Radio Alice: Radio in action in Italy

Submitted by Juan Conatz on January 13, 2011

Elsewhere in this issue, Tom McLaughlin discusses Murray Bookchin's ideas on the liberating potentialities of technology. The following article focuses on a day in the life of Radio Alice, a free radio station in Bologna, Italy, that represents one attempt to turn modern technology in a liberating direction.

Radio Alice is interesting as an attempt to show that the act of creating a liberated society requires the transformation of the dominant technology and means of communication. The station was founded two years ago, in February 1976, by a political collective who took the name Radio Alice from Lewis Carroll's Alice because they sought to subvert reality in the way it was in Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. They were especially interested in the politics of speech, and how speech itself reflects the worldview of the dominant reality. As a result, they attempted, through Radio Alice, to subvert the dominant mode of discourse and in so doing to show that it is not the only one possible.

The station itself is affiliated with no political group, although many of the members of the founding collective were formerly members of the autonomous left-wing groups that have played so large a part on the Italian scene in recent years. These groups have been distinguished by their refusal to accept the traditional leftist forms of organization, strategy, and leadership, by their militancy, and by their total opposition to the 'alternative' presented by the Communist Party, which they characterize as part of the system to be overthrown. The CP, incidentally, controls the municipal government in Bologna.

The events described in the following transcript must be understood in the political context of Italy today. While the country's rulers grapple ineffectually with a serious and chronic economic crisis, and while un-employment soars above the two-million mark, the ruling Christian Democrats cling to power through a governing coalition which excludes the CP but which survives only with the support of the CP, whose only stated goal seems to be a few seats in a government of national unity that is to save Italian capitalism. (See the interview with the Italian CP senator in this issue.) Meanwhile leftists battle police and the strong neo-fascists in the streets in violent clashes. Many compare Italy today to the Weimar Republic in the late 1920's.

The events leading up to those described in the following transcript were as follows: in March 1977 leftist and rightist students clashed in an angry but non-violent confrontation on the university campus in Bologna. Police invaded the campus, indiscriminately clubbing students, who then replied with paving stones and molotov cocktails. The result was a series of street battles stretching over several days. The campaign of police repression was accompanied by a continuous stream of abuse from the Communist Party directed at the insurgent students.

Radio Alice broadcast news of the events as they occured, often by airing telephone calls from militants who described events, called for assistance in a given sector, and reported police movements. The station was twice raided and closed down by police, but resumed broadcasting by switching locations and resorting to a transmitter powered by a car battery. Finally, the station was silenced and charges of inciting riot were laid against a number of the key militants. About a month after it was closed down, the station resumed broadcasting on an irregular schedule with a reduced collective of people.

(For more information about Radio Alice and the March events in Bologna, see the Winter 1977-78 issue of Radical America.)

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RA: This is Radio Alice. Any comrade who knows anything about what's going on please give us a call here at RA, and we would really appreciate it.


Telephone: (panting voice) ... so listen, the police are charging from via St. Petronio, and also from via Zamboni, at the end. They shot some tear gas, then they lined themselves up at the end of via Zamboni, I mean close to the Church of St. Donato, close to ... they are there.

RA: Got it. Listen, where are the comrades now?

T: The comrades are in piazza Verdi, counterattacking, and also close to Economics; they have made one line, and they have also gathered some stones. Now listen, it should be said, perhaps ... I mean, you know ... that you should send as many comrades as you can to help us, because there are only a few of us now.


T: Fine. Maybe later on I'll drop in with some more news, or maybe somebody else will. Ciao.

RA: Ciao, thanks.


T: Hey, the police have entered the university zone. They've started spreading tear gas. And they've already reached the second traffic light on via Zamboni. The comrades are withdrawing to a place where they can rally together. They are not opposing the police. They are rallying, but they are not yet moving ahead, while at piazza Verdi the police are already spreading teargas. Now the rally is beginning to move and they are heading to the zone close to St. Donato. That's all.

RA: OK, ciao, thanks.


RA: There is an urgent message, it's very important: the people of the political-juridical committee should come here into our studio right away, or get in touch with us, anyway: it's much better if they come here.

T: .. so, comrades, the police are moving up. They've rammed into the barricades, marched onto piazza Verdi, and now they have occupied it. Now they are going down via Zamboni. The comrades are now between Economics and porta Zamboni. Anyway, we need news and information for our comrades. Those who know if the police have reached porta Zamboni, via Ernerio, or the streets in the ring around porta Zamboni, please call us immeditately, because many people are listening to the radio. We need to know it badly because we must set up new barricades, and organize everything. Anyway, they're moving up and they're using a lot of teargas.

T: ... so the university buildings have been emptied by the police and carabinieri, who have marched onto piazza Verdi from 3 sides: from via Zamboni, from via Riva di Reno, via delle Moline, and from piazza Oldobrandi. There has been very little or no resistance from our side because there was no fucking way. Those guys threw a lot of teargas bombs while they were still far away.

RA: Listen, where are the comrades now?

T: They've moved down along via Zamboni.

RA: What for? I mean what are they planning to do now?

T: Nothing, it's a complete defeat.

RA: A complete defeat?

T: Yeah, a slaughterhouse.


T: M is calling. The end of the world is underway here. Police are behaving more or less like at the theatre, you know. Wait a minute. Here's S. who knows what's going on better than me.

T: (S.) Well, the police are not gaining ground any more, they are not using tear gas now. It's probably because the wind is blowing the tear gas back towards them. Matter of fact, the wind is now blowing in our favour. We have nice sunshine too and plenty of fresh air.

T: (M.) Oh it's great, it's springtime.

T: (S.) The comrades were able to throw back the tear gas bombs before they exploded. You grab it from the top and then you throw it back at the police.

RA: Listen, where are you now?

T: All the people who started the rally are now around via Zamboni. But the rally hasn't started yet. They still have to decide. As of now the police are dug in around piazza Verdi, and we have a lot of very nice barricades that stretch all along the way down to the end of via Zamboni. Now l can hear the explosion of a bomb. I don't know what kind, a teargas bomb or something else. Anyway, things are going well now. The point now is that if we decide to start the rally we can move it to via. .. (noise), there are no police there, so we can. But those comrades who are listening to the radio, they can reach us of course from the side roads, to porta Zamboni, easily, and reach...

RA: That's OK, now, thank you. Ciao.

T: The comrades have tried somehow to resist, but because the police were throwing teargas bombs, and they had only stones, you know, they could not reach that far with their throws so they had to withdraw along via Zamboni, and now they have all gathered around the gate of porta Zamboni, and perhaps it's better that the rally does not start at all.

RA: Fine.

T: I'll call later on.
RA: Hey, listen ...


T: I just wanted to tell you that the whole area around via Petroni, piazza Aldrovandi, all the side streets, via St. Vitale and Strada Maggiore, is completely closed. So if somebody wants to get out of there, they should try a different way, that is, through the malls, and not to go to piazza Maggiore and the other small streets that lead to piazza Maggiore from piazza Verdi. I just wanted to tell you this because, you know, the police are right here and they're not letting anyone through. They stop and check everybody who shows up.

RA: OK, thank you, ciao.

T: Almost half an hour ago, maybe more, let's say at 4:30 or 5 p.m., during the first clashes, we saw some firemen in uniform and with helmets and oxygen bottles running away along via Zamboni while teargas was being thrown all around. Naturally we asked where they were going and what they were doing. "We are looking for, a telephone because they cut firehoses and we don't know how to put out the fire at the Cantunzein." Who cut the tire hoses'? "The police." This is what I heard with my small blue ears. Here's the other guy again.

T: (the other guy) Right now in via Rizzoli everything is still, but clearly, the cadres of the movement are not here. Three hundred and fifty of them, the toughest, went to Rome, so now the people who are arriving here are those who would like to do something but are a bit scared. That's why there are only slogans. Anyway, the situation is very tense.

RA: But, then, the police are in the middle surrounded by the comrades.

T: (woman) We were in via Rizzoli. At one point everybody started to run. Then in piazza Maggiore a comrade arrived saying that the police charged ordinary people, that is, passersby, children and senior citizens. He also said that the police, the special corps, got out of their jeeps and started to cudgel the people. This comrade was really pissed off. Then we ran into the house of a comrade living nearby. Now we don't know what to do.

RA: Thank you for the news. First some comrades phoned saying that the comrades were surrounding the police and that the situation was very tense. We don't know what the situation is now.

T: There were people running.

RA: OK, someone please phone us, telling us more precisely what's going on. We will see if it was a joke.

T: OK, ciao.


RA: This is always RA, don't despair. We are continuing to transmit the fragmented news we have. Right now, there is great confusion. Someone has asked if it is true that the police have sacked the Cantunzein. This is not true. They merely cut the tire hoses. Outside it is starting to rain. Inside, we will continue to transmit.



T: Herein via Rizzoli, at first the comrades encircles the police. It was beautiful, because they were moving forward, then sitting down, making fools out of the police, who were very bewildered. Anyway, about fifteen seconds ago they exploded ... wait ...

T: (another voice) It's very important Jesus fucking Christ are you there? Can you hear me? Yes, OK, I'm Bonvi. The situation is this, the wonderful thing is this, there were comrades of the Communist Party who came on their own, independent of the Party organization. They were sitting there in the piazza, becoming more excited and more resolute. At this point the police shot some teargas. Via Rizzoli is full of smoke. My office is becoming full of people who are taking shelter from the side roads. OK guys, be quiet . . . The situation is still very indeterminate, but anyway it is very nice. It seems to me that the people of the city are replying very well to this provocation by the police. Here is Gabriele, ciao.

T: Listen, it is important to understand that we have nothing against the policeman as an individual, but that we are fighting against policemen as an institution, as power...

T: (Bonvi) The most beautiful thing is that not only the "ultras" but the whole population, all the young people, also the teenagers, replying and not just to mess around but because they have had their balls and ovaries broken enough.

T: We agree. No one has ever fought against the police personally but for what they represent, for what they have to do.

T: This is the situation in piazza Verdi. The police have succeeded in occupying it. The comrades are barricaded near philosophy and behind the cafeteria. Both sides are shouting.

RA: I don't understand what you mean by both sides are shouting.

T: There is shouting from both sides. Or, at least, we can hear shouting from both sides and throwing of molotovs, etcetera. By the way it is likely that they have set fire to the faculty of law, but we don't know for sure. There is a lot of smoke coming from there. That's all I know.

RA: Thanks, ciao.

T: (voice of a man speaking angrily) Listen, we are a group of workers and we are trying to get organized and see if we can reach you and break your bones because we are fucking sick and tired of listening to you cocksuckers, that's what you are. Stop it, pigs! You should be ashamed, you are pieces of shit.

RA: It, instead of staying at home. you were here, you would learn that ...

T: Come on, why should I bother, since I've seen you at work (great confusion, a lot of swearing and insulting)

RA: Yet you don't know what's happening...

T: You assholes!

RA: We just got some news, something dependable. A mass rally is coming from the Ducati factory, we do not know what they have in mind, what they are planning to do.


RA: Wait a minute, say it again.

T: So, our comrades have just regained conrol of piazza Verdi, after a whole afternoon of fighting, the police have been pushed back. They could not get through and had to withdraw to the two towers. Apparently, at the two towers, they are gathering together again to go back to piazza Maggiore once more. That's all. Ciao.


RA: We have some more news. Apparently it is dependable. It seems that outside Porta St. Vitale there is a rally of workers, a rather big one, judging on what they said, so there should be two rallies of workers around now. We don't think they are chasing leftists, but that they are chasing cops.


RA: This is Radio Alice. We cannot use the telephone because the line is busy, but we want to talk to Radio Citta, here in Bologna, to see if we can make a joint broadcast about the riots. Every now and then we expect to receive news from the comrades who have gone into the fighting zones and who should still be there. They should call us if they can. Our number is 273459. Considering what's happening, I would say that the best thing to do would be this joint program.

T: One more message. We will soon give you some news about ... I mean some news about comrades in jail. We got this news from the Soccorso Rosso (Red Aid). A comrade has been beaten at the central police station. Ten comrades are 114 the prison of St. Giovanni. But later on we'll give more details. Just listen to what those pigs are doing. I mean, hang on...


T: (housewife) Today, in Piazza Maggiore, when the students were trying to get in, there were workers' pickets who did not let them through. This has been the most hideous thing the people of Bologna could do. I found that very loathsome. At long last I learnt from you that at least these people have started to do something, and this cheered me up a little bit. Because I was really sad, you know. Tomorrow I have to leave the city, but I was really sad. I was thinking that Bologna was fighting against her very children, see what I mean?

RA: I do.

T: Look, that really came as a. surprise, the biggest shame I've ever seen in my life.

RA: We too are glad to learn that the people of Bologna are now on our side.

T: (weeping) Right, otherwise it would have been truly sad. Look, my children are going to school, but it is sad. One lives in Rome, the other one is here in Bologna. So I happened to be here right on these days. Since the 8th, Woman's Day, when they beat that girl, since that day and the next one and so on I've been in the streets, but today I could not take it anymore. I wish you every luck. I'll call you again from Morano. Ciao, thank you!


RA: Cops are not the only ones who can bug a telephone - we can too, listen. We've been given this news. Our good old minister, Cossiga, the very honest minister of Police, has given a certain order, namely: the "blue meanies" should clean up Bologna gently and with a lot of tact, and should be very tough at Rome instead. This is the command given by Cossiga.


RA: Then it is of vital importance that Radio Citta get in touch with us. Radio Citta, please call the operator, number 10, and ask to be connected with our number. It is very important, we need to talk to them.

Radio Citta: We can tell you for sure that they have called exactly 180 soldiers in order to enforce "law and order" in this town. They have been brought to the "Minghetti" barracks. So far so good. There are 800 pupils from the Police School of Alessandria. Well, these pupils are kids around the age of 20, people with no experience at all, people who are now being sent inside a very harsh fight, thrown in it by murderous logic which has been seen so far only in "Westerns". The more a guy is likely to lose control of his temper, the better it is, they think, in order to spoil the image of a city like Bologna. We are asking for an answer to this situation from every democratic institution in Bologna, from every democratic force. And we are asking for it right now, while we, all the free radio stations in Bologna, keep on receiving requests for explanations. They come from people who are appalled and fucking angry, people who are demanding explanations of why the police are behaving this way, to know what exactly is going on, and what Bologna is being turned into.


RA: This is a joint transmission with Radio Citta. You were mentioning a message from eight comrades arrested by the police.

RC: Nine.

RA: Nine comrades in the prison of St. Giovanni.

RC: This is the message: "Ask about Isola Paolo and eight other people. Arrested without charges during the clashes yester-day,-they weren't even at the rally and they weren't armed. These are abusive arrests." And a note at the bottom, "a comrade has been beaten until he lost blood."

RA: Are these comrades in St. Giovanni?

RC: 1 don't know, but I think so. Anyway, I am not sure, but the message is reliable.

RA: It seems that the police want the Commune of Bologna to result. The police of Cossiga, of the state minister, of the minister for all seasons, of the control minister- the christian police, supported by the leaders of the Communist Party, leaders by now discredited by the response of their own militants - these police want it, want the Commune of Bologna. They will have it.


RA: Is anybody answering? Listen, all the comrades of the legal defence committee please phone the radio station, or rush here. Hello?

T: Hello.

RA: Listen, the police are here, we are RA. We are still waiting for our lawyers to come to let the police in. The police are trying to break the door down. I don't know if you can hear the noise from the radio. If you are policemen then you can break it down! (talking to the lawyers:) I told them that I would not open the door if they don't stop pointing their guns and unless they show me the search warrant. And since they haven't put their guns down I told them we are not going to open the door until our lawyers arrive. Please come, rush. They have guns, bullet-proof jackets and all that kind.of shit. Via del Pratello 41.

T: OK.

RA: Ciao - Listen, Mauro ... Hold it, our lawyers are coming. Alice! The police are at the door, leave the telephone Listen, this is RA, the police are behind the door... the police are behind the door with bullet proof jackets, guns in their hands and all that stuff. The police are at the door. Our lawyers are waiting. We positively refuse to let the police in until our lawyers are here because they are pointing guns and things like that. We cannot tolerate such things. OK - please, the comrades that are re-transmitting our program, please give us a signal via radio, I am listening. All comrades be in piazza Maggiore before midnight. Radio Citta please give us a signal. Radio Citta try.... There is a phone call. Hello Comrades, anyway, the situation is stable.

T: I am the lady…

RA: Lady we are waiting for the lawyers. The police are sitting down ... the police are still out there, waiting to get in, still with bullet-proof jackets and pointing guns. They said they would have broken the door down, and things like that ... did you see the movie - fucking cow, what is its fucking name? - the one about Germany. I got it - "The Lost Honour of Katrina Blum", they have the same identical helmets, the same identical bullet-proof jackets, the guns pointed at us, and things like that. It is really absurd, really unbelieveable, like in a movie. I swear it, if they weren't making all this noise, I would have thought I was in a film! There are four of us here at the radio station; we were all doing our job of counter-information, and we are waiting to see what the fuck the police are going to do. Right now they seem to be quiet. They've stopped beating the door. Maybe they thought it was too strong. Give me a record, let's put some music on ... pigs ... the telephone here is ringing all the time...


RA: The police started again to pound on the door. (voices) Alice! There are the police at the door - they're coming in! They are in! We have our hands up! They are in! We have our hands up!