PREDAPPIO, Italy (AP) — Several thousand black-clad fascist sympathizers chanted and sang in praise of Benito Mussolini as they marched to the crypt of the slain Italian dictator on Sunday, 100 years after Mussolini entered Rome and the realization of a bloodless coup that resulted in two decades of fascist rule.
The crowd of some 2,000 to 4,000 marchers, sporting many fascist symbols and singing hymns to Italy’s colonial days, were larger than in the past, as nostalgic fascists celebrated the centenary of the March on Rome. On October 28, 1922, black-shirted fascists entered the Italian capital, launching a putsch that culminated two days later when the King of Italy gave Mussolini the mandate to create a new government.
Crowds at Predappio, Mussolini’s birthplace and resting place in the northern Emilia-Romagna region, were also apparently emboldened by the fact that a party with neo-fascist roots is leading an Italian government for the first time since the Second World War.
Organizers have warned attendees, who have arrived from as far away as Rome, Belgium and the United States, not to throw the Roman salute used by fascists or risk prosecution. Still, some could not resist as crowds stopped outside the cemetery where Mussolini rests for prayers and greetings from Mussolini’s great-granddaughter, Orsola.
“After 100 years, we are still here to pay tribute to the man that this state wanted and that we will never stop admiring,” said Orsola Mussolini to cheers.
She listed the achievements of her great-grandfather, citing an infrastructure boom that built schools, hospitals and public buildings, reclaimed malaria-ridden swamps for towns and the extension of a pension system. non-governmental workers. She was joined by her sister Vittoria, who led the crowd in a prayer.
The crowd let out a final shout of “Duce, Duce, Duce”, Mussolini’s honorific title as Italian dictator.
Anti-fascist activists staged a march in Predappio on Friday, to mark the anniversary of the city’s liberation – and to stop fascists from marching on the exact anniversary of the March on Rome.
Inside the cemetery on Sunday, admirers of the Duce lined up to enter his crypt tucked into a back corner, a handful at a time. Each received a memory card signed by their great-granddaughters with a photo of a smiling Mussolini holding his leather-gloved hand in a Roman salute. “History will prove me right,” the card read.
Italy’s inability to fully come to terms with its fascist past has never been so glaring as it is now, as Italy’s new prime minister Giorgia Meloni seeks to steer her far-right Brethren of Italy party away from its neo roots. -fascists. This week she denounced the undemocratic nature of fascism and called its race laws, which sent thousands of Italian Jews to Nazi death camps, a “low point”. Historians would also add Mussolini’s alliance with Nazi Germany and Japan during World War II and his disastrous colonial campaign in Africa to his devastating legacy.
Now in power, Meloni is seeking a moderate path for a new centre-right government comprising Matteo Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. But his victory gives far-right activists a sense of vindication even as they see themselves further to the right.
“I would have voted for Lucifer if he could have beaten the left,” said organizer Mirko Santarelli, who heads the Ravenna chapter of Arditi, an organization that started as a group of veterans of the First World War and evolved to include the memory of Mussolini. “I am happy that there is a Meloni government, because if there is nothing worse than the Italian left. It is not the government that reflects my ideas, but it is better than nothing.
He said he would like to see the new government remove laws that prosecute incitement to hatred and violence motivated by race, ethnicity, religion and nationality. This includes the use of emblems and symbols – many of which were present during Sunday’s march.
Santarelli said the law punishes “the crime of opinion”.
“It is used as castor oil by the left to silence us. When I am asked my opinion on Mussolini, and it is clear that I speak well of him, I risk being denounced,” said Santarelli.
Lawyer Francesco Munitillo, a far-right activist who represents the organizers, said Italy’s High Court has ruled that protests are permitted as long as they are commemorative, “and do not meet criteria that risk re-enacting the fascist party”.
Yet, he said, magistrates have in recent years opened investigations into similar protests in Predappio and elsewhere to ensure they do not violate the law. One such case was dismissed without charge last week.
To prevent their message from being distorted, Santarelli asked the base present not to speak to journalists, saying that the words of the hotheads are often misinterpreted. Most complied.
Rachele Massimi traveled with a four-hour group from Rome on Sunday morning to take part in the event, bringing her 3-year-old child who watched the march from a stroller. “It’s historic,” Massimi said. ” It’s a memory.