From the latest issue of Middle East Report Online an interesting analysis of Italy's August 2008 agreement to pay $5 billion payment over 20 years to Libya.
Assessing Italy’s Grande Gesto to Libya
March 16, 2009
(Claudia Gazzini is a Ph.D. candidate at Oxford University.)
Under a tent in Benghazi on August 30, 2008, Silvio Berlusconi bowed symbolically before the son of ‘Umar al-Mukhtar, hero of the Libyan resistance to Italian colonial rule. “It is my duty to express to you, in the name of the Italian people, our regret and apologies for the deep wounds that we have caused you,” said the Italian premier. Eastern Libya was the site of the bulk of the armed resistance to the Italian occupation, which lasted from 1911 to 1943. More than 100,000 Libyans are believed to have died in the counterinsurgency campaign, many in desert prison camps and in southern Italian penal colonies. Inside the tent, Berlusconi and Libyan leader Mu‘ammar al-Qaddafi signed a historic agreement according to which Italy will pay $5 billion over the next 20 years, nominally to compensate Libya for these “deep wounds.” The treaty was ratified by Italy on February 3 and by Libya on March 1.
Politicians in both Libya and Italy have often presented the $5 billion as reparations for the harm done to Libya by colonial rule. Qaddafi hailed the treaty as an important historical precedent that proves that “compensation entails condemnation of colonialism regardless of the amount paid.” Yet neither the title nor the text of the treaty mentions the word “reparations.” The text alludes to settlement of colonial-era disputes, but officially the accord is called a “treaty of friendship, partnership and cooperation.”
The treaty was certainly not signed because Italy has suddenly come to terms with its colonial past and desires to make amends. Although the premier has made public noises of atonement for Italy’s colonial past, Italians suffer from a general colonial amnesia and know very little about their country’s adventures in Africa -- far less, for instance, than the French know about Algeria. Even the 1981 Anthony Quinn vehicle Lion of the Desert, about Mukhtar’s rebellion, was utterly banned in Italy for many years because, in the government’s words, it was “damaging to the Italian army’s honor.” ..continued