Silvio Berlusconi praises dictator Mussolini for 'having done good'

 

Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi praised Benito Mussolini for "having done good" despite the Fascist dictator's anti-Jewish laws, immediately sparking expressions of outrage as Europe today held Holocaust remembrances.

Berlusconi also defended Mussolini for allying himself with Hitler, saying his likely reasoning was that it would be better to be on the winning side.

The media mogul, whose conservative forces are polling second in voter surveys ahead of next month's election, spoke to reporters on the sidelines of a ceremony in Milan to commemorate the Holocaust.

In 1938, before the outbreak of the Second World War, Mussolini's regime passed the so-called "racial laws," barring Jews from Italy's universities and many professions, among other bans.

When Germany's Nazi regime occupied Italy during the war, thousands from the tiny Italian Jewish community were deported to death camps.

"It is difficult now to put oneself in the shoes of who was making decisions back then," Berlusconi said of Mussolini's support for Hitler.

"Certainly the government then, fearing that German power would turn into a general victory, preferred to be allied with Hitler's Germany rather than oppose it."

Berlusconi added that "within this alliance came the imposition of the fight against, and extermination of, the Jews. Thus, the racial laws are the worst fault of Mussolini, who, in so many other aspects, did good."

More than 7,000 Jews were deported under Mussolini's regime, and nearly 6,000 of them were killed.

Reactions of outrage, along with a demand that Berlusconi be prosecuted for promoting Fascism, quickly followed his words.

Berlusconi's praise of Mussolini constitutes "an insult to the democratic conscience of Italy," said Rosy Bindi, a centre-left leader.

"Only Berlusconi's political cynicism, combined with the worst historic revisionism, could separate the shame of the racist laws from the Fascist dictatorship."

Italian laws enacted following the country's disastrous experience in the war forbid the encouragement of Fascism.

A candidate for local elections, Gianfranco Mascia, pledged that he and his supporters will present a formal complaint tomorrow to Italian prosecutors, seeking to have Berlusconi prosecuted.

Advocating aggressive nationalism, Mussolini used brutish force and populist appeal evoking ancient Rome's glories to achieve and keep his dictatorial grip on power, starting in the early 1920s and lasting well into the Second World War.

His Fascist "blackshirt" loyalists cracked down on dissidents, through beatings and jailings.

He encouraged big families to propagate the Italian population, established a sprawling state economy and erected monumental buildings and statues to evoke ancient Rome.

Mussolini sought to impose order on a generally individualistic-minded people, and Italians sometimes note trains ran on time during Fascism.

With dreams of an empire, he sent Italian troops on missions to attack or occupy foreign lands, including Ethiopia and Albania.

Eventually, Italian military failures in Africa and in Greece fostered rebellion among Fascist officials, and in 1943 he was placed under arrest by orders of the Italian king. His end came at the vengeful hands of partisan fighters who shot him and his mistress, and left their bodies to hang in a Milan square in April 1945.

Berlusconi's former government allies have included political heirs to neo-fascist movements admiring Mussolini.

In 2010, he told world leaders at a Paris conference that he had been reading Mussolini's journals, and years earlier Berlusconi had claimed that Mussolini "never killed anyone."

Berlusconi is running in the February 24-25 Parliamentary elections and has repeatedly changed his mind on whether he is seeking a fourth term as premier.

Monti is also running, but polls put him far behind front-runner Pier Luigi Bersani, a centre-left leader who supported Monti's austerity measures to save Italy from the Eurozone debt crisis.

Polls show about one-third of eligible voters are undecided.

AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage