The Null Device

A second springtime for Mussolini

Benito Mussolini, the World War 2-era Italian fascist dictator, is enjoying a resurgence in popularity in Italy, and not just from the usual extremists either:
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.
There are several explanations: some people are drawn to the idea of a populist strongman in the age of austerity, and compartmentalising all that unpleasantness with racial laws and deportations of Jews and such away from the cozy ideal of village post offices and a leader willing to bloody the noses of the elites in the name of the common man. Part of it is that, unlike in Germany, an admiration for fascism never completely left the sphere of acceptable opinion in Italy: a 1952 law forbidding fascist parties or the veneration of fascism has never been seriously enforced, and there are neo-fascist parties comprised not of shaven-headed thugs and football hooligans but of the kinds of reactionary though otherwise ordinary middle-aged and older people who, were they in Britain, would merely read the Daily Mail and grumble about how the world's going to hell. Though another likely cause in the rise of pro-fascist sentiment would be the dog-whistle politics of the Berlusconi era, in which many of the former pornocrat's close allies actively praised Mussolini and his ideals, and Berlusconi himself, whilst not explicitly doing so, did make light of Mussolini's suppression of dissent, and brought neo-fascists into his coalition:
"Today, Mussolini's racial laws against Jews remain an embarrassment, but people don't care about his hunting down anti-fascists," said Maria Laura Rodotà, a journalist at Italy's Corriere della Sera. "That became one of Berlusconi's jokes."
Admiration for Mussolini is common in Berlusconi's circle. Showbusiness agent Lele Mora, who is now on trial for allegedly pimping for the former prime minister, downloaded an Italian fascist song as his mobile ring tone, while Berlusconi's long-time friend, the senator Marcello Dell'Utri, has described Mussolini as an "extraordinary man of great culture".

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