The flames are going out all over Italy. Tomorrow, the flame which for more than 60 years has been the symbol of neo-Fascist continuity with Mussolini, will disappear from mainstream politics. The National Alliance, the last important home of that inheritance, is “fusing” with Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party to give the governing bloc a single identity and a single unchallenged leader.
According to Christopher Duggan, the British author of Force of Destiny, an acclaimed history of modern Italy, the fusion of the two parties does not mark the disappearance of Fascist ideas and practices but rather their triumphant insinuation. “This is an alarming situation in many, many ways,” he says.
“The fusion of the parties signifies the absorption of the ideas of the post-Fascists into Berlusconi’s party … the tendency to see no moral and ultimately no political distinction between those who supported the Fascist regime and those who supported the Resistance. So the fact that Fascism was belligerent, racist and illiberal gets forgotten; there is a quiet chorus of public opinion saying that Fascism was not so bad.”
One example of the way things are changing is the treatment of the veterans of the Republic of Salo, the puppet Fascist state ruled by Mussolini on the shores of Lake Garda in the last phase of the war. Under the thumb of Hitler and responsible for dispatching Jews to the death camps, Salo was seen by Italians after the war as the darkest chapter in the nation’s modern history.
But steadily and quietly it has been rehabilitated in the Italian memory. The latest step, before parliament, is the creation of a new military order, the Cavaliere di Tricolore, which can be awarded to people who fought for at least six months during the war – either with the Partisans against the “Nazi-Fascists”, with the forces of the Republic of Salo on behalf of the Nazis and against the Partisans, or with the forces in the south under General Badoglio.
In this way, says Duggan, the idea of moral interchangeability is smuggled into the national discourse, treating the soldiers fighting for the puppet Nazi statelet “on an equal footing morally and politically with the Partisans”.
Duggan contrasts the post-war process in Italy with that in Germany, where the Nuremberg trials and the purge of public life supervised by the Allies produced a new political landscape. Nothing of the sort happened in Italy.
“There was never a clear public watershed between the experience of Fascism and what happened afterwards. It’s partly the fault of the Allies, who after the war were much more concerned with preventing the Communists from coming to power. [Gladio]
“As a result very senior figures in the army, the police and the judiciary remained unpurged. Take the figure of Gaetano Azzariti, one of the first presidents, post-war, of Italy’s Constitutional Court, yet under Mussolini he had been the president of the court which had the job of enforcing the the race laws. The failure of the Allies to put pressure on Italy also reflects a perception that still exists: that the Fascist revival is not to be taken seriously because Italy is ‘lightweight’. Whereas if the same thing happened in Germany or Austria, you’d get really worried.”
The coalition of the shilling made us allies with (open) fascists-
Italy cannot escape blame, however, for its refusal to confront the true shame of what happened under Mussolini – his order to Badoglio, his commander in Libya, for example, to “employ any kind of gas… even on a massive scale”, which was duly carried out. When Berlusconi insisted that Mussolini was not nearly as bad as Saddam, he was voicing standard saloon-bar wisdom.