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Anti-Fascist Protesters Rally in Italy as Mussolini’s Heirs Gain Ground

As the elections approach, politically inspired violence has become an almost daily occurrence.

This month, a fascist extremist who carried a candle with an image of Mussolini opened fire on African immigrants in Macerata, wounding at least six people before he was arrested. Interior Minister Marco Minniti described the shootings as an “evident display of racial hatred.”

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Anti-fascist activists clashed with the police in Turin on Thursday. Politically inspired violence has become an almost daily occurrence in Italy. Credit Piero Cruciatti/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Forza Nuova, a far-right party that marches with the straight-armed salute of Mussolini, has repeatedly clashed with the police and anti-fascist protesters.

Members of CasaPound, a political party that proudly claims to admire Mussolini, recently invaded the emergency area of a hospital in Bolzano to protest homeless people who take refuge there overnight.

This past week, Italy’s intelligence services published an annual report that noted increased activity by left-wing anarchist groups, as well as the growing dynamism and appeal of radical right groups, especially among young people.

Presenting the report, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that Italy’s spies were working to ensure that the “risk of internal radicalization” and “political extremism” could never again spawn the “germs of subversion” in the country.

But several organizations, including the National Association of Italian Partisans, known by its Italian initials, A.N.P.I., have been tracking the growing number of episodes of neo-fascist violence for some time; one group has mapped aggressions throughout Italy since 2005.

As the violence worsens, some critics have blamed Matteo Salvini, the bombastic secretary of the League party and, to a lesser extent, Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the Brothers of Italy, the modern heirs of the party that rose from the ashes of Mussolini’s Fascists.

For the coming elections, Mr. Salvini and Ms. Meloni have joined former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and their coalition is leading in the polls.

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Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has joined forces with two nationalist parties. Their coalition is leading in the polls. Credit Ettore Ferrari/ANSA, via Associated Press

Mr. Berlusconi is not new to such alliances. When he first came to power, in 1994, he governed in a coalition that included the post-fascist Italian Social Movement, or M.S.I., which was founded by Mussolini’s supporters some 50 years earlier. (Brothers of Italy is an offshoot of M.S.I.)

“There is nothing moderate about the Brothers of Italy or the League,” said Andrea Mammone, a historian at Royal Holloway at the University of London, who writes on nationalism and the far right in Italy. “If those aren’t extreme-right themes perpetuated by neo-fascist parties, what are?”

These parties, critics say, are sowing the seed of subversion through their populist courtship of voters and fomenting xenophobia by spreading an anti-migrant message.

Though Italy has fewer migrants than many other Western European countries, conservative lawmakers have painted an alarming picture of an invasion that has plunged the country into an unmanageable emergency, further destabilizing Italy’s weak economy. Last year, 120,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean to Italy, one-third less than the year before.

But A.N.P.I. has been circulating a petition to ban CasaPound — whose leader, Simone Di Stefano, is running for prime minister — and Forza Nuova from participating in any future elections.

For some experts, like Marco Tarchi, a professor at the University of Florence who studies the Italian right, the ultraright groups are a “marginal phenomenon” that won’t pull in many votes. (In the 2013 elections, they polled at 0.4 percent.)

“I doubt that they will get more than 1.5 to 2 percent,” or about one in every 200 voters, Mr. Tarchi wrote in an email. That is not enough to have seats in Parliament, which has a 3 percent threshold.

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A poster for “I’m Back,” a film that imagines Mussolini’s return to modern-day Italy. Credit Vision Distribution, via Associated Press

Regardless of the electoral outcome, the message these parties convey should be of concern, analysts say.

“Like the fascism of the past, the movements of today put Italians first, and everything that is seen as foreign must be banished,” Mr. Mammone said. “To bring forward such policies in today’s global scenario is worrisome because we don’t know what the outcome could be.”

In this atmosphere, “I’m Back,” the film about Mussolini’s mostly triumphant return to modern-day Italy (it is a remake of a 2015 German film based on a book about the return of Hitler), has caused some soul-searching.

Compared to the German film, the Italian version “shows a much-less hostile response with respect to our dictator,” the director, Luca Miniero, said in an interview. “Here, people who aren’t necessarily on the right aren’t disturbed by the presence of this Mussolini.”

Mr. Miniero ascribed the benevolence less to the re-emergence of fascism than to what he called a “confusion” that prevails in Italy, “where intolerance and racism have become part of society, mostly because of social media.”

The film, he added, “is more a warning about populism than fascism,” as well as a reflection on a country that has lost its historical memory.

Mussolini’s atrocities are barely mentioned because, Mr. Miniero said, “you should know what happened.”

“And if you don’t know, then I am showing you that you should know.”

Source: NYT > World

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