Silvio Berlusconi's 'apology of fascism' is criminal but consistent

Publié le par The Guardian Leonardo Clausi

Claiming Mussolini wasn't so bad at a Holocaust memorial is not just silly Silvio – revisionism is firmly embedded in Italian politics.

Silvio Berlusconi appears to fall asleep at the opening ceremony of the Shoah museum, Milan, this week.

Silvio Berlusconi appears to fall asleep at the opening ceremony of the Shoah museum, Milan, this week.

He's at it again. The Silvio Berlusconi extravaganza is back in town. Or maybe, it never left. Silvio is again all over the world news, only weeks after his common sense-defying return to the political fray. This time, Berlusconi has claimed that old Benito Mussolini wasn't that bad after all. It was the negative influence of his former disciple, that teutonically resolute Austrian chap that mislead il Duce; we Italians were less ruthless with the Jews – that was the gist of his speech.

It all fits neatly into a well-rehearsed revisionist narrative: Mussolini drained the Lazio marshes and had the trains running on time. Top it all off with a generous sprinkle of the Italiani brava gente theme (such good people, the Italians), by which revisionist historians try to sweep under the carpet our undeniable role in the persecution of the Jewish people.

On the one hand we have the notorious pantomime politics Berlusconi has pioneered. On the other, we're in the realm of the public use of history, ie, the exploitation of historical interpretations by non-historians. All politicians do it, in order to legitimise specific agendas – just think of first world war commemorations in Britain, for instance. The fact that he chose possibly the least suitable place, time and context to utter his claptrap, only to fall asleep a little later during the Milan opening of the Shoah museum at which he was attending, might show that he is not as in control of the headlines as he used to be.

At the same time, his behaviour displays a remarkable strategic consistency. After all, the rehabilitation of Italy's fascist past has been one of his favourite political tools since he started wielding power over the nation. It enabled him to successfully captivate the political middle ground after it had been deserted by the US-endorsed Democrazia Cristiana regime after the corruption scandals of the 90s.

Much to the chagrin of the ex-communist president of the republic, Giorgio Napolitano – who did his best this week to stress his own complete condemnation of any such attempt of rehabilitation – the fact is that Italy still feels ambiguous about its fascist past. The current state is the culmination of a revisionist process that started in the 50s and that Berlusconi has helped and accelerated through his media. Be it the post-fascism of the current president of the lower chamber, Gianfranco Fini, or the Golden Dawn-style ultra-fascism of the CasaPound group (a Rome-based militant faction that will run at the forthcoming elections), or the equally militant fascist past of the incumbent mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, who is about to leave behind a capital city on its knees. Oh, and there's also a Mussolini in parliament, of course, with a glamour model past.

In Italy "apology of fascism" is legally recognised as a crime. Yet it has been committed here a million times since the 50s, with little or no punishment. The so-called epurazione – the cleansing of the cadres of public administration, army and academia from fascist elements after the second world war – was never thoroughly accomplished.

But now, under the scrutiny of the "markets", which sent in the impossibly mild-mannered and old-school Christian Democrat caretaker Mario Monti to try to put some order in the country's balance books and to restore a minimum degree of respectability, Italy's sovereignty is undeniably dented. Henceforth, we have to behave. Had Italy not been a country in administration, you suspect that Berlusconi's latest outburst may not have made the news. There is still a month to go before the elections: so we can expect plenty more from the supreme purveyor of slapstick politics. If, in Italy, fascism is still unfinished business, we mostly owe it to Silvio.


Publié dans Articles de Presse

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