MILAN (AP) — Never has Italy’s inability to come to terms with its fascist past been more evident as it marks the 100th anniversary Friday of the March on Rome that brought totalitarian dictator Benito Mussolini to power, a a date that has only gained more attention as the first post-war government led by a far-right party with a neo-fascist past takes office.
The symbolism seems troubling: Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party controversially retains the emblem of a flame used by fascists; His party’s co-founder, Ignazio La Russa, whose middle name is Benito and whose headquarters are awash with fascist memorabilia, is the elected speaker of the upper house of parliament.
Meloni attempted to distance Brothers of Italy from its neo-fascist roots. She made her clearest statement yet this week during a speech in Italy’s lower house ahead of confidence votes confirming her government.
“I have never felt sympathy or closeness with undemocratic regimes, including fascism, because I have always considered the racial laws of 1938 the lowest point in Italian history, a shame that will mark forever our people,” Meloni told the lower house of parliament on Wednesday. , decrying Mussolini’s laws that persecuted the Jewish community of Italy.
The question remains, however, whether the moderate voice she has recently adopted will persevere and how this will be tolerated by the nostalgic wing of her party which represents a core 4% of her support.
Already, the National Association of Italian Partisans, or ANPI, which preserves the memory of the resistance of the war against fascism, has noted some signs of an emboldened far right in the regions ruled by the Brothers of Italy. For example, the governor of the central Marche region cut funding to maintain brass stumbling blocks engraved with the names and dates of Holocaust victims outside their pre-war homes, a declared the National President of the ANPI, Gianfranco Pagliarulo. He added that the social media attacks against his organization have become more virulent than ever.
“It’s a worrying signal,” Pagliarulo said. “It is obvious that the victory of the nationalist right will lead to a resurgence of provocative neo-fascist attitudes… We are not worried because we will fight with political weapons, and if necessary, with legal weapons.”
On Friday, the ANPI will hold a demonstration in the northern town of Predappio, where Mussolini is buried, to mark the town’s liberation from fascism on October 28, 1944. The date was deliberately chosen by the partisan liberators to overshadow the memory of the March on Rome.
It also prevents nostalgic fascists from commemorating the March on Rome on this day. Their event is scheduled for Sunday, the last day of Mussolini’s historic march on Rome, and one of three commemorations held by neo-fascists in Predappio each year. The others mark the day Mussolini was born, July 29, 1883, in a house not far from the cemetery with its crypt, and April 28, 1944, the day he was killed by partisans in Milan.
“The march on Rome is the founding myth of Fascist Italy, and for us it is a negative myth, the source of a catastrophe that led Italy to many wars, the most catastrophic of the Second World War,” Pagliarulo said. “We must combat the positive myth of the March on Rome and maintain this day as the beginning of the darkest period in modern Italian history.”
Italy never went through a process similar to the denazification of Germany, and a neo-fascist party, the Italian Social Movement, was part of the first post-war Italian government in 1946. The fascist legacy lives on in architecture across the country, from small-town school buildings to Milan’s majestic train station and Rome’s massive courthouse and EUR district. Popular ideas persist that Italy’s two decades of fascism brought progress, exemplified by the timely rail services of the time, the architectural boom, and the drying up of malaria-ridden swamps.
It is still possible – although far from common – to spot a portrait of Mussolini hanging behind a bar or in a restaurant, especially in the productive areas of northern Italy, or to find souvenirs or souvenirs fascists in otherwise ordinary stores. Although the partisan association considers these demonstrations an apology for fascism, punishable by law, they are rarely, if ever, prosecuted.
“Historians rightly teach us that fascism ended in Italy in 45. But not the fascists,” said historian Francesco Filippi, who wrote a book analyzing popular misconceptions about fascism. “Millions of people who participated in this regime and continued to be part of the political life of the country, and even parties that referred directly to fascism, took part in the political life of the country from 1946, arriving up to the present day very continuously.”
Filippi said moderate voters who lifted Meloni from 4% of the vote in 2018 to 26% in September’s legislative elections indicated a fundamental expansion of the party’s base beyond those “who recognized the Brothers of ‘Italy as the historical heir of the Italian Social Movement, and therefore a certain type of fascist idea.
Many new voters, he said, hope Meloni will build a right-wing conservative government, “a normal right, that is, anti-fascist, tied to democratic values.”
The standard-bearers of Italy’s wartime partisan movement have said they are suspending judgment on Meloni’s government until it takes concrete action.
“We hope it will become a right-wing conservative government, like in France or Britain,” said Miro Gori, president of ANPI in the Emilia-Romagna province where Predappio is located. “We’ll see what happens.”
Paolo Santalucia contributed from Rome.