These plaques, commemorating more than 1,000 victims torn from their homes in the Jewish ghetto of the Italian capital in October 1943, are a sad reminder of the country’s dark past.
More than 75 years after Mussolini’s inglorious death at the hands of supporters, the debate over fascist ideology – and its continued appeal to some Italians – has been reignited following the government’s attempts to control the coronavirus pandemic.
On October 9, the headquarters of Italy’s largest union and a hospital emergency department in Rome were targeted during angry protests over the country’s Covid-19 “Green Pass”.
The Green Pass, which went into effect last Friday, requires all workers – from cafe staff to caregivers, taxi drivers to teachers – to show proof of vaccination, a negative test or a recent recovery from the infection. Italy – once the epicenter of Covid-19 in Europe – now has the strongest vaccine mandate on the continent.
Members of the neofascist group Forza Nuova have been arrested in connection with the violent attacks in Rome.
Banned fascist parties
“Fascism has never disappeared in this country,” said history professor Simon Martin, author of several books on Italian fascism. “Italy has not faced its past. There is no appetite for it, I think, on either side.”
Martin said thousands of people still line up every year on birthdays, such as Mussolini’s birth, death and “March on Rome”, to visit his tomb at Predappio, 200 miles north. -est of Rome, despite running a repressive police state, and was responsible for brutal colonial campaigns and massacres during his 20 years in power.
“[It] has a condolence book that needs to be changed regularly as it fills up, ”he said.
A 1952 law prohibited the reconstitution of fascist parties in Italy, but they reformed under other names, Martin told CNN during a visit to the Jewish ghetto.
The violence of the Green Pass protests on October 9 led to an increase in calls for the dissolution of neo-fascist groups in the country. Organizers called off an anti-Covid-19 green pass protest in the northeastern city of Trieste scheduled for Friday and Saturday, and urged protesters not to attend for fear of violence.
This week, Italian lawmakers in the upper house of the Senate and the lower house voted in favor of a motion brought forward by the country’s center-left parties, which calls on the government of Prime Minister Mario Draghi to dissolve Forza Nuova and all movements of neofascist inspiration. . Draghi and his Council of Ministers will now consult lawyers before announcing a decision.
Forza Nuova’s attorney Carlo Taormina told CNN the group is currently in the process of being disbanded and has not been active as a political movement for 20 months.
In response to scenes of violence on October 9, tens of thousands of people demonstrated against fascism in San Giovanni Square in Rome over the weekend.
“I came here because it is important to send a message,” Jacopo Basili, 30, told CNN at the rally organized by the main Italian unions. “What happened was very bad, as if we were going back to 100 years ago in Italy. Today we have to say no. It is not possible.”
Another protester, Leone Rivara, told CNN he did not believe that the threat of fascism in Italy today compares to the Mussolini era, but that social tensions in the country have been “made worse by the pandemic. “And that” the forces which declare themselves democratic … to cross borders and exploit the weakness, the fragility, the anger, the illusion of the people to [upset] the democratic balance of this country.
One group accused of doing just that is the Fratelli d’Italia, or Brothers of Italy, a right-wing party that made international headlines when one of its members, Rachele Mussolini – granddaughter of Benito – was elected to Rome’s city council for a second term earlier this month.
Rachele Mussolini won over 8,200 votes – the highest number for any candidate – and a huge increase from the 657 votes she received in the 2016 ballot.
CNN contacted Rachele Mussolini, via her press secretary, to ask if she has trouble distinguishing herself from fascist associations linked to her last name, but has not received a response.
She is not the first descendant of the Italian dictator to enter politics. Her half-sister Alessandra was a member of Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right People of Freedom alliance and was a member of the European Parliament.
The Fratelli d’Italia party – with right-wing Lega of Matteo Salvini and center-right Forza Italia – recently supported radio host and lawyer Enrico Michetti in his fight to become Rome’s next mayor.
When asked why Fratelli d’Italia was still affiliated with fascism, party leader Giorgia Meloni told CNN her party was not fertile ground for such a regime.
Andrea Ungari, professor of contemporary history at LUISS University in Rome, said he believed that a small proportion of Italians could be defined as having fascist beliefs.
The neo-fascist groups Forza Nuova and CasaPound did not participate in the last Italian elections.
“It is difficult to define Fratelli d’Italia as a fascist party,” Ungari said. “Of course there are statements … harsh attitudes … it is clearly a right-wing party but with the difference between right and far right.”
“In Italy there is of course the legacy of fascism but it is sometimes a term used by the left to monopolize the political debate”, warned Ungari.
Many reminders of fascism
Monuments related to racism, colonialism and shameful moments in history have been removed from countries around the world following the Black Lives Matter protests.
In Italy, however, the architecture of the 20-year reign of Benito Mussolini is maintained. Unlike Germany, which banned and eradicated Nazi symbols in the aftermath of World War II, Italy left many reminders of the fascist era.
Rome’s sports complex – Foro Mussolini, or Mussolini’s Forum – which houses the city’s main football stadium Stadio Olimpico, was renamed Foro Italico, but a nearly 18-meter marble obelisk bearing Mussolini’s name stands always outside.
Ostiense Station, which was built to commemorate Hitler’s visit to Rome in 1938 and features a mosaic themed on Italian fascist ideology that modern Italy was the heir to ancient Rome, is still one of the main train stations in the city.
And the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana – a six-story marble tower built as the centerpiece of Mussolini’s new neighborhood, Esposizione Universale Roma, in the city’s southwest – remains engraved with a sentence from his 1935 speech announcing the invasion of Ethiopia.
“I think the real problem with these statues is that there is nothing to contextualize them … [nothing] to tell us what fascism was, ”history professor Martin said.
Martin said that while it might not be practical to demolish all Italian buildings from the Fascist era, due to the sheer number of people involved, “it should be contextualized. We have to talk about what this is. means “.
As for the motion to ban neo-fascist groups and parties, that would be “a government declaration of intent,” Martin said, but it is unlikely to change people’s minds.
CNN’s Barbie Latza Nadeau and Nicola Ruotolo contributed to this report.