Every year, thousands of people in Italy hang a fresh calendar of images depicting Benito Mussolini on their wall, just one of many indications that the cult of "Il Duce" is alive and well in the country. Many still consider the fascist dictator to have been an honorable man, and it is a weakness that politicians such as Silvio Berlusconi have been able to exploit.Well, if there was ever a postwar European crisis conducive to Fascism's return in Italy, we're right in the middle of it.
Decked out in army fatigues, his hand raised in fascist salute, he emblazons newsstands, lies ready in bookshops and is splashed across countless websites: Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator and founder of fascism known simply as "Il Duce", enjoys massive popularity in Italy as a calendar pin-up. One month he's in a steel helmet, his chin jutting sharply forward, the next he's clutching a Roman short sword, the famous chin still at attention. His valiant, steel-helmeted soldiers also march on annually, in color or black and white, accompanied by fascist symbols like the swastika.
Foreign tourists, especially Germans, are shocked when they see these openly flaunted calendars. Yet even in 2013, the former Italian dictator has a loyal fan base at home. And they're not just buying calendars.
The full extent of the Mussolini cult -- a phenomenon many foreigners find difficult to understand -- can be seen in Predappio, a small town in the Emilia-Romagna region with barely 7,000 inhabitants. As a tourist destination, Predappio is not really worth the trip. But it was here on July 29, 1883 that Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini, the son of a blacksmith and a village school teacher, began a life that would lead to his coronation as "Il Duce," the architect of fascism who was the precursor and in many respects a model for Adolf Hitler.
Back then, the dreary village was still called Dovia. But its most famous son used it as a model settlement for fascist city planning, rebuilding the town and renaming it Predappio. Later, after he had been captured in 1945 by Italian partisans, executed and hung upside down on public display at a Milan gas station, the former dictator was buried with his father, mother, wife, daughter, sister and brother in Predappio.
'The Only God'
Today, young men with shaved heads in long black capes regularly pose for photos at the Mussolini family tomb. The condolence book is filled with sentences like "You are the only God," and some visitors stretch their right arms forward in the so-called "Roman salute," not dissimilar to the Nazi salute.
Every year hundreds of thousands of visitors come to Predappio, filling its bars, restaurants, and especially the "Il Duce" devotional shops that line the main road. There you can buy letter-openers, ashtrays, coins, shirts, pants, coffee cans, wine, beer mugs and lighters brandishing slogans are like "Believe, Obey, Fight" or "Damned be he who gives up." Of course, all bear images of Mussolini, replete with famous chin and fascist salute. There are flags with swastikas and SS insignia and 38-centimeter-tall bronze busts of "Il Duce" that go for €45.
There's even a bust of Hitler, markedly smaller of course at 16 centimeters, for the bargain price of €15. Objects like these attract some German neo-Nazis, who seize the opportunity, as well as the bottle -- in this case filled with beer and bearing Adolf 's image under the heading "The Comrade" for the price of €3.
Italians, for the most part, shun the Nazi nostalgia items, which disturb the country's mainstream historical narrative. The most successful of the Mussolini souvenir sellers in Predappio, Pierluigi Pompignoli, puts it this way: "Hitler was a criminal, but Mussolini was a man of honor."
More at the link, in any case.
PHOTO CREDIT: "Benito Mussolini and Fascist Blackshirt youth in 1935," via Wikimedia Commons.