2 Jan 2013

Benito Mussolini: a dictator for all seasons in Italy?

Sixty-eight years after the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was strung up with piano wire from a petrol station in Milan following his crushing of Italian democracy, his racist laws and his disastrous alliance with Adolf Hitler, Mussolini has quietly taken his place as an icon for many Italians.


Among his adherents today are the masked, neo-fascist youths who mounted raids on Rome schools this autumn to protest against education cuts, lobbing smoke bombs in corridors and yelling "Viva Il Duce". The cult of Il Duce has also slipped into the mainstream. The decision by a town south of Rome to spend €127,000 (£100,000) of public funds this year on a tomb for Rodolfo Graziani, one of Mussolini's most blood-thirsty generals, was met with widespread indifference.

Other more mundane examples include the leading businessman who proposed renaming Forli airport in Emilia Romagna – the region of northern Italy where the dictator was born – as Mussolini airport, or the headmaster in Ascoli Piceno who tried to hang a portrait of the dictator in his school.


The man who gets some credit for dusting off Mussolini's reputation is Silvio Berlusconi, who famously described the dictator's exiling of his foes to remote villages as sending them on holiday. Berlusconi's subtle rehabilitation of Mussolini came as he brought Italy's post-fascists, led by Gianfranco Fini, into his governing coalition in 1994 and 2001, following the "years of lead" in the 1970s and early 80s, when neo-fascists and communist sympathisers battled in the streets.

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