ROME — Italy’s president, marking the 100th anniversary of one of the attacks that helped bring dictator Benito Mussolini to power, on Thursday encouraged Italians to reinvigorate their country’s democracy as a bulwark against fascism.
President Sergio Mattarella was commemorating the ransacking and burning by fascist thugs of an agricultural cooperative building in the northeast city of Ravenna 100 years ago. The violent attack was part of a series launched by fascist supporters of the dictator, whose iron rule would last until World War II.
Italy’s fascist legacy is coming under increasing scrutiny these days as the country holds snap parliamentary elections on September 25. Opinion polls indicate the far-right Italian Brotherhood, which has neo-fascist roots, would be the main voters, with leader Giorgia Meloni’s party keen to become prime minister.
She never denied her party’s fascist roots but distanced it from Mussolini’s racial laws targeting Jews.
Meloni is now the dominant force in an alliance with the right-wing League party led by Matteo Salvini and the centre-right Forza Italia party led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The latter two parties have seen their support erode in recent local elections.
Mattarella, as head of state, is the guarantor of the post-war constitution of the republic. He called the attack on Ravenna “a chapter in our history that would lead to the loss of freedom for Italians, with the beginning of the dark season of the fascist dictatorship”.
Mussolini seized power in a march on Rome by his supporters in October 1922.
In his speech, Mattarella said Italian democracy survived World War I only to be rocked by “dramatic social emergencies, turbulence, strikes, factory occupations” and other violence in the immediate post-war period.
Mussolini came to power during a period of “weak” government, the president said, adding that democracy was born out of the “widespread awareness of the responsibility of each of us in defending common freedoms”.
“It’s up to us to regenerate it every day,” Mattarella said, calling on young people in particular to take on this responsibility.
After Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s broad coalition collapsed last week, Mattarella dissolved parliament, triggering a snap election.
Salvini, Berlusconi and the 5-Star Populist Movement sank Draghi’s pandemic unity government, all refusing to back him in a vote of confidence.
Meloni was the only major leader to refuse to join Draghi’s pandemic unity government when it was formed in early 2021 after being hired by Mattarella. She argued that Italians should decide their leader in an election.
When it emerged that Berlusconi and Salvini were hesitant about Meloni becoming the next prime minister – and the first woman to hold the post – she demanded that the three of them meet to confirm the long-standing rule of the alliance: whoever gets the most votes becomes their choice for the post of prime minister.