Rome’s Centocelle Neighborhood Is On Fire

From La Pecora Elettrica to Baraka Bistrot: the burning side of the capital.

From La Pecora Elettrica to Baraka Bistrot: the burning side of the capital

I am in love with Rome, and I think I’ve visited this magical city at least five times in my life. When I have the chance to go there I always, always, I get fascinated by some monument or building I missed the previous time. I could tell you all the beautiful things I love about the capital, but that would probably take forever. So, instead, I will switch the subject and focus on the ugly — which represents an enormous and very urgent issue the city faces every day.

Rome is known as the Eternal City for a reason: different historical eras have come together in this special place, and you can see each layer of history and civilization by simply strolling through its boulevards and lanes. However, behind any great good lurks its opposite. Like every big city, Rome has to deal with crime, from purse-snatchers to drug dealers.

But lately, another type of criminal has stepped out of the darkness and made its activities more visible: the fascist-inspired one. And suddenly it feels once again as if we’ve jumped some 70 years back in time.

La Pecora Elettrica

La Pecora Elettrica was a bookstore-café in Via Delle Palme one of the main streets of Centocelle, a district in Rome’s eastern periphery. The business declared itself to be strongly anti-fascist, sending a message to many people affiliated with alt-right and overall right-wing parties.

Because of its political stance, on April 25, 2019, La Pecora Elettrica was set on fire. Everything inside its walls was destroyed by the ravaging flames, and the blaze burned down the thing the culprit feared the most: culture. Yes, indeed, culture. After all, the best way to fight ignorance and extremism is with books and knowledge.

Following the incident, the shop-owners didn’t give up and tried to rebuild their business. However, on November 6, the day before its great reopening, someone set the place alight again and destroyed the whole interior of the café.

Back in April, the police thought that the culprit was someone belonging to the alt-right, but subsequent investigations suggested the incident could have been drug-related. In fact, the bookstore wasn’t the only target in the area: a few days later, the Baraka Bistrot was burned down as well. So, according to the Italian weekly magazine L’Internazionale, the plain fascist-inspired motive couldn’t have been behind the fires.

A sticky situation

When it comes to Rome’s criminal issues, it is hard to define who is who. Centocelle plays, criminally speaking, an important role in this matter: most of the skullduggery happens right here. And drug dealers have no appreciation for shops that are open till late, like Pecora Elettrica and Baraka Bistrot.

So, we must keep into account this particular side along with the rise of fascism-inspired movements to understand what lurks in the dark lanes of Centocelle.

The area is quite strategic for the drug trade: as the street lighting doesn’t work properly, Via Delle Palme can be quite poorly lit and even scary at night. These conditions make it the perfect place to sell illegal substances without any worry on the criminals’ side. Hence it goes without saying that such darkness brings also fear into the daily life of all those who roam that street.

Who lives in the suburbs of a great city can easily understand how hard life can be, especially if you have to deal with degradation. So, mostly in Rome, some alt-right organizations and parties have started some initiatives of mutualism, namely, food drives and solidarity-based actions, only for Italians to benefit from.

In that sense, going back to Centocelle, both sides could see a business like Pecora Elettrica as a threat to their activities.

Do you know the muffin man? He lives in Antifa lane

All these problems are massive and far from being easy to describe and analyze in-depth. Nonetheless, in general, the response to these issues has always been quite immediate, at least the one coming from the people.

Politicians from both sides of the left-right spectrum were not able to react to the chaos: the leftist Democratic Party called for a common fight against a generic fascist enemy, whereas the rightist League and Brothers of Italy utterly ignored the bigger problem, and focused their narrative on drug trades and fake news.

For the sake of standing up and fighting the so-called invisible enemy, a problem no one knows the exact entity of, on November 14, some 6000 people took to the streets of Rome in the name of legality and security. Demonstrators peacefully marched through Centocelle, chanting “We are all Pecora Elettrica and carrying a banner reading “Fight your fear! Stand up for your neighborhood.”

This last act of rebellion against the neighborhood’s degradation highlights two different things: the locals’ desperation and deep-rooted will to challenge and combat that invisible enemy. Even in an area where residents admit they “are used to the smell of burnt plastic”, many of them have decided that that was enough. They have stepped up to the plate and prepared themselves for a moral and social battle. Time will tell who will win.

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