Mussolini’s hometown Predappio to teach his fans a lesson
Objects celebrating Benito Mussolini on display in a souvenirs shop in Predappio, Italy.
Fed up with a stream of fascist sympathisers paying homage at the tomb of Mussolini, the mayor of his home town is to open a museum and study centre for people to take a serious look at their country’s fascist past.
About 100,000 Italians pour in to Predappio every year to visit Benito Mussolini’s tomb, filling the comments book with calls for him to return from the grave and sort out Italy’s corrupt politics and moribund economy.
The visitors, tactfully known as “nostalgics”, then invade souvenir shops to buy Mussolini mugs, wine bottles and truncheons.
Pilgrims recall how Mussolini rebuilt the economy but often overlook his crushing of democracy, his racial laws, his disastrous alliance with Hitler and lynching by partisans in 1945.
A serious discussion by the establishment about the country’s enthusiastic embrace of fascist rule in the 1930s remains taboo.
Predappio Mayor Giorgio Frassineti says it is time Italy took a long hard look at its past — and there is no better place to do so than in the town’s fascist party HQ, built with five types of marble and inaugurated in 1937 but which has stood empty for decades.
“It’s time to steal Predappio back from the nostalgics, and hand it over to history,” Mr Frassineti said.
It is in the building that the mayor plans the new centre. With €
1 million ($1.48m) ready to spend and a further €
2m expected from the regional government he aims to reopen the building next year and kickstart the serious study he says Italy has avoided.
Some historians say the centre will encourage neo-fascist thinking. “Many still think it is ‘dangerous’ to take this kind of study out of the universities, and tell me ‘You will let the nostalgics into the museum’,” he said.
“My answer to that is ‘Absolutely, why not? Do we want the young to maintain the myth of Mussolini thanks to their ignorance?’”
He added: “If they come to the museum, maybe they will spend less time buying truncheons.”
Coming to terms with fascism means understanding it rather than condemning it out of hand, he said. “The building we hope to use is beautiful and you cannot deny that some fascist architecture was the best in Europe.”
Support for the plan has come from the government as well as from an Austrian group of Holocaust researchers, who will award him their annual prize, the Austrian Holocaust Memorial Award, for his efforts next month.
“I met them at an unusual conference attended by the mayors of the hometowns of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin,” he said. “There is a debate going on in Austria about the house Adolf Hitler was born in. An Austrian minister wants to demolish it, but this group want to turn it in to a ‘House of Responsibility’ and they think that I am doing the right thing in Predappio.”