Italian Social Center XM24 Supporters Face Down National Agenda to Close Self-Organized Spaces

Bologna, Italy – The autonomous public space XM24 in Bologna is one of the latest organizations to come under pressure from Italian authorities aiming to evict and disperse them. National politicians such as Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, a leader of the far-right Northern League (Lega Nord) and collaborationist municipal governments have cracked down on multi-purpose, autonomous social spaces across Italy.

Bologna has a long history as a “red city” with substantial leftist and anti-authoritarian organizing, with the oldest university in Europe dating to 1088 and continuing political influence by communist and socialist parties. Partisan fighters (partigiani) carried out guerrilla warfare against Mussolini’s fascist forces during World War II in the surrounding region. A popular armed uprising aimed at social revolution finally liberated the city on April 21, 1945, a day now commemorated every year.

From World War II to the present day, antifascist groups maintain a strong presence in Bologna. The cover photo above is from an April 25, 2019 antifascist demonstration that passed by XM24, marking a national day of liberation from fascism. The yellow banner says “Against all fascisms. Against racism, sexism and exploitation.”

An antifascist rally on May 20, 2019 in Bologna. (It: piazza maggiore. Presidio antifascista per contestare il comizio di Forza Nuova a cui parteciperà anche Roberto Fiore. Blindate strade e accessi con reti metalliche, idranti e polizia in antisommossa. scontri con la polizia. Foto Michele Lapini/Eikon) Source: Zicphoto / zic.it

Unicorn Riot interviewed Andrea, an active participant in Bologna’s XM24. (“Andrea” is often used as a alias for participants.) The following interview has been edited for dialect and clarity.

Unicorn Riot: What’s the political context of Europe and Italy in this moment?

Andrea: For sure we’re not living an easy historical period. Everywhere worldwide, right-wing governments are getting in power. As for us, international solidarity is important, the same for our enemies: they take power in knowing that they are not alone in one country, but that there are similar people in power positions all around the globe.

We need to look at this historical moment in a wide prospective: Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Narendra Modi in India, Donald Trump here in the US, together with Marine Le Pen in France and Matteo Salvini in Italy – just to say a few. And it’s a worldwide response of conservative, racist, repressive laws against everybody who tries to give different perspectives to the capitalist system we’re living in, and that is driving the world to its self-destruction.

In this context, Italy is not different: we are living a moment where racism is strongly taking place in the whole country. Before, the Democratic Party Interior Minister Marco Minniti, now the Northern League (Lega Nord) Salvini [since June 1, 2018]: they both made very racist laws against migrants and the entire system of asylum seekers’ reception centres. They made many declarations about the “invasion” Italy would be experiencing, actually legitimizing all those fascist movements and racist groups who make demonstrations against migrants.

Since Salvini is in power, thanks to the Five Star Movement (M5S) that put him there [via a coalition government agreement], we had an important uprising of racist laws and difficult consequences for migrants living or passing by Italy. The right to asylum is almost over. And this was the first part of the attack.

The second part – which began in January this year – is against any counter-cultural, antagonist, or anarchist political organisations. It started in February with the eviction of one important and historical anarchist occupation in Torino, called L’Asilo, and the arrest and detention of anarchist comrades living there, formally accused of having organized solidarity demonstrations against migrant expulsions and detention centers. [Video of L’Asilo eviction]

Then at the end of February, another big police operation led to the arrest of many other anarchist comrades of Trento [Northern Italy]: they are in jail still now, in preventive detention. Two women are on hunger strike for a few weeks now. They are protesting against the condition of detention and isolation they are forced to be in.

Meanwhile, at the beginning of this year,

Salvini asked all the police in local government municipalities (prefetture/prefecture) of the cities to map all the occupied places in each city. And he declared that would be the next step: to evict all the occupied places, stop all the social centers: a frontal attack against all the antagonist, antifascist, and anarchist political organizations around the country.

And here we are: some evictions started already, others are possible to come in the summer. But generally, the climate we breathe is not a nice one. And this is not only because of Salvini: the [center-left social democratic] Democratic Party as well, they don’t do anything to even criticize what is going on. They are all on the same line, as with the Five Star Movement: one acting, the others letting him act, legitimating its actions via silence.

Unicorn Riot: What about Bologna then?

Andrea: Bologna has an important history in Italian underground culture and political organization. It’s the city known to be the “Red City”, with [communist and left municipal political leadership] since the end of World War II, with the first university of the western world.

So since forever, a university city, with many students coming from all around the country. In Bologna people from the south, the east, the west, and the north could meet, and in Bologna in one single street you had all the department of the university: so all the students could meet and hang around, in what has been, for decades if not centuries, one of the most culturally eclectic and eccentric cities in Italy.

Culture is a tool to change this society, and in Bologna this took the form of many different experiments of self-organized places, it would take too long to cite them all. But since the 1970s, with the independent radio, until the 1990s, Bologna has been a symbol and a place for Italian people to meet and participate in cultural and political experimentations with a deep impact on the social life not only of the city, but of the whole country.

Now, since at least the last 10 years, we are witnessing a huge repression of what was the style of life of this city. The cleanup of the downtown to open it to tourism and international wealthy students, the arrival of Ryanair, AirBNB, the high speed train (Treno Alta Velocità – TAV), the rise of the price of housing and the touristification of the center. These are all processes that probably we are experiencing world wide, across many cities and countries.

In Bologna, in the recent years, the Democratic Party that governs the city decided also to promote a politics of repression and eviction of all the occupied places that used to characterize the political, cultural and social life of the city.

map of evicted social centered in Bologna

Map of evicted social centers and autonomous spaces in Bologna. Source: zic.it

In the last four years, they evicted 15 occupied places in Bologna, as you can see in this report, “Chiedi alla Polvere” (ask to the dust). They are all empty now, with big walls covering the entrances. (Photo album of Bologna’s evicted, vacant social centers)

After the occupation of via Libia, NoTav occupation (2013). Now the building has been demolished and there is a LIDL discount supermarket at the location. Source: Zeroincondott (zic.it)

So now, the paradox we are living is that the city with one of the major concentrations of underground cultural and political spaces, is being cleaned up, and we are in a situation where now there is almost nothing as an occupied place. One that remains is XM24, an historical self-organized place active in the popular neighborhood of Bolognina for 17 years now. But even XM24 is under eviction threat now.

Unicorn Riot: What is XM24?

Andrea: XM24 is “Public self-organized space” (Spazio Pubblico Autogestito) in the Bolognina neighborhood. It is an antifascist, antiracist, antisexist place of experimentation and contamination. It is a place without a single political identity; it is a space where many collectives can organize themselves and experiment, exist, and make things outside of the logics of capital accumulation.

XM24 is an anti-capitalist space. We do not make any profit there, no money, no hierarchy, no chief: the place is lived by many collectives that share the general assembly, where everything is discussed and decided with the “consensus method”.

XM24 is a special place that for 17 years welcomes concerts, music, festivals, popular sports, Italian language school with migrants, serigraphy (screen printing), hackerspace, Infoshock [infoshop], free bicycle repair (ciclofficina) and many, many other projects.

A festival hosted outside XM24, June 30, 2018. / Fuori da XM24: La festa di quartiere promossa da XM24 nel parco della trilogia e dentro il centro sociale. Musica, yoga, spazio bimbi, banchetti, piscina, writers, tessuti, mercato contadino e lo spettacolo dei Mutoid. Source: Michele Lapini (set)

XM24 is a place that ten years ago organized (just to remember one among many) the Social Festival of Antifascist Cultures, since already ten years ago we could breathe this air of fascism uprising and we knew we needed to sharpen our ideas about how to combat this.

XM24 is a place where people can organize themselves politically, but also just stay and take the time to sit without having to pay anything.

XM24 is the place where the first farmer’s market of organic produce (with organic self-certification) took place, 16 years ago, well before the green-vegan capitalist society started to put “organic” in its agenda. Campi Aperti is an association of more that 100 farmers of the countryside around Bologna, who went into the countryside as a political choice, sure that the alimentary autonomy [food autonomy] is an important and huge combat of our time.

XM24 is a place where people can also just stay and have a beer, discuss, take the time. Is a place where different ways of living can be imagined because we need space to experiment with different ways to live our life, and to build different relationships outside this fucking hell capitalist system that is destroying all the world and the nature around us.

In Bologna, after all these years of repression against all the occupied places in town, XM24 is the one place left where different people and different political cultures may meet and organize themselves. And it is a place pretty big, situated in a popular neighborhood, where an important historical antifascist battle took place, when partisans (partigiani) attacked the fascists and Nazi occupation in winter 1944: one of the most important battles in a town of the whole Second World War.

But is a neighborhood where now they want to make money and tourism and gentrification. They are willing to get us out of there: they want to make money out of our place. They cannot accept that a place that doesn’t add to the capital accumulation continues to exist in such a central area.

So, the Democratic administration of the city, well before all this Salvini strategy, began asking us to leave the place. They want us to leave XM24, and they don’t give us any alternative space to move to.

Just as if 17 years of political organisation and cultural activities didn’t take place. Just as if thousands of people didn’t pass by XM24 every fuckin’ hell week. Just as if we could disappear from our city and space. Just as if it was possible to live in Bologna without XM24: just as if we could imagine a city of Bologna without XM24.

It’s just not possible to imagine. We need XM24 as we need the possibility to imagine a different world, with different relationship, without hierarchies and oppression, of colour, of gender, of age, of anything.

XM24 is the possibility to imagine, and the tool we need to build this different world: and that’s the main reason they want to evict us.

It’s funny how in the U.S., as in Italy, they keep talking about the freedom of speech when legitimizing the white supremacists’ or fascists’ violent discourses. We should never forget that the freedom of speech the State defends is always that that is comfortable to the State and capitalist interest – that hate and fascism are productive ideas and discourses. Fear produce accumulation of capital and security systems machine.

On the other side: solidarity and horizontal relationships are not productive to capital accumulation. Solidarity and anti-hierarchy is productive only for a new world and system of sharing. Antifascism is the base where to build, together with antiracism and antisexism, a free new world. That’s why we need XM24 and places like this. And that’s why we’ll not move.

And we will stay there: it’s our neverending story.

The Neverending Story: XM24 against the Nothing coming. / It’s easier to dominate those who don’t believe in anything. And that the easiest way to conquer power.

[The 1984 film The Neverending Story was selected as the art theme, including as a zine.] We need to find our place in this secular struggle between oppressor and oppressed. We need to build a new consciousness of what’s the meaning of resistance today. And to defend our spaces of free imagination is an act of resistance today. Since we need space to think, imagine, and build a new world. It’s our part of this neverending story: the history of the struggle of all people for freedom.

“Against the Nothing coming” / “when Resistance moves forward, the Nothing retreats”
Art produced for XM24 eviction resistance by JoE1 and zero calcare. More art pieces here.

Unicorn Riot: What is going on for the 29th of June?

Andrea: We’ll be on the street, for a huge demonstration that will occupy all the city center and will bring all our energy outside XM24. We make a call for artists and for solidarity and the English version can be found here.

The 29th of June we will be on the streets of Bologna, but the story is out of being at its end. On the contrary, this is just the beginning of a summer of resistance. So stay tuned! Anyway: nobody can touch XM24, and XM24 will not move!

“XM24 against the Nothing” (Nulla) is just another way around to say that struggle never end, and this is just a new page of our history: the history of resistance against capitalist oppression. And resistance never has borders.

Keep struggling, keep resisting, here and there: everywhere. … To be continued…

Unicorn Riot: Thank you for speaking with us!


Learn more about the public self-organized space XM24 at ECN.org/xm24.

Cover photo, and above photo by Michele Lapini from 25 April 2019 collection, used with permission.

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