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PostA Mussolini Tour (Nigel Jones, UK, 04/28/18 10:21 am)
I thought that Eugenio Battaglia and other WAISers might be interested in my reflections on a reconnaissance I carried out this month in Italy on a tour I am leading later this year titled "Duce! The rise and fall of Italian Fascism." (Details on www.historical trips.com, though the 2018 tour has sold out.)
We visited Rome, the Gran Sasso high in the Appenine mountains (from which Mussolini was rescued in a daring commando operation by German airborne forces after he was deposed in 1943); Predappio, the Duce's home town and birth- and final resting place; Verona--where his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Count Ciano, and other Fascists who had voted for his deposition were tried and executed; Lake Garda, HQ of the radical Salo republic set up under Nazi auspices after Mussolini's rescue and restoration to power; and finally Lake Como and Milan, where the Duce, his mistress Clara Petacci and other leading loyal Fascists were caught, shot, and demeaningly strung up upside down.
My main surprising impression were the astonishing survival of Fascist artifacts from the era: not only the excellent modernist architecture of, for example, Rome's EUR quarter, but also the openly Fascist murals and statues of the Fora Italico sports complex, of which I reproduce an example below.
In stark contrast to Germany, where Nazi symbols such as the swastika are strictly banned, Italians appear quite nonchalant about remembering Mussolini, indeed many of them, including Eugenio, are proud of him!
This may be down to the relatively benign nature of the Fascist dictatorship in comparison to the Nazis. (Mussolini, with a few notorious exceptions such as Matteotti and the Roselli brothers, tended to jail his opponents--such as Gramsci--rather than murder them.) Unless you count the war dead among Mussolini's victims, Fascism had a far lower body count than Nazism, and infinitesimally fewer than Communism.
Even so, I was quite shocked that Predappio boasts no fewer than three thriving shops doing a roaring trade in Mussolini memorabilia: Badges, t-shirts, fascist flags, Hitler and Mussolini mugs, and even Fascist coshes. (OK, in the cause of research I admit to buying a Mussolini futurist bust--but a very small one!)
The most fascinating contrast came with meeting the Mayor of Predappio, a charming left-winger who wants to turn the large and semi-derelict "House of Fascism" in the town into a proper museum documenting Fascism (but who was happy to show me round his office in the Town Hall, Mussolini's childhood home, which is replete with Fascist insignia), and the man who bought the Villa Carpena, the Mussolini family's country home, from the family a few years ago, and runs it today as a combined shrine and pro-Fascist museum, full of relics of the Duce, including his uniform, motor bike, bicycle, pistol and so on.
Relations between the pro- and anti-Fascist factions in the town reminded me of nothing so much as the novel Don Camillo, documenting relations between a Priest and the Communist mayor of just such a small Italian town.
I should add that the trip is far from a Duce! tribute tour, and we will strive to be objective--including visiting the site of the notorious Aredeantine Caves massacre carried out by the SS in reprisal for a bomb which killed German troops in March 1944.
JE comments: Note the "V" in Dvce, an attempt to create a classical feel. Maybe this is why the mosaics remain.
Thank you for your fascinating preview, and best of luck for a successful tour, Nigel. if there should be a reprise in 2019, be sure to let WAIS know.