Berlusconi heaps praise on Mussolini

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ROME -- 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 on Sunday held Holocaust remembrances.

Specifically, Berlusconi also defended Mussolini for allying himself with Hitler, saying the Italian dictator likely reasoned that it would be better to be on the winning side.

Berlusconi, a billionaire media titan, whose conservatives are polling second in voter surveys ahead of next month's election, spoke to reporters while a ceremony commemorating the Holocaust was taking place in Milan.

In 1938, before the outbreak of World War II, Mussolini's regime passed the so-called "racial laws," barring Jews from Italy's universities and many professions, among other bans. When Nazi Germany 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 (Italian) 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 "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 slaughtered in death camps.

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

Among those voicing condemnation were prominent Jewish figures around the world.

Mussolini "modeled his anti-Jewish laws after the Nazi Nuremberg Laws barring Jews from civil service," Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said in a statement.

"It is the height of revisionism to try to reinstate an Italian dictator who helped legitimize and prop up Hitler as a 'reincarnated good guy,'" said the rabbi, whose organization monitors anti-Semitic incidents worldwide.

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

Italy continues to have strong anti-fascist laws on the books. The laws, as was the case in the socialist countries of Eastern Europe after World War II, result from the disastrous experiences of Italians living under fascism. They make it illegal to mount any type of public defense of Fascism.

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

Hours later, Berlusconi issued a statement saying he "regretted" that he didn't make clear in his earlier comments that his historical analyses "are always based on condemnation of dictatorships," the Italian news agency LaPresse reported.

He also contended that the political left was trying to exploit his comment about Mussolini for election campaign fodder.

Advocating aggressive nationalism, Mussolini used brutish force evoking ancient Rome's glories to achieve and keep his dictatorial grip on power, starting in the early 1920s and lasting well into World War II. His Fascist "blackshirt" loyalists cracked down on progressives through beatings, jailings and murder.

He encouraged big families to propagate the Italian population and erected monumental buildings and statues to evoke ancient Rome.

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 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."

Photo: Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, foreground, in Milan, Italy, Jan. 27. Berlusconi says Benito Mussolini did much good, except for dictator's regime's anti-Jewish laws. Berlusconi called the laws Mussolini's "worst fault" but insisted that in many other things, "he did good." (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

 

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  • Whit episodes like this I'm sorry to be Italian

    Posted by Albino, 02/02/2013 10:32am (1 year ago)

  • A disgraceful performance by Berlusconi. The whole world should condemn his disgusting Mussolini, and, obviously, fascism itself.

    Posted by Rob Moir, 01/31/2013 7:53pm (1 year ago)

  • Billionaire media titan Berlusconi does fit in with the likes of Mussolini: Supporting fascism is the support of what Mussolini called the corporatist state.

    Posted by revolution123, 01/31/2013 6:58pm (1 year ago)

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