Mussolini's tomb draws tens of thousands of visitors each year

A century later, the cult of Mussolini remains in Italy

Mussolini’s Tomb attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year – Copyright National Indian Foundation/AFP –

Bridget HAGEMANN

One hundred years after he came to power, the cult of Benito Mussolini persists in the small Italian town of Predappio, where his tomb attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year.

Many are just curious, but others are driven by nostalgia for a past that weighs heavily on the party that should win the September 25 general election, Georgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy.

A white marble bust of the Duce adorns the crypt of the family chapel in the cemetery of this northeastern city where Mussolini was born, and his sarcophagus is draped in the tricolor Italian flag.

“We will never forget you!” says one message in the golden book of condolences, while others say: “We will be reborn” and “Come back!”

One young visitor with a shaved head, visibly moved, touched the tombstone with one hand before giving a fascist salute to the man who was called “the father of the country” on one of the ribbons in the crypt.

Others, who came with their families, had a more subtle understanding of the legacy of Mussolini, who came to power after the so-called March on Rome in October 1922 and then established a dictatorship in 1925 that lasted until 1943.

Mussolini was a great statesman. He promoted labor law and social protection. But he made mistakes with his alliance with Hitler and shameful racial laws,” said Fabiana di Carlo, a 42-year-old civil servant who came from Rome with her daughter.

Her point of view is typical of many Italians who draw a line between what Mussolini did before and after his alliance with the Nazis and Italy’s entry into World War II.

An IPSOS poll last year found that 66 percent of Italians between the ages of 16 and 25 agreed that the fascist regime was “a dictatorship that can be partly condemned, but also brought benefits.”

– Nostalgic moods –

The legacy of fascism is being redefined in the year of the centenary due to the rise of Meloni’s support.

Her party grew out of the Italian Social Movement, itself founded by Mussolini’s supporters after his death in April 1945.

In Predappio, many visitors said they would vote for Meloni.

Among them was Di Carlo, who called the leader of the Brothers of Italy “smart and competent” and expressed her hope that she would become Italy’s first female prime minister.

Meloni insists there is “no room for nostalgic fascism” in her party, which advocates a Eurosceptic, nationalist Christian agenda, though she has rejected calls to remove MSI’s tricolor flame from her logo.

Her likely rise to power is causing concern both at home and across Europe. But she won about 24 percent of the vote as part of a right-wing coalition that together enjoys about 47 percent support.

“I don’t think there’s any risk of a return to historical fascism,” said Gianfranco Miro Gori, local leader of the National Association of Italian Partisans, the name given to World War II anti-fascist fighters.

“But it is possible that there will be repression in the authoritarian sense and restrictions on freedoms, such as the freedom of the press,” he said.

But Ivano, 39, a Mussolini fan who works in a vineyard in Cuneo in northwest Italy and has visited Predappio, insisted that Meloni had nothing to fear.

“She is not a fascist. She is Atlanticist and anti-Putin,” he said.

– Fascist souvenirs –

Mussolini’s tomb attracts over 70,000 visitors a year, and Predappio has a thriving tourist trade, with numerous shops selling Nazi memorabilia.

There are “anti-communist” bracelets, swastikas, bottles of wine with the image of the dictator, posters “Italy for Italians” and even the “Fascist Handbook”.

A 40-year-old couple from Milan, Giovanna and Alessandro, walked out of the same store with a Mussolini calendar.

“We hope for Meloni’s victory in the elections. She will enforce the rules and security,” Alessandro said.

Near Mussolini’s birthplace and where his father had a blacksmith shop, the March on Rome exhibition introduces visitors to the grim history of fascism.

Among the 170 items borrowed from private collectors are uniforms, edged weapons, guns and yellowed photographs illustrating Mussolini’s Blackshirt uprising, their ties to the Catholic Church and industry.

“This cultural event, which is objective and documented, invites us to reflect on what the March on Rome was. This is not an apology for fascism,” said Franco d’Emilio, one of the exhibition’s curators.

The goal is “to make Predappio known for what it is – that is, the Italian capital of the history of fascism,” commented Francesco Minutillo, former leader of the Brothers of Italy.

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