Veneration of a dead dictator; Mussolini tomb draws thousands nostalgic for Italy`s Fascist past
BY ELISABETTA POVOLEDO
International Herald Tribune
November 04, 2011
Giulio Tam, a priest with the Society of St. Pius X, a traditionalist Catholic sect that broke with the Vatican 20 years ago, recited the rosary at the tomb of former Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in Predappio, Italy.
The dress code was rigorously black. The chants were nostalgic, a medley of Fascist truisms peppered with clipped bursts of “Duce, Duce, Duce” that was sharply shushed when the straggly parade entered the cemetery in this central Italian town late last month to arrive at its mecca: the tomb of the former Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini.
“Why, why do you come here, who is this man Mussolini?” asked the celebrant, Giulio Tam, a priest with the Society of St. Pius X, a traditionalist Catholic sect that broke with the Vatican 20 years ago.
“We come to thank this man for the most European, most Mediterranean, most original of ideas,” Father Tam, a familiar figure in right-wing circles, answered before he began reciting the rosary.
So it goes in Predappio, three times a year, to commemorate the day of Mussolini`s birth (on July 29, 1883, in a house not far from the cemetery), his death (at the hands of partisans on April, 28, 1945) and the so-called March on Rome, which brought Mussolini`s party to power in Italy in October 1922.
“I`ve been coming here, at least once or twice a year, since Aug. 31, 1957, the day they brought the corpse of the Duce here,” said Marcello, a personable 85-year-old veteran who asked that his last name not be used. “My faith in him has remained intact.”
They came in busloads, from Turin to Palermo, on a pilgrimage of sorts.
“Like Christians going to St. Peter`s, except that here some wear a fez,” said Gianni, a man from Turin, of the black felt hat in the shape of a truncated cone that became part of the uniform of the Fascist black shirts worn here by a handful of meticulously groomed young men. “But we`re not anachronistic; we have credit cards. We don`t want to restore that era, we just don`t want to deny it either.”
Still others came to signify an epoch in which they believe that Italy, in contrast to today, counted for something in the world. “Italy needs a distinct change, we`re in the hands of politicians who are unworthy to have been voted,” said Enrico Cozzani, the owner of a security firm based in Lucca. “We`re the laughingstock of Europe.”
Angelo Aquilani, the Florence-based coordinator for central Italy of the Nuova Destra Sociale, a rightist group, was more succinct. “We love the Duce,” he said. “He is our faith.”
Such veneration weighed on Italy`s leaders in 1945. After Mussolini was killed, a decision was made to obscure his grave site, much the way military officials in the Transitional National Council of Libya chose to bury Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in a secret location last month and U.S. commandos buried Osama bin Laden at sea in May, to avoid creating a shrine for their supporters.
After Mussolini`s corpse was hung up on meat hooks on April 29, 1945, in Piazzale Loreto in Milan, where citizens vented their fury at their former leader, he was buried in an unmarked grave in a nearby cemetery. A year later, neo-Fascist loyalists dug up his body and hid it in a convent in Lombardy until 1957, when the remains were returned to Mussolini`s widow, who buried them in the family crypt in Predappio.
In fact, the Italian authorities` efforts to hide the burial site backfired on them, as its location rapidly became a matter of intense interest. “The vitality of Mussolini`s afterworld life was great as long as the mausoleum didn`t exist. A corpse that is nowhere is everywhere,” said Sergio Luzzatto, a historian at the University of Turin who wrote “The Body of Il Duce,” about the corpse`s vicissitudes. The documentary “Il Corpo del Duce,” inspired by the book, will be shown at the Turin Film Festival this month.
“Italians lived the absence of the body as a presence, so continuing the love story between Italians and their leader, which was very carnal in many ways,” Mr. Luzzatto said. That story ended when the body was returned to the family and “it became fixed and sepulchral,” primarily in the guest books at the tomb, where visitors can sign and leave comments.
Those books are now archived in a room on the top floor of the House of Memories, the museum of Duce memorabilia opened in 2001 by Domenico Morosini, a successful Lombardy businessman, in what was once a Mussolini summer home.
The registers are shelved under a beam inscribed with what Mr. Morosini said was a Mussolini citation: “It is not impossible to govern Italians, merely useless.”
The museum gets 2,000 to 3,000 people a year and might attract more, but Mr. Morosini has found it hard to advertise. Road signs to the museum “constantly get knocked down by left-wingers,” he said.
On Predappio`s main street, a handful of shops do brisk business in Fascist memorabilia, like the Predappio Tricolore store, which hawks products as varied as truncheons and Mussolini calendars.
The calendars are also distributed through newsstands, “where they sell better than sexy calendars,” said one shop owner, Pierluigi Pompignoli, giving a straight-arm salute to a group of German visitors who replied, “Sieg heil.”
Mussolini`s tomb gets 80,000 to 100,000 visitors a year, with peaks during the three commemorations, which in recent years have been presided over by Father Tam.
On Sunday, during a rosary recital interspersed with commentary, he warned of the imminent Islamic invasion of Europe, accelerated by the events in North Africa this year and abetted by a liberalist political class in Europe and an “Americanized youth” open to heresies like gay marriage.
“Mussolini was right; he`d be crying in his tomb to see that Italy has been reduced to this,” Father Tam said (though gay marriage is in fact illegal in Italy). “We`re proud of the Crusades,” he said, drawing loud cheers and applause from the crowd.
This is just the kind of tourism that Predappio`s center-left mayor, Giorgio Frassineti, would rather avoid.
“We refuse a vision of Predappio of the few, of the people who attend the commemorations, but also of those from the extreme left who want to cancel its history,” Mr. Frassineti said. “These people just keep another kind of tourism at large.”
© 2011 The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved.
MUSSOLINI FANS DESCEND ON HIS HOMETOWN FOR ANNIVERSARY
ANSA - English Media Service
July 29, 2009
Predappio, July 29 - Admirers of Benito Mussolini flocked to the his tomb Wednesday to celebrate the anniversary of his birth despite a plea from the mayor of the Fascist dictator`s northern hometown for them to stay away.
Mussolini fans came from as far as Naples, Bari and Rome to visit the tomb in Predappio cemetery and leave a message in the visitors` book, while Fascist memorabilia on sale in the town`s shops was doing a roaring trade.
Early on Wednesday a parish priest held Mass at the crypt in the presence of Mussolini`s daughter-in-law, Monica, the widow of his son Vittorio, among fresh flowers sent by fans from across the country.
Predappio Mayor Giorgio Frassineti, of the centre-left Democratic Party, had appealed to the thousands of people who arrive each year not to come to the town, saying he did not appreciate “blackshirt tourism”.
“Fascism tourists, please, stay at home,” he said Tuesday on the eve of the anniversary.
Frassineti described gatherings of Mussolini sympathisers as a “sad and surreal carnival”.
“These people are the enemies of our future. We are victims of these boorish waves that make Italy`s history vulgar and marginalise us. The demonstrations often happen at the cemetery, a place of sorrow for the town`s residents,” he said.
“The name of our town is inextricably linked with that of Mussolini, but we would like to become a place where history is discussed, not a theatre for these sad demonstrations,” Frassineti added.
Mussolini admirers were resolute on Wednesday, however.
“I don`t give a damn what the mayor says,” said one, echoing the Italian Fascist motto coined by Mussolini.
“I`ve been coming here every year for 30 years,” said Sandro from Orvieto, making it clear that he would continue to do so.
Pierluigi Pompignoli, the owner of a memorabilia shop, stressed that the arrival of Mussolini fans in the town has never resulted “even in a cuff around the ears”.
“If sometimes a young guy goes over the top with bad behaviour we`re the first to take him down a notch,” Pompignoli said.
The head of the Emilia Romagna branch of the tiny right-wing political party Forza Nuova, Gianni Correggiari, also dismissed the mayor`s plea.
“It`s the tens of thousands of people who pay homage to Mussolini each year who are fuelling the economy of the town.
“The mayor`s invitation is stupid, but maybe it`s motivated only by concern that Mussolini has left something at an emotional level,” he said, adding that people did not make pilgrimages to the graves of founding members of Italy`s Communist or Christian Democrat parties.
In a bid to spruce up the town`s image Predappio banned the display in shops of swastikas, cudgels and merchandise bearing Fascist mottos in April.
The town council approved a 500-euro fine for shops caught displaying items harking back to the Fascist era in their windows or anywhere visible from the street.
But souvenir hunters are still able to freely browse Mussolini memorabilia at one of several Predappio shops with Internet stores.
At one website, shoppers can pick up a `Dux Mussolini` cudgel for five euros, a wide range of swastika-decorated daggers from 30 euros and a selection of beers bearing the faces of Fascist leaders for 2.6 euros each.
Born in Predappio in 1883, Mussolini led Italy from 1922 to 1943.
Using his charisma, control of the media, and violence, he dismantled the country`s democratic government system and created a Fascist state.
In 1940, he made the decision to enter the Second World War in alliance with Hitler. Three years later he was deposed and arrested.
With Nazi help, he set up a Fascist mini state, the Republic of Salo`, at Lake Garda in northern Italy.
As the Allies advanced he tried to flee to Switzerland but was captured and shot by Italian partisans in April 1945.
His body was strung upside down in Milan with that of his mistress, Clara Petacci.
© 2009 ANSA.
Spirit of Mussolini is revived amid fears of rightwing march to power
Richard Owen, Rome
September 27, 2008
Filippo Timi, second from left, as Benito Mussolini in Vincere.
His monuments still dominate Rome`s skyline; his name is chanted at football matches and a notorious episode of his rule was recently re-enacted, complete with men dressed as SS stormtroopers. The rehabilitation of Benito Mussolini, Italy`s wartime dictator, may not yet be complete - but it is not for want of trying.
Yesterday urban planners and architectural historians from across Italy gathered in Rome to honour the “glories” of Fascist architecture. The conference, at Latina, a model “new town” created in reclaimed marshland south of Rome by Mussolini in 1932, is the brainchild of Giorgio Frasinetti, the head of urban planning at Predappio, the town in Emilia-Romagna where Il Duce was born and is buried.
Mr Frasinetti admitted that Fascism had its “ugly” aspects but he insisted that the buildings erected throughout the country under Mussolini should not be seen as an embarrassment, but deserved “re-evaluation”.The move follows the restoration of an obelisk bearing the word “Dux” (Duce) outside the Olympic Stadium in Rome and of Mussolini`s Rome residence, the Villa Torlonia. This month a “wartime enactment association” wearing Nazi uniforms re-created the rescue of Mussolini by SS commandos at Campo Imperatore in the Abruzzo mountains, where he was held after being deposed in September 1943. Massimo Castelli, head of the association, insisted that the event arose solely from a “passion for military history”.
There is, however, growing disquiet on the Left and among Jewish and Roman Catholic groups. They fear that neo-Fascists are taking advantage of a perceived shift to the right in Italy since elections last April, which brought to power a coalition headed by Silvio Berlusconi. It includes not only the anti-immigrant Northern League, but also Alleanza Nazionale, the reformed descendant of Mussolini`s Blackshirts.
Mussolini`s tomb at Predappio has become a shrine for neo-Fascists, who have grown increasingly assertive, plastering Rome with far-Right posters and massing on football terraces and at political rallies with their close-cropped hair and black shirts, and Celtic crosses around their necks.
In April, Gianni Alemanno of Alleanza Nazionale was elected Mayor of Rome - the first rightwinger to hold the office since the Second World War. Recently, critics have accused Mr Berlusconi - who last week announced plans to merge his Forza Italia with Alleanza Nazionale next year - of encouraging racist attacks on immigrants by blaming gypsies and illegal immigrants for street crime.
All the more surprising, then, that the man who has cried “enough” is Gianfranco Fini, the head of Alleanza Nazionale, who once described Mussolini as “the greatest statesman of the 20th century”. The Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament told a meeting of Azione Giovani, the Alleanza Nazionale youth wing, that the Italian Right had to be “unambiguously anti-Fascist”.
Mr Berlusconi predicts that, with the Left in disarray, the Centre Right will be in power for “at least ten to fifteen years”. He is 72, which would make the astute and urbane Mr Fini, at only 56, a potential successor.
What is at stake for Mr Fini is his calculated transformation of the postwar remnants of the Fascist Party into a mainstream, democratic, conservative party - and a springboard for power. He has visited Israel several times, praying at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, and has forged close ties with Rome`s Jewish community.
He faces formidable resistance, however, in the form of Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of the Duce, who is heading a grassroots revolt. Ms Mussolini, a former model and actress who has forcefully defended her grandfather`s reputation since entering politics in 1992, and who is the niece of Sophia Loren, appeared in Parliament recently wearing a striking T-shirt reading “Proud to be on the wrong side” - a reference to those who fought for Fascism rather than Resistance during the war.
© 2008 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved
Italy buries last Mussolini offspring amid fascist salutes
February 04, 2006
ROME, Feb 4, 2006 (AFP) – Dozens of extreme-right supporters gave Fascist salutes as Italy bid farewell Saturday to the last offspring of dictator Benito Mussolini after the funeral in Rome of his jazz-playing son, Romano Mussolini.
An Italian flag bearing Fascist symbols was unfurled and mourners shouted “Duce, Duce” (leader, leader) in honour of the strongman who ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943, during the funeral procession at Rome`s Santi Angeli Custodi church.
Inside the church during the funeral service which the family had wanted to keep private, members of Romano Mussolini`s jazz band played a New Orleans-style funeral tribute to the former band leader, running through a selection of his favourites, including “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Agriculture Minister Giovanni Alemanno and Environment Minister Altero Matteoli as well as other members of the former neo-fascist National Alliance party were among the mourners.
The dictator`s fourth son died early Friday in Rome at the age of 78.
His ashes are to be interred in the family tomb in San Cassiano cemetery in the small northern Italian town of Predappio.
Though he himself scrupulously avoided politics, he was the father of Alessandra Mussolini, a Euro-deputy for the right-wing Alternativa Sociale group.
Born in Forli in northern Italy in 1927, Romano Mussolini began his music career in Naples under an assumed name; his father, shot by anti-fascist partisans in 1945, was a reviled figure in post-war Italy.
He later reverted to his family name and by the 1960s, the Romano Mussolini All Stars was one of the country`s most successful jazz ensembles. He toured internationally and collaborated with famous artists including Chet Baker, Lionel Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie.
© Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006 All reproduction and presentation rights reserved.
In fond memory of Il Duce
The Hamilton Spectator
August 07, 1998
Mussolini is still revered, at least by the fascists who flock each year to his tomb
Predappio, Italy -- Mussolini was born in this small Apennine town in a valley between Bologna and Rimini in the Emilia Romagna. He was the son of the local blacksmith, a revolutionary socialist, its primary school teacher and a devout Catholic.
He began as a socialist, before leaving to found the Fascist party, and insisted that, at heart, he had remained one.
The mass over, Donna Monica Mussolini, widow of the late Vittorio, Mussolini`s eldest son, led the congregation out of the 11th-century church into the strong midday heat, then down into the dark crypt at one end of the cemetery to file past the stone tombs of the Duce and members of his immediate family.
Candles flickered and the air was thick with the sweet smell of lilies as Signora Mussolini stood in front of the Duce`s tomb, on which is a giant stone bust of her father-in-law`s head.
She raised her right arm in the Roman salute and delivered the traditional fascist greeting. “A noi!” (To us). She then patted the nearby tomb of Vittorio, who died last year, kissed it and left.
The hundreds of messages in the visitors` book in the crypt, visited by thousands of people each year, give a good idea of the opinions of those present. “Communisti -- vigliacchi, culattoni, bastardi, e figli di puttana” (too indecorous to translate) said one. “Le opere del Duce sono gli ultimi sostegni dell` Italia” (“The Duce`s work is Italy`s last hope”), said another.
It was time for lunch. The fascists, many in black shirts, went to their cars in the cemetery carpark. A small group of carabinieri loafed around a couple of squad cars in case of trouble but, as usual these days, there was none. There used to be a lot. In 1971, for example, someone exploded a bomb in the Mussolini crypt.
The fascists say the culprits were Communists -- the Communists say a fascist agent provocateur did it. No one has ever been caught.
The convoy of cars set off for Signora Mussolini`s country house 15 kilometres away in the hamlet of Carpena. There in the garden shaded by pine trees, she and her guests sat down at two long trestle tables to talk of the past and the future, and to eat tagliatelle al ragu, roast pork, tomato salad, peaches and melon.
“Without him, there`d be no pensions, no schools, no holidays for workers` children,” said one. “He never killed his enemies,” said another. “History is written by the victors. When the truth comes out they will make him a saint,” said a third.
Such a public ceremony as this in memory of Hitler would be unthinkable in Germany. But, in Italy, the Duce is regarded by a surprisingly high proportion of people as having been a very good thing -- at least until Italy started losing battles.
One reason is that he was not nearly as bad as his wartime ally Hitler. He did not exterminate six million Jews. This helps explain why Italy`s neo-fascist party, the Alleanza Nazionale (AN), does so well, briefly enjoying power in the Berlusconi coalition government of 1994, and attracting strong support from the young.
“The support the AN gets from the young is the most worrying thing,” said Giorgio Frassineti, leader of the local neo-communist Democrazia della Sinistra (the former Partito Communisto Italiano) which heads the coalition running the Predappio town council.
“With the collapse of communism in eastern Europe the ideology of the Left has been discredited. The ideology of the Right is much stronger.
“Ideologies appeal to the young,” he added.
Predappio, a sleepy place, is a must for fascists but for no one else. A significant event is a gaggle of white-clad nuns entering a bar to nibble ice-cream.
There is an overwhelming smell on both the approach and exit roads. This is caused not by politics but by on the one side a chicken farm and the other a pig farm.
The chicken farm is, however, owned by a neo-Communist, the pig farm by a neo-fascist. There are only a dozen or so shops, but four of them, decked out with Italian flags, sell nothing but Mussolini memorabilia.
These shops have been allowed by the council only in the last 10 years.
Under the constitution which set up the Italian Republic at the end of the Second World War, it is illegal to do or say anything which amounts to an apology for fascism, but the neo-Communist councillors such as Signor Frassineti say it is better to have such trade out in the open and properly regulated than done on the black market.
Others say that the neo-Communists -- who long ago changed the street names in the town in favour of their idols, such as Giacomo Matteotti, the socialist MP murdered by fascists, and Antonio Gramsci, the Communist thinker locked up by Mussolini -- have decided the time has come to make money out of the memory of their most despised enemy.
So, despite the Italian constitution, the souvenir shops are allowed to flourish. In them, you can buy busts of the Duce, books about him, badges, broaches, watches, lighters and hats depicting him or the fascist emblem the Roman lictor`s fasces, compact discs of his speeches and songs of fascism, shirts and T-shirts, black mostly, emblazoned with his sayings such as, “Better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”
You can even buy bottles of local Sangiovese red called `Il Camerata` (the Comrade), depicting the Duce`s helmeted head. In one shop, the owner answers the phone in German. “Jawohl,” he barks. It is only a joke . . . isn`t it? Another is owned by the son of a childhood friend of Mussolini`s, a third by a woman who seems to think the Duce was God.
The shops are not the only thing. This autumn, Signor Frassineti says, the council plans to open to the public for the first time the small house where Mussolini was born. The post-war government confiscated the house along with everything else in Italy regarded as a profit of the fascist regime.
The public has never been allowed inside the house to see the four rooms which somehow housed Mussolini, his brother and sister, mother and father, the school and the forge.
It is to be an exhibition centre. The fascists would like the house to become a shrine to their idol, but the neo-Communist councillors are determined to use it to their advantage.
The theme of the exhibition will be The Crisis of Democracy Between the Two World Wars. The blame for the crisis is sure to be placed at the door of Italian fascism and German national socialism rather than communism, especially Italian communism.
I wanted to tease Signor Frassineti about this. “You mean the crisis of democracy caused by communism? The 85 million killed by communism, compared to Hitler`s six million?”
I asked. “Very clever,” he replied with a smirk. He and his council have a problem: they want tourism, but it has to be tourism that is acceptable to their view of the world.
But the opening of the `casa natale` is small drop in the ocean. There are much larger buildings in Predappio with Mussolini connections which have been left virtually derelict. The town was merely a hamlet until Mussolini seized power in 1922.
He had it expanded and turned into a model fascist town. Its main street, now Viale G. Matteotti, once Viale B. Mussolini, is wide, long and lined with trees. Every building was built in the fascist era.
The street leads to a large square around which are the buildings symbolizing the regime -- the headquarters of the carabinieri, the Fascist party headquarters, and the church, complete with fasces above the entrance.
The church and the carabinieri building are in use. But the Fascist party headquarters has been empty for years. For a time it housed a furniture factory.
Predappio is surrounded on all sides by small mountains. On top of one is La Rocca delle Caminate -- the castle which local people gave to Mussolini and which he used as his summer residence.
In his day, an enormous revolving light with the power of 8,000 light bulbs was installed in the tower of the castle. It used to send out a beam 50 kilometres into the surrounding countryside in the colors of the Italian flag.
The castle has been locked up and empty since the war. Signor Frassineti said, “Once there was money and no will to renovate it. Now there is will and no money.”
To which I replied, “In fact, the reason is that there is still no volonta (will). You are ex-communists. Mussolini was a fascist.”
Signor Frassineti nodded as if in agreement. “This is a very delicate issue. There are still people alive who lived through those days,” he said.
Lunch being over at Signora Mussolini`s house, it was time for a sing-song.
Many of the older fascists stood up to sing fascist marching songs, right arms raised. Compared to their German counterparts, the songs were surprisingly melodious.
They were without question a joy to listen to and not in the least offensive. They did not send a shiver down your spine. But the younger fascist men present, with their shaved heads, black shirts and keen bodies, remained seated and silent, their women beside them elegant and beautiful.
And I thought, I hope tomorrow does not belong to them.
© Copyright 1998 The Hamilton Spectator.