'Berlusconi ally proud to be a fascist'

The 'F'-word got a rare mention in mainstream Italian politics in the run-up to the election on April 13-14 when an ally of centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi declared himself proud to be a fascist.

'Berlusconi ally proud to be a fascist'

Memories of Benito Mussolini's dictatorship are fading but politicians still woo far-right voters who are nostalgic for a totalitarian past or youngsters lured by fascism's message.

The cultural legacy of fascism remains very apparent in Italy where Mussolini bullied his way to power in 1922 and stayed there until the 1943 Allied invasion in World War Two.

A marble obelisk inscribed "Mussolini Dux", meaning "Duce" or leader in Latin, is a familiar sight to soccer or tennis fans attending matches in Rome's Olympic Stadium and Foro Italico.

Across the Tiber in the family-owned Osteria Sireno, locals enjoy home-cooked pasta and beans with the dictator looking down sternly from pictures on all four walls. Visitors to Rome can buy Mussolini calendars and even Mussolini-branded wine.

Aside from the history and kitsch, some Italians still regard themselves as fascists. One of these is Guiseppe Ciarrapico, who is running for the Senate.

"Fascism has given me suffering and joy but I never disowned it," said Giuseppe Ciarrapico, a newspaper publisher and former chairman of soccer club AS Roma.

Many in Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party bristled at this statement. But Berlusconi stood by Ciarrapico, who softened his stance by condemning Mussolini's anti-Jewish laws.

"I am a fascist, but in a cultural, not a political way."

"Proud"

Even before this election, Berlusconi, a billionaire businessman who says he entered politics to save Italy from communists, had absorbed much of the right-wing vote.

His alliance with Gianfranco Fini, who transformed Italy's neo-fascist party into a mainstream conservative force, proved a winning ticket in the 2001 election. Fini served as Berlusconi's foreign minister and is often touted as his political heir.

Fini's move into the mainstream fractured the far right and Alessandra Mussolini, a descendent of the dictator, split with him initially for rejecting her grandfather's heritage.

She has since returned to the Berlusconi/Fini ticket and said she considers fascism, which was banned in post-war Italy, part of the country's political fabric.

"Here we are in EUR which was built by my grandfather," she said after a rally in the suburb named after the cancelled Universal Expo of 1942, home to most of Rome's fascist-era architecture. "These days no one is able to do anything."

Asked if she considered herself a fascist, the 45-year-old who is a strong advocate of women's rights, looked annoyed.

"I am Alessandra Mussolini, proud of everything," she said.

According to Enrico Pugliese, head of the state-funded Institute of Social Politics, neither Alessandra Mussolini nor Fini represent fascism in modern Italy.

"Fini 'de-fascistised' his party, there's no doubt about that." Pugliese called Alessandra Mussolini a "folkloric" figure trading on her name for political advantage.

Right vs right

At this election, a new party hopes to woo right-wing voters away from the PDL. Simply called "The Right", the party set up by a former Berlusconi minister risks splitting the centre-right vote which Berlusconi fears could favour the centre left.

"We are not the biggest right-wing party, we are the only right-wing party," said its founder Francesco Storace who called Berlusconi's decision to absorb Ciarrapico's supporters an attempt to lure votes away from The Right.

"They woke up and decided to field candidates not against the left but against the right," Storace told Reuters. His party took 2.5 percent in the last published poll versus 44.6 percent for the Berlusconi bloc.

Unlike Fini, who has explicitly broken with neo-fascism and Mussolini's heritage, Storace says there is much to be proud of.

"We have no intention of giving up our historic memory. We respect it," he said. "But that doesn't mean we would propose a totalitarian model."

Right wingers who find even Storace too moderate have a further option -- Forza Nuova, an anti-immigration, anti-abortion and pro-"tradition" party dismissed by critics as rabble-rousers.

Pugliese, an avowed leftist, believes the torchbearer of fascism is in fact a party which calls itself anti-fascist -- the Northern League, Berlusconi allies who oppose immigration and want autonomy for Italy's rich north.

"The Northern League has absorbed a great part of the fascist thinking, especially the racism," said Pugliese.

League leader Umberto Bossi once advocated gunships to ward off immigrants and threatened this week to use "rifles" in a row over ballot papers.

Last Mod: 09 Nisan 2008, 12:19
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