italian political rebirth. From 11th February to 15th July 1944 Salerno, which at that time was the provisional seat of the Italian government, saw all the political ideas banned by fascism flourish again, almost anticipating the great spring of ’45.
Some of the protagonists of these months were, together with the native people, the victims of political exile confined to the South during the Fascist period. Many of them, while waiting to return to their homeland (often located in the area still dominated by the Nazi-fascist forces), remained where they had been confined, strongly acting and contributing to the resumption of local politics.
In the book Christ stopped at Eboli, a stranger tells Carlo Levi that if he had been exiled that meant that someone in Rome had wished him bad luck. Thus Carlo Levi, quoting the simple words of a Lucanian peasant who knew nothing and wanted to know nothing about the State, offers the reader of his Christ stopped at Eboli a clear and universal image of what political exile is, that is the forced removal of an individual whom the State actually wanted badly. But why? Drive him away from what? Why is that?
Political confinement usually was and, in many parts of the world, is still perpetrated today by authoritarian states that are intolerant of the spread of political-cultural ideas contrary to or different from those promoted by their own government. This option has often been chosen to avoid the scandal that would have resulted from the imprisonment or even the killing of those considered “dangerous”, especially if among them there are socially and culturally influential personalities.
The destination, on the other hand, has always been variable, established from time to time according to the needs of the State and the “dangerousness” of the person to be exiled. Generally, the privileged places are those which, by their natural conformation, prevent movement and communication, such as small islands. In the case of Fascist Italy, Mussolini thought of relegating bothersome characters to remote parts of the country, much preferring internal exile to external exile. He exploited in his favour the condition of serious backwardness suffered by the South (especially in the hinterland areas), indicating it as an adequate destination for political isolation. The lack of services, roads, railways and economic resources made the South a place that seemed purposely created for exile and which, especially starting from the mid-1930s, ended up being a real “fascist storage room”. There were numerous prominent personalities put in confinement; among these were Carlo Levi, Antonio Gramsci, Sandro Pertini, Altiero Spinelli and many others.
In the period from 1926 to 1943, exile thus became a systematic practice, so much so as to determine the birth of about 262 confinement colonies, actual settlements controlled by anti-fascists and other individuals unwelcome to the state, such as Jews and homosexuals. Some of the places known to have been large colonies of confinement are Ustica, Ventotene, the Tremiti islands, Pisticci and Lipari. Campania was among the regions that hosted these communities, although it was less exploited than others considered more in conformity with the purpose (eg Basilicata, Puglia and Sicily). Many personalities were confined in the large province of Salerno, which was considered as the most isolated area of the region together with the province of Avellino. These personalities, after the liberation of Southern Italy, were fundamental in the post-war anti-fascist struggle and in the reconstitution of local political parties. Some of them were Mario Garuglieri, Danilo Mannucci, Dina Sernaglia and Ferruccio Parri, who, in close contact with the native anti-fascists, took an active part in the political rebirth of Salerno. The latter, together with others, will be the subject of further articles, which will aim to explore and tell their stories.
The dissident, therefore, did not cease to be a danger once he/she arrived in the place of his exile, but, paradoxically, it was precisely there that he/she began to be so. Far from being dull and unmotivated, he/she reinvigorated and used his/her long days, typical of his/her particular condition, to reorganize and reaffirm his/her ideas, which, once free to circulate, went to reconstruct piece by piece, what fascism had destroyed.