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Shofar FTP Archive File: places/italy/gm.060294

Archive/File: fascism/italy gm.060294
Last-Modified: 1994/06/07

The (Toronto, Canada) Globe & Mail, A9
June 2, 1994

Mussolini's ghost still rattling his chains

by Alan Cowell
New York Times Service, Rome

The two moments were days apart in different cities, yet they depicted
perfectly the splintered soul of Italy's splintered neo-fascists.

In Vicenza in early May, 200 young men, many with shaved heads, threw the
straight-armed salutes of the Fascist era, hoisted banners emblazoned with
swastikas and paraded through the streets, lauding the memory of Mussolini
and Hitler in a display of what Italians call "nazi-skin" protest.

A few days later in Rome, a crowd of similar size -- this time
smartly shod matrons and gentlemen in suits -- packed a salon in
Palazzo Brancaccio, offering demure applause for Gianfranco
Fini, head of the Italian Social Movement, the neo-fascist
party. The only reference to Mussolini was understated: his
granddaughter, Alessandra Mussolini, now a legislator, was one
of the dignitaries.

Each episode provided part of the answer to the same question:
What, exactly, does the resurgent right wing represent as Italy
struggles to define its political future?

"Like many Western fascist movements, they have always had two
souls," said Valerio Marchi, a left-wing journalist and author.
"One soul is the classic conservative. The other is the national

But two months after the election that brought neo-fascists into
Italy's government for the first time since the Second World
War, interviews with their leaders, their supporters and their
extremist members have disclosed a movement whose most prominent
figures see their political interests served by a role in
government. But the mainstream disowns both the extremes of the
past and the minority that seeks to revive them.

The neo-fascist presence in the government of Prime Minister
Silvio Berlusconi seems certain to insert itself into the
agenda, in one way or another, when U.S. President Bill Clinton
arrives in Rome today as part of a tour commemorating Allied
landings in Europe 50 years ago.

For Mr. Berlusconi, the very nature of his alliance has offered
the first challenge -- at least by outsiders -- to the legitmacy
of the government elected in March, when Italians rejected a
whole generation of postwar leaders after more than two years of
corruption scandal.

Already, politicians in Belgium, Germany and France have
expressed anger that a European government should embrace the
political descendants of wartime fascism. But that has only
inspired Mr. Berlusconi to defend his alliance, saying that none
of his ministers have any direct ties to a Fascist history that
finds many disparate echoes in modern Italy.

For some Italians, the neo-fascist leadership of Mr. Fini, 42,
represents a break with the corrupt past, a voice for change as
compelling as that of Mr. Berlusconi himself.

For others, the emergence of the Italian Social Movement has
legitimized a nostalgia for what is seen as the efficiency of
the Fascist era. 

And for yet others, on the violent fringes, neo-fascism provides
a home for the hate-laden xenophobia and anti-semitism that
Italians have never liked to confront since Mussolini's 1938
race laws turned Jews into second-class citizens.

Common to all, through, is the troublesome and pervasive memory
of Mussolini, which provides inspiration for some and forces a
political high-wire act on those like Mr. Fini, who is unable to
deny his political roots for fear of losing support.

"Fascism is part of the past, part of history," Alessandra
Mussolini said in an interview. But she added, "It's an academic
debate, not a political discussion."

Mr. Fini, whose aides said his schedule did not permit an
interview, took a similar tone in parliament recently: "We have
repudiated totalitarianism forever. Totalitarianism is
racism, totalitarianism is xenophobia, totalitarianism is
anti-Semitism. And if we are asked to sign a declaration on the
principles of democracy and anti-totalitarianism, we will sign
it, in absolute sincerity, because we believe in it."

He did not, however, explicitly denounce Fascism. On the extreme
fringes, and lurking in the hearts of some who project
themselves as moderates, there lies a deeper yearning that seems
to prevent Mr. Fini from making a more explicit break.

"If Fini is not careful, if he does not defend the true values
of Fascism that feed his elctoral base, his support will
evaporate," said Maurizio Boccacci, 37, the leader of the small,
outlawd Movimento Politico. His party is a sponsor of the

Fascism in Italy traces its heritage to the government of Benito
Mussolini, who ruled Italy from 1922 until 1943, when his
government fell and he became head of a Nazi puppet government,
the Italian Social Republic. Its capital was the small town of
Salo, in Northern Italy. Some prominent figures in the Italian
Social Movement today -- the legislators Mirko Tremaglia and
Teodoro Buontempo and the rightist idologue Pino Rauti -- fought
for Salo.

One year after the Italian Social Republic collapsed in 1945,
the survivors formed the Italian Social Movement. Its name and
imagery -- a symbolic coffin topped by a blazing torch -- traced
its direct line to Fascism's last years.

Throughout the Cold War, the party, knoown as the _Missini_ from
its initials in Italian, captured a steady 5 to 8 per cent of
the vote. But when the old political certainties crumbled with
Italy's huge corruption scandal, the party's support surged.

As the national election loomed this year, the Italian Social
Movement drew in other right-wing Italians to form the National

In the election, the alliance captured 14 per cent of the votes,
many of them from dissaffected former Christian Democrats and
rightists who saw the movement legitimized by its ties to Mr.

In today's ruling coalition, the National Alliance has 109 of
the 630 seats in the lower house, Mr. Berlusconi's Forza Italia
has 129 and the separatist Northen League under Umberto Bossi
has 122.

None of today's neo-fascists say they want a return to the
dictatorship, repression, racist policies and state control of
the economy that marked the Mussolini era.

Rather, they say, their platform is in the tradtion of Western
democracy, seeking restraints on capitalism, an efficient and
corruption-free government, the protection of jobs through curbs
on immigration and a moral order drawing in part of such
Catholic teachings as opposition to abortion and in part on
sterner punishment of criminals.

The attempt to embrace more moderate policies has divided the
neo-fascists, possibly foreshadowing a public rift. Mr. Rauti,
for example, argues openly for the preservation of Fascist

"Behind us we have the March on Rome, the corporate state, the
Second World War against the plutocracies, the Social Republic,"
he said, "And some of this must remain, like a mine, a pool from
which to draw."

The differences go further. While Mr. Rauti and otehrs on the
right refuse to condemn nazi-skins (Italians use this term in
English for violent right-wing extremists and thugs with shave
heads), calling them victims of social malaise, Mr. Fini says
they should be sent to work in the mines.


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