History | June 15, 2020 7:00 am

Milan’s Mayor Won’t Take Down Statue of Controversial Writer

Revisiting the repugnant historical legacy of Indro Montanelli

Indro Montanelli Statue Damaged
A general view of the statue of Indro Montanelli after it was vandalised with red paint and graffiti in the gardens dedicated to him.
Jacopo Raule/Getty Images

Toppling statues of historical figures whose legacy involves slavery has become a worldwide practice in recent weeks. It’s not hard to see why: the argument that direct involvement in the enslavement of others disqualifies someone from being worthy of an honor like a statue is eminently understandable. But this debate has extended far beyond images of Confederate generals and those who profited by the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

One of the most heated debates going on right now is taking place in Italy, and surrounds a statue in Milan of journalist Indro Montanelli. Writing at The Guardian, Lorenzo Tondo neatly summarizes the controversy over both the statue and its inspiration, referring to Montanelli as “an Italian journalist who acknowledged having bought a 12-year-old Eritrean girl to be his wife during Italy’s colonial occupation in the 1930s.”

If you react to that piece of information with horror, rest assured that you’re not alone. In a moving essay from 2019, writer Igiaba Scego discussed the horrific legacy of Montanelli’s actions:

Indro Montanelli used various occasions to describe the sexual violence he’d committed against a minor. It was a crime. But saying “things were different in Africa” underplayed the matter as simply another exotic anecdote among soldiers. That is how the alpha-male Montanelli made it seem, as if it were just a grand game in the end and not a crisis of beleaguered humanity.

Milan’s mayor Giuseppe Sala has refused calls to take down the statue, which has had red paint thrown on it during the protests. While Sala has expressed displeasure with Montanelli’s actions in the 1930s, he also spoke supportively of his work as a journalist, arguing that “lives should be judged in their totality.” The extremity of Montanelli’s case, however, suggests that some events really do overshadow everything else in someone’s life, and for good reason. Leaving this statue up seems more and more indefensible by the day.

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