Florence's Turn

May 28, 1993

Terrorists with bombs cannot destroy regimes that are not ready to fall. So they go after the symbols, for the publicity. Usually, they say who they are and what they want, or there would be little point. But sometimes they make victims guess. They hope to weaken the will of the system that they cannot directly destroy.

That is why American terrorists, a generation ago, targeted the Statue of Liberty. Terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center in New York thought they were aiming at what America holds sacred, its commerce. Their counterparts in Italy, leaving a massive car bomb at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, went for its art. Not the art of today, but of the Renaissance when Italy was the center and leader of Europe. The attackers of the cathedral of commerce in Manhattan and of the palace of art in Florence were sure they hit the most precious treasures of the respective countries.

The car bomb that destroyed three paintings and damaged some 30 more and much of the Uffizi Gallery, as well as killing six persons and wounding 50, was not frivolous. The perpetrators did not announce their identities and motives, but authorities linked the outrage to a car bombing in Rome May 14, which injured 23 while missing a TV personality who crusades against the Mafia and was thought to be the target.

Italy is undergoing a 15-month-old war against corruption that has undermined the establishment and tarnished political parties and businesses. Former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti has been questioned about the murder 14 years ago of a newsletter publisher suspected of blackmailing politicians. Not coincidentally, more than a half-dozen Mafia leaders have been arrested in recent months.

So it looks like the forces of crime and corruption are striking back, bombing a 16th century building meant to house the government offices of the grand duchy of Tuscany, with its archives and art collection, one of the most famous in the world.

The World Trade Center terrorists were identified by federal police as disaffected immigrants from Arab lands, though their precise grievance and message are merely surmised. The bombers in Florence are assumed to be native sons who would destroy Italy. This is more than an attack on the state; it is an assault on the Italian soul.

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