Mussolini Remarks Stir Fascist Fears In Italy Italy is in an uproar after two high-level politicians voiced sympathy for the fascist rule of World War II-era dictator Benito Mussolini. Jewish groups have sharply criticized the remarks.
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Mussolini Remarks Stir Fascist Fears In Italy

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Mussolini Remarks Stir Fascist Fears In Italy

Mussolini Remarks Stir Fascist Fears In Italy

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, voting is underway in Virginia and in other states. Absentee voting, that is.

Professor QUENTIN KIDD (Political Science, Christopher Newport University): I was talking to students in class yesterday. The day began about it, and I asked how many of you have sent your absentee ballots off, and about half the class raised their hand. So they had put them in the mail that morning.

BRAND: We'll hear from a political science professor and an election official in Virginia.

CHADWICK: First, though, in Italy, a long-simmering political dispute has boiled over. This is about the past, Italy's fascist past before and during World War II. This current problem began when two prominent right-wing politicians made sympathetic comments about some aspects of fascism. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: At a ceremony for the 65th anniversary of Rome's anti-fascist resistance, Italian defense minister Ignazio La Russa sent shudders through the audience. Marking the day when hundreds of Italian soldiers and civilians died trying to stop the Nazis from seizing control of Rome, he paid homage to those troops that stayed with fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and fought alongside the Nazis.

(Soundbite of Italian)

Mr. IGNAZIO LA RUSSA (Italian Defense Minister): (Through Translator) I would betray my conscience if I did not recall those other men in uniform who fought against the Anglo-American forces, thereby winning respect of all those who look at Italian history objectively.

POGGIOLI: One day earlier, while on a visit to Israel, Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno told an interviewer that fascism cannot be condemned as a whole. The anti-Semitic laws passed in 1938 were absolute evil, he said, but he insisted those laws were inspired by Nazism and cannot be attributed to fascism. Peter Fetechina(ph), a survivor of the Auschwitz death camp, was outraged.

(Soundbite of Italian)

Mr. PETER FETECHINA (Auschwitz Survivor): (Through Translator) The anti-Semitic laws were a consequence of fascism. Without fascism, they would not have been enacted, and without those laws my entire family would not have ended up in the gas chambers.

POGGIOLI: Both minister La Russa and Mayor Alemanno are members of the right-wing National Alliance, whose roots are in Mussolini's fascist party. Their remarks were widely criticized. World War II veteran associations in Rome announced they would not take part in any official events where the mayor is present. And the opposition accused the two right-wing politicians of trying to whitewash one of Italy's darkest periods, saying it's impossible to separate the evil of Mussolini's anti-Semitic laws from the Fascist regime itself.

(Soundbite of Italian)

POGGIOLI: Mussolini announcing anti-Semitic lawn in 1938, called the world Jewish lobby an irreconcilable enemy of fascism, and said our national prestige requires a solid awareness of our clear racial superiority. Recent measures by the right-wing government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have raised the specter of the past. The wide-circulation Catholic magazine Familia Cristiana charged that a government crackdown against immigrants in Roma is racist and xenophobic, and reminiscent of the anti-Semitic laws of the '30s. The magazine, sold in churches and in newsstands, warned that the country may be witnessing the rebirth of fascism under another guise. The Berlusconi government has not officially commented on the La Russa and Alemanno remarks, but Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano acknowledged that Italy has not fully come to terms with its history.

(Soundbite of person speaking Italian)

POGGIOLI: In Italy, today, there are still unresolved issues over the past, and not all sectors of society identify themselves fully with the anti-fascist and anti-Nazi principles and values of the constitution. Ezio Mauro, editor of the Daily La Repubblica, blames Berlusconi for having brought to power right-wing political forces that have not broken their ideological ties to the past.

(Soundbite of person speaking Italian)

POGGIOLI: The result is that the current political climate encourages the brazen re-emergence of long-suppressed fascist instincts. In several towns where the right is in power, streets and squares are being renamed in honor of fascist heroes. And numerous newsstands sell a Mussolini memorial calendar with flattering photographs of the dictator, and excerpts of his speeches. And when in April Alemanno was elected Rome's first right-wing mayor since World War II, supporters celebrated by chanting Il Duce, Il Duce, and making the fascist salute. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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