One evening in September 1987 I visited the provincial L’Unità festival
in Modena, a prosperous city in Emilia-Romagna, the region of Italy
with the strongest left-wing traditions and the highest density of Com-
munist Party membership in Western Europe. The annual fund-raising
festival of the local federation of the Italian Communist Party (Partito
Comunista Italiano—pci) was in full swing. As usual, the event was or-
ganized on a grand scale. In a prefabricated open-air exhibition area on
the edge of town numerous eating places, stalls, and displays had been
set up, and there was a full program of debates and entertainments. Fami-
lies, young people, couples, and the elderly mingled in large numbers
among bars, commercial stands, booths of domestic and international
pressure groups, bookshops, and raffle and game stalls. The laughter and
chatter, and the relaxed good humor of those dining on the rich Emilian
cuisine or in the Hungarian and Russian restaurants, indicated that the
festival was an occasion of some importance in community life. The only
reminders of its political character were the numerous red flags fluttering
in the breeze and repeated loudspeaker announcements of the day’s pro-
gram of attractions.
By any standard the festival was impressive. Few if any other political
forces in the world could have recruited sufficient volunteer labor or
have performed the organizational feat of staging an event on this scale
in a provincial city. Yet as I wandered amid the crowds several things
caught my attention. First, I came across a small conference area an-
nexed to the Rinascita bookshop, where approximately fifteen people,
mostly in their late twenties or thirties, had gathered. They were await-
ing the beginning of a roundtable discussion on the curious theme of
‘‘Neo-individualism, culture of the body, and social climbing.’’ How-
ever, half an hour after the advertised starting time, none of the speakers
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