Academic journal article Annali d'Italianistica

Giovannino's "Liberta": Guareschi's Personal Freedom in Opposition to Power

Academic journal article Annali d'Italianistica

Giovannino's "Liberta": Guareschi's Personal Freedom in Opposition to Power

Article excerpt

"Liberta e dovunque vive un uomo che si sente libero" avevo scritto su un cartoncino appeso al muro della mia cella. Adesso, nella mia stanza delle Roncole, ho appeso al muro lo stesso cartoncino aggiornato: "Liberta e soltanto la dove vive un uomo che si sente libero."

(Giovannino Guareschi) (1)

Guareschi Speaks up to Power: The Experience of the Lager

Most scholars and the general public know of Giovannino Guareschi through the immense success of his Mondo piccolo anthologies that have sold millions of copies worldwide. (2) But more than his accomplishments as a journalist of popular literature, he deserves greater recognition as an unfaltering proponent of speaking truth to power. Indeed, we can view so much of his personal actions and life's work, especially during World War II and the dopoguerra, from this perspective. Guareschi was a superb storyteller who saw humor as a weapon of reason used to champion the primacy of conscience and individual freedom. In crafting entertaining tales, vignettes, and newspaper editorials, he sought to awaken readers to appreciate their ability to think for themselves as a way to counter potential abuses of power. In this study, beyond discussing this point, we will specifically explore his non-violent opposition to Nazi tyranny, Communist politics, and Christian Democratic leadership in the figure of Alcide De Gasperi. Guareschi's most important legacy as a Novecento writer and public figure finds its deepest root in this resistance.

On 9 September 1943, after Italy's Armistice with the Allies, German forces captured Guareschi, who was serving on active duty in Piedmont as a Lieutenant of Artillery. He had been forced to return to military duty several months prior in order to avoid serving jail time: in a drunken stupor upon finding out in October 1942 that his brother had been killed in Russia--an erroneous report as it turned out--he caused a ruckus and cursed Mussolini's regime. Angelo Rizzoli, who employed Guareschi as an editor of his humorous weekly Bertoldo, convinced fascist authorities to be lenient on him by recalling him to arms in lieu of incarceration. (3) With the Armistice, Guareschi honored his military oath made to Vittorio Emmanuele III, but he refused to swear allegiance to the Third Reich. Shortly thereafter he was shipped by train, along with more than five thousand other former Italian soldiers, first to Poland and then to Germany. Since Italy had not declared war on its former ally (a decision the Badoglio government takes on October 13, 1943), the Germans classified Guareschi and the other Italians they captured as Internati Militari Italiani (IMI) instead of Prisoners of War, rendering void their 1929 Geneva Convention rights. As internees, therefore, the International Red Cross could not provide Italian soldiers adequate assistance, and the rules governing imprisonment did not apply (Nello, "La resistenza clandestina" 147).

To cope with the tribulations of prison life, Guareschi maintained a diary and several notebooks in which he captured his daily activities, psychological state, and musings on the meaning of his captivity that he then would share with fellow inmates in the form of public lectures, going from barrack to barrack to raise morale. (4) Guareschi gravitated seamlessly to this activity because of his extensive experience in journalism and radio broadcasting. After the war, he published many of his reflections of this experience in his Diario clandestino (1949). Forty years later his children published more of his writings in Ritorno alla base (1989), and then in 2008 they released Il grande diario, a thorough integration of their father's IMI diary and notebooks.

In his lectures to his IMI companions, Guareschi spoke of everything, from hunger and longing to see his children to his conception of humor, holding in all eighty-three of these encounters, an average of one a week (Bertellini 8). …

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