ROME -- From elegant palazzi on Venice's Grand Canal to farmhouses in Tuscany, the anti-war flags still flutter, flapping from balconies, tangling with laundry and fading in the sunlight that bleaches Italy from north to south.
In the months before the U.S.-led coalition dropped the first bomb on Iraq, the banners were draped from terraces in high-rent neighborhoods, tied to window gratings in poorer ones, and hung from city halls and schools.
The flag, striped with the colors of the rainbow and emblazoned with the Italian word for peace -- pace -- quickly became a common denominator, cutting through class, profession, age, a tangible expression of the solidly anti-war sentiment that showed up in surveys of Italian opinion about a war in Iraq.
A peace flag is hung on a clothes line in a low-income apartment building in Rome, Wednesday, May 28, 2003. From elegant palazzi on Venice's Grand Canal to simple farmhouses in Tuscany, the anti-war flags still flutter, flapping from balconies, tangling with laundry and fading in the sunlight that bleaches Italy from north to south. (AP Photo/Corrado Giambalvo)
But now that war is over, the "flag people," as they have been dubbed, are still flying the banner in great numbers. Explanations ventured range from a desire to make a political statement, a character streak of anti-Americanism to Italian love for exhibitionism.
"Maybe our people just forgot about their flags," joked Franco Ferrarotti, an Italian sociologist, adding another possibility.
Turning serious, he said that the postwar popularity of the flags could well reflect the Italian "love for ambiguity."
"The war is not completely over and another war might come. So why put it away?" Ferrarotti said.
But many "flag people" still displaying the rainbow colors say they're making precise statements, like Wanda Berton, who hung the banner outside her home in the town of Panzano in Chianti country near Florence.
"Even though the war in Iraq is over, things are far from settled there. And then there are those 47 -- or is it 50 -- other wars on the planet that are never mentioned in the news," said Berton, who teaches at an elementary school which also still displays the banner.
Many of the banners were first unfurled at the rally which drew about 1 million protesters to Rome on Feb. 15.
"The flags represent a question that comes from the people," said Mario Giro, in charge of international relations at Sant'Egidio Community, a Catholic organization in Rome whose credits include mediating peace for Mozambique. "How do you make peace? That question needs an answer."
Ferrarotti said that with political figures not among the most admired personalities in Italy, many Italians, whether churchgoing or not, were ripe to embrace as their standard-bearer Pope John Paul II and what the sociologist called the pontiff's "peace at any cost" attitude.
The conservative government of Premier Silvio Berlusconi allowed American military forces to use Italy's many bases for refueling and maintenance but not to wage direct attacks on Iraq. The "flag people" claim that limit as an accomplishment.
But detractors see the display as ultimately selfish.
Italians "just want to stay nice and warm in their homes. It's their peace that counts," said editor and columnist Giuliano Ferrara, who is close to Berlusconi. Ferrara likened the display of flags to "the old custom of hanging braids of garlic in the house" to ward off evil.
Copyright © 2003, The Associated Press