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Italy: An open letter to the Mayor of Predappio

Dear Giorgio Frassineti, Mayor of Predappio

Three thousand fascists descended on Predappio last October to celebrate the anniversary of Mussolini’s “March on Rome” in 1922. The date marked the beginning of the dictatorship and of one of the darkest pages in world history following the Mussolini-Hitler alliance.

Mussolini’s birthplace, Predappio, attracts about 100,000 fascist sympathisers every year. They pay homage at the dictator’s tomb and at the house where he was born. Three large shops supply nazi-fascist paraphernalia and daily doses of fascist propaganda to passers by, including schoolchildren. British newspapers two years ago reported, “Predappio finally bans fascist souvenirs”. It was based on false hopes. The annual October celebration sees the public display of the nazi-fascist salute with some participants in black shirts. As for swastikas and knives, one of the shop owners said, “inside we can sell what we like”.

At the last October celebration the fascists defied your administration in a show of strength. You had warned that the point of assembly in the main square would remain inaccessible and cordoned off by railings because of road works in progress and that any challenge to such restrictions would amount to a provocation. The fascists had plenty of room to assemble elsewhere. But they intended to provoke and show, as they had intimated, that they could control the heart of the town. Your warning was ignored. According to reports, you watched with incredulity as the police chose to take advice on law and order not from you as the elected authority, but from Giulio Tam, the priest long associated with the nazi-fascists of Forza Nuova, led by the ex-terrorist Roberto Fiore. One wonders how best to help you respond to such provocations, which cause embarrassment to the town and the region as a whole in the eyes of the world.

Last September you appeared at the Contemporary History Day Conference in Braunau, Hitler’s birthplace in Austria, to discuss how to deal with the legacy of living in a town where a dictator was born. With the stream of worshippers visiting Mussolini’s crypt and buying nazi-fascist gadgets, you were well placed to come up with some ideas. You said that Predappio should become “the frontline of democracy”. But antifascists all over the world ask: how can that be if it remains a pilgrimage spot for neo-nazis? Perhaps to begin with you should hold a conference in Predappio along the lines of the one at Braunau, even if it means having delegates shocked at the sight of nazi-fascist paraphernalia and fascist propaganda displayed in the town centre.

As for Mussolini’s house, since it opened in 1999 it has hosted “art” exhibitions dealing mostly with the decorative aspects of fascism (postcards, architecture, posters, sports). Wouldn’t it be more useful to mount exhibitions on the means of repression by which the regime was kept in place: torture and killings, the use of castor oil and house arrest for dissenters, the use of gas in colonial wars, interrogation techniques and information gathering, the surveillance methods over the population, thus making the kind of impact that one experiences, for instance, on visiting the Stasi Museum in Leipzig?

You heard in Braunau about the plan supported by the local Mayor, Johannes Waidbacher, to establish in Hitler’s home a centre called House of Responsibility, with three large words covering the entire façade: PAST PRESENT FUTURE. The same could be done with Mussolini’s house, choosing perhaps the words MAI PIU’ FASCISMO (fascism never again) so that by next year the visiting nazi-fascists would be presented with an act of cultural and historical responsibility.

You said that Predappio’s enemies are “prejudice, isolation and banalisation of history”. Antifascists must act together before they turn into hesitancy, fear and surrender.

Yours sincerely,

Alfio Bernabei

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