When filming a documentary about my fascist grandfather in 2019, says Barbara Serra in Al Jazeera, I visited Predappio, where Benito Mussolini was born and buried. At the Italian dictator’s crypt, I “saw a small but steady trickle of people, mostly men”, paying their respects. Elsewhere in the town were shops selling fascist memorabilia, from “faintly ridiculous” pasta, shaped like Il Duce’s head, to t-shirts decorated with swastikas. Fascism is technically a crime in Italy, yet fascist salutes are sometimes excused as “commemorative acts”. Many Italians still think Mussolini “did a lot of good” for the country – and Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party, heading Italy’s next government, has its roots in Il Duce’s movement.
To understand why Mussolini’s legacy remains, you have to go back to the aftermath of the Second World War. Whereas in Germany the Allies imposed “denazification”, Il Duce was deposed by his own Fascist Party in 1943, with much of the country subsequently run by former fascists working with the Allies. The Cold War was brewing and Italy had the largest communist party in the West, so America and Britain refrained from dismantling the conservative, ex-fascist forces who could help them contain the “Red Threat”. Brothers of Italy directly descends from one of these groups, the Movimento Sociale Italiano – they even share a logo, “a flame in the green, white and red of the Italian flag”. Most of its voters are not extremists, but the party’s “known links to fascism” didn’t put them off. “That in itself is sobering.”