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History of Italian Vegetarian Societies

From the Vegetarian Messenger (Manchester), October, 1899, p.334:

A Vegetarian Society in Italy. - From La Réforme Alimentaire we learn that a Vegetarian Society has been established at Milan.

This is a translation of the original from AVI at:

From the "Society Vegetarian" to the Association Italian Vegetarian

Since the beginning of the past century, vegetarianism was practised in Italy by a lot of people... for ethical and health reasons, with no organisation or coordinated group that would spread its themes.

So, in 1952 under the impulse of Aldo Capitini, teacher of Moral Philosophy at the University of Perugia, the first organisation, the Società Vegetariana (Vegetarian Society), was set up. Moving from the belief that human nourishment cannot be based on the death of other living beings, Aldo Capitini started to reflect upon vegetarianism as a choice consequential to his non-violent engagement.

From an article written in 1963 by Aldo Capitini: " […] "Yet there are isolated persons and groups, for zoophilia or for ideology (Ghandian and non-violent, teosophic, pithagoric, naturistic, etc.). We're not able yet to give a precise picture. To get to this, to spread the ideal and the good practice of vegetarianism, to strengthen the relationship between vegetarians and beginners, in 1952 […] we started, also under the impulse of Emma Thomas, the Società Vegetariana Italiana (Italian Vegetarian Society), constituted in september in Perugia, at the end of a congress held by the Center for non-violence and dedicated to the study and practice of non-violence towards the animal and vegetable world. The secretary of the London based International Vegetarian Union was present, and greeted the Italian group in the great international family."

Since the death of Capitini, in 1968, the Società Vegetariana Italiana moved its headquarters from Perugia to Milan, and in 1970 Dr. Ferdinando Delor changed its name in Associazione Vegetariana Italiana (Italian Vegetarian Association), continuing on the ideal line traced by Capitini. Together with some collaborators he constituted a more widespread organisation and started the quarterly publication of L'Idea Vegetariana (The Vegetarian Idea), he assiduously attended international meetings popularising articles and volumes about vegetarianism as an ethical choice, about food properties and about scientific considerations.

Since then, the Associazione Vegetariana Italiana has had a continuous evolution, getting in every respect in the European and worldwide vegetarian movement.

(translated by Franco Tedaldi, Revised by Laura Boselli)


Aldo Capitini a life for non-violence

"I don't say: within a certain time, short or long, our society will be perfectly non-violent … to me it is fundamentally important to employ my very modest life, made of a few hours and days, and have my convictions weight over history scales."

11th September 2002 - Carlo Gubitosa

Aldo Capitini was born in Perugia on the 23rd December 1899 to a simple and modest family. His mother worked as a tailors and his father was a council worker, housekeeper of the council bell's tower. He was unable to serve the military service due to ill health, so he didn't take part in the First World War. After studying at the technical school and as a bookkeeper, between 19 and 21 years old he read classic Latin and Greek literature, self studying even for a length of twelve hours a day, thus starting his uninterrupted philosophical work.

In 1924 he was a study sponsorship at the Normale, Pisa, where he obtained a degree in Literature and Philosophy. In 1929 Capitini bitterly criticised the Catholic Church's concordat. He judged it as a "goods exchange", as it was aimed at obtaining a soft regard from the pope Pio XII e the ecclesiastics towards the fascists. In one of his books he affirmed that "(…) the one thing we own to the fascist regime is that it has cleared once and for all that religion is distinct from institution".

In those years the non-violence choice took shape for Capitini as a natural reaction to the fascist regime's violence, following his reading of Ganshi's autobiography, published in 1929 in Italy. Capitini learned of the existence of the "Mahatma" and his message of non-violence when Italy reached its darkest time of oppression and dictatorship, and he feels how it is important to reply to that violence with strong and effective non-violence. (In 1967 Capitini published "The non-violence techniques", a book in which Gandhi's non-violence proposition, enriched with Capitini's original contributions, officially enters our Country's culture). In 1930, headmaster Giovanni Gentile nominated him secretary at the prestigious Normale School, in Pisa. In 1932 the same Gentile solicited his resignation, consequently to Capitini's refusal to take up the National Fascist Party's affiliation card.

During the time spent in Pisa, Capitini became vegetarian, following his choice of not killing, so each meal he consumed at Normale's canteen became a quiet yet efficient conference. (In September 1952, Capitini organised a conference over "Non-violence applied to the animals and plants". He also founded the "Italian Vegetarian Society").

Following his induced resigning from the post of secretary at Normale, Capitini returned to Perugia, and there he carried on with his literary and spiritual activities. Between 1932 and 1934 Capitini build up a network of relationships, making contact with our Country's top antifascist activists.

In the fall 1936, Capitini attended Benedetto Croces house, and gave him the typed "Elements of a religious experience", which Croce published in January with Laterza of Bari. In a short time the "Elements" became one of the main reference books of antifascist youth.

Following the wide distribution of his book, Capitini and Guido Calogero start up a cultural movement, this will, in the years to come, try and turn into a political project the ideas of individual freedom and social equality contained in the "Elements". In 1937 was born a Liberal-socialist Movement, the same year when the brothers Rossetti were killed, Gramsci died, and there was a strong and violent repression against the antifascist opposition. To the movement's activities took part, amongst others, Ugo La Malfa, Pietro Amendola, Norberto Bobbio and Pietro Ingrao.

In February 1942, during a management meeting of the liberal-socialists, the fascist policy carried out an operation that led to the capture and imprisonment of Capitini and others participants to the meeting, in the Florence's prison Murate. Four months after, Capitini was freed, thanks to his being known as a "religious man". Later he would report "it's a terrible accusation against religion if the ruling power is more afraid of the revolutionaries than the religious". In May 1943 Capitini was again arrested, this time brought to Perugia jail, and freed for good on the 25th July.

In August 1943 the Action Party was founded, with leaders coming straight from the liberal socialist movement. Capitini refused to adhere to any political party, in his view "the regeneration should go beyond politics and the contemporary crisis reflects politics and economics absolutism". Due to his refusing to place himself within a political party, Capitini was left out from the National Liberalization Committee and from the Costituente (Constituting Committee), although his work in the areas of culture, politics, philosophy, religion and moral opposition to the fascist party had deeply marked the Italian Republic's birth.

In 1944 Capitini tried an experiment of direct and localised democracy, by opening the first Social Orientation Centre (COS) in Perugia. This project was a space open to its citizens' free participation, a "non-violent, no-lies area, based on reasoning", according to Capitini's own definition. At the COS's meetings the members freely discussed issues concerning the management of government resources. Local administrators were invited to take part in the discussions to report over their work and to absorb the committees propositions, in view to make "all administrators and all accountable". From Perugia, the COSs spread out to other Italian towns, such as Ferara, Florence, Bologna, Lucca, Arezzo, Ancona, Assisi, Gubbio, Foligno, Teramo, Naples and many others. The COSs spreading met an indifferent left-wing and an openly hostile Cristian Democratic Party, which opposed the national affirmation of self-government and localised ruling power, although these had been successfully tested with the COSs.

During the time after the First World War, Capitini became governor at the Overseas University of Perugia, post which he will have to resign from under pressure from the local Catholic Church. He then went to Pisa, where he taught moral philosophy at Study's University.

Together with his teaching, politic and pedagogic activities, Capitini carried on his spiritual and religious research; he launched "Religion's Movement" together with Ferdinando Tartaglia, a former catholic priest from Florence. During the years 1946 to 1948 Religion's Movement organised quarterly meetings, which lead to the "first congress for religious reform" (Rome, 13th to 15th October 1948).

In 1948, a young Pietro Pinna, after having listened to Capitini's talking in Ferrara at a Religion's Movement meeting, made a choice of objecting to the military service. He was the first to do so after the war. Pinna was tried by the military tribunal in Turin, on the 30th August 1949, and Aldo Capitini's testimony in his favour didn't yield any results. A few times Pinna was tried, convicted and imprisoned. Eventually he was released for allegedly suffering of a "cardiac neurosis". After that Pinna became a faithful partner of Capitini's.

Following Pinna's imprisonment, Capitini promoted several campaigns to gain accreditation for objecting to the compulsory military service. The first national meeting was held in Rome in 1950.

In 1952, on the fourth anniversary of Gandhi's murder, Capitini organised an international meeting and founded the first "Centre for non-violence". During the same 1952, on the same lines of his Centres for Social Orientation, Capitini also set up a "Centre for Religious Orientation" (COR), in Perugia, helped by Emma Thomas (an eighty-year-old English Quacker). COR is an open space, where people's religious feelings and beliefs can be expressed, especially those that don't find their place in the Catholicism of before the reform. COR's aim is to enable knowledge about non-catholic religions, and to encourage Catholics to develop a critic and committed view of religious issues.

The local church forbade people's attendance of the COR, and in 1955 the newly published "Open Religion", by Capitini, made it straight for the "Index of the forbidden books". Despite the opposition of the ecclesiasts, Capitini was able to cultivate efficient working relationships with some Catholics such as Don Lorenzo Milani and Don Primo Mazzolari. The polemic between Capitini and the Catholic Church went on after the Concilio Vaticano II, when the book "Religious Strictness for the Council" was published.

Since 1956, Capitini taught Pedagogic at Cagliari University, and in 1965 his post got moved to Perugia. In March 1959 he was co-founder of ADESSPI, an association for the protection and development of government schools in Italy.

On Sunday 24th September 1961, organised by Capitini, there took place the "Walk for peace and brotherhood of all people", a non-violent demonstration that flowed down the streets of Perugia, towards Assisi. This demonstration still takes place, once every two years, organised by associations and movements for peace. Capitini writes about the manifestation in his book "Opposition and Freedom": "one of the Walk's great statements is that it shows that pacifism and non-violence aren't passive acceptance of existing sufferings, but are active, following their own ways, and don't rest in promoting solidarity, in non-collaborating, in protesting, in accusing".

During his last few years Capitini sets up and runs a magazine "Everybody's [political] power", in which he developed the principles of "omnicracy", the political management spread and decentred, which Capitini counter matched to the traditional political parties. During these years Capitini founded the "Non-violent movement for Peace", which still operates today, and he was editor for the movement's magazine "Non-violent Action", which is still published in Verona.

On the 19th October 1968, Aldo Capitini dies, amongst his friends and students, following an operation that burned his last energy. On the 21st October Pietro Nenni, socialist leader, wrote in his diary: "professor Aldo Capitini has died. An exceptional researcher. Forerunner of non-violence, he was available for matters that concerned freedom and justice (…) Pietro Longo tells me that in Perugia he was isolated and thought of as an eccentric. There is always a bit of eccentricity in going against the flow, and Aldo Capitini went against the flow during the time of fascism and again after it. Maybe a lot for a single human life, but beautiful".

Translated by Emilia Lorusso

1958 - The Vegetarian World Forum, July 1958, carried a complete list of IVU " Affiliated Societies - and others in association with the I.V.U." These included: Societa Vegetariana Italiana, via die filosofi 33, Perugia, Italy

Other Italian Societies, listed by the date they are first mentioned:

  • 1997 - Societá Vegetariana
  • 2001 - Progetto Vivere Vegan
  • 2001 - VeganItalia

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