Down a narrow, winding street in central Rome, golden stones gleam from the sidewalks in front of houses that read: “Deportata” Auschwitz” (“Exile to Auschwitz”).
The plaques commemorate the country’s dark past when more than 1,000 victims were stripped from their homes in the Italian capital’s Jewish ghetto in October 1943.
Italy entered World War II in 1940 as an ally of Adolf Hitler, but the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini had already embraced anti-Semitism. Months after he was overthrown in 1943, German authorities begin to surround Jews Rome and other major cities in the north of the country.
More than 75 years after Mussolini’s partisan death, debate about fascist ideology – and its continued appeal to some Italians – has been reignited in the wake of the government’s efforts to control the coronavirus pandemic.
On 9 October, the headquarters of Italy’s biggest trade union and the emergency ward of a hospital in Rome were targeted during angry protests against the country’s COVID-19 “green pass”.
The Green Pass, which went into effect last Friday, requires all workers – from cafe workers to care workers, taxi drivers to teachers – to show proof of vaccination, a negative test or recent infection. in order to recover. Italy – once Europe’s COVID-19 epicenter – now has the continent’s strongest vaccine mandate.
Members of the neo-fascist Forza Nuova were arrested in connection with the violent attacks in Rome.
Fascist parties were banned
“Fascism has never gone away in this country,” said history professor Simon Martin, author of several books on Italian fascism. “Italy has not faced its past. There is no appetite for it, I think, on either side.”
Martin said that thousands still line up every year to visit his grave in Predepio, about 320 kilometers northeast of Rome, on anniversaries such as Mussolini’s birth, death and “March on Rome”, despite the fact that He ran an oppressive police state, and was responsible for brutal colonial campaigns and massacres during his 20 years in power.
“[It] There is a book of mourning that has to be changed on a regular basis as it fills up,” he said.
The 1952 law banned the reorganization of fascist parties in Italy, but they have reformed under alternative names, Martin told CNN during a visit to the Jewish ghetto.
The violence at the Green Pass protests on 9 October has given rise to growing calls for neo-fascist groups in the country to disband. Organizers canceled an anti-COVID-19 Green Pass demo in the northeastern city of Trieste for Friday and Saturday, and urged protesters not to indulge in fears of violence.
This week, Italian lawmakers in both the upper house Senate and the lower house voted in favor of a motion introduced by the country’s centre-left parties, calling for all movements of Forza Nuova and neo-fascist inspiration from the government of Prime Minister Mario Draghi. calls for dissolution. . Draghi and his council of ministers will now consult legal experts before announcing the decision.
Forza Nuova’s lawyer, Carlo Taormina, told CNN that the group is currently being liquidated and has not been active as a political movement for 20 months.
In response to violent scenes on 9 October, thousands demonstrated against fascism in Rome’s San Giovanni Square over the weekend.
“I came here because it’s important to send a message,” Jacopo Basilli, 30, told CNN at a rally organized by Italy’s main trade unions. “What happened was very bad, as if we were returning to Italy 100 years ago. Today we must say no. It is not possible.”
Another protester, Leon Rivera, told CNN that he does not believe the threat of fascism in Italy today is comparable to that of the Mussolini era, but that social tensions in the country have been “increased by the pandemic,” and that “forces that themselves Democracy… Cross borders and exploit people’s weakness, fragility, anger, confusion [upset] The democratic balance of this country.”
One group accused of doing this is the Fratelli d’Italia, or Brothers of Italy, a right-wing party that made international headlines when one of its members, Rachele Mussolini – Benito’s granddaughter – was elected to Rome’s city council. had gone. Second term earlier this month.
Rachele Mussolini won more than 8,200 votes – the highest number for any candidate – and a massive increase from the 657 votes she received in the 2016 ballot.
“I will try not to disappoint those who trusted me and to triumph over those who don’t know me… My goal is to continue working to give back to my city. [its] lost dignity,” she wrote facebook post after his re-election.
CNN contacted Rachel Mussolini, through her press secretary, to ask if she found it difficult to disassociate herself from the fascist associations tied to her last name, but has not received a response.
She is not the first descendant of an Italian dictator to enter politics. His half-sister Alessandra served as Member of Parliament in Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right People of Freedom coalition, and was a member of the European Parliament.
opinion polls Fratelli d’Italia suggests, which derives from the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement Party (MSI), is currently the most popular party in Italy.
The Fratelli d’Italia party – along with Matteo Salvini’s right-wing Lega and centre-right Forza Italia – recently supported radio host and lawyer Enrico Michetti in the fight to become Rome’s next mayor.
On Monday, Michetti lost the run-off vote by nearly 20%. During the campaign, his office was defaced With the word “fascista”.
Asked why Fratelli d’Italia is still associated with fascism, party leader Giorgia Meloni told CNN that her party is not a breeding ground for this kind of regime.
Andrea Ungari, professor of contemporary history at LUISS University in Rome, said he believed a small proportion of Italians could be defined as having a fascist belief.
Neo-fascist groups Forza Nuova and Casapound did not participate in Italy’s most recent elections.
“It is difficult to define Fratelli d’Italia as a fascist party,” Ungari said. “Of course, there are some declarations … some harsh attitudes … It is clearly a right-wing party, but there is a difference between right-wing and extreme-right.”
“Italy certainly has a legacy of fascism, but sometimes it is a term used by leftists to monopolize political debate,” warned Ungari.
Many Reminders of Fascism
In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, monuments related to racism, colonialism and shameful moments of history have been removed from countries around the world.
In Italy however, the architecture has been maintained from the 20 years of Benito Mussolini’s rule. Unlike Germany, which outlawed and eradicated Nazi symbols after World War II, Italy erected many reminders of the fascist era.
Rome’s sports complex – the Foro Mussolini, or Mussolini’s Stage – which houses the Stadio Olimpico, the city’s main football stadium, has been renamed Foro Italico, but an 18-metre marble obelisk bearing Mussolini’s name is still outside it. .
Ostiense railway station, built to commemorate Hitler’s visit to Rome in 1938 and a mosaic around Italian fascist ideology claiming that modern Italy was the successor of Ancient Rome, is still one of the city’s major railway stations. Is.
and the Palazzo della Civilta Italiana – a six-story marble tower built as the centerpiece of the Esposizione Universal Roma, Mussolini’s new neighborhood in the city’s southwest – engraved with a phrase from his 1935 speech announcing the invasion of Ethiopia Is.
“I think the real problem with those statues is that there’s nothing to refer to them… [nothing] To tell us what fascism was,” said history professor Martin.
Martin said that while it may not be practical to demolish all of Italy’s fascist-era buildings, because of the sheer numbers involved, “it needs to be made relevant. We need to talk about what that means.” “
As far as banning neo-fascist groups and parties is proposed, it will be a “statement of intent of the government,” Martin said, but is unlikely to change people’s views.