Controversy over spiked antifascist speech dominates Italy’s Liberation Day anniversary – Metro US

Controversy over spiked antifascist speech dominates Italy’s Liberation Day anniversary

Italy Liberation Day
Palestinian supporters hold a banner reading “Yesterday partisans, today antiZionists and antifascists” as they march on the occasion of the Liberation Day commemoration marking Italy’s liberation from Nazi occupation and fascist rule, in Rome, Thursday, April 25, 2024. (Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse via AP)

ROME (AP) — Italy on Thursday marked its liberation from Nazi occupation and fascist rule amid a fresh media controversy over suspected censorship and the legacy of Italian complicity in the Holocaust and World War II-era crimes.

Premier Giorgia Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party traces its roots to the neo-fascist movement that emerged after the fall of dictator Benito Mussolini, joined the Italian president at the tomb of the unknown soldier in Rome for the solemn Liberation Day commemoration.

This year’s anniversary was marked by a media storm over the decision by state-run RAI television to spike a planned Liberation Day monologue by an Italian author denouncing fascism and what he said was Meloni’s refusal to repudiate it.

The issue struck a nerve in Italy, where Meloni’s 2022 election as the first hard-right leader since World War II has revived criticism that Italians haven’t fully reckoned with their fascist past as ordinary Germans did with national socialism.

The suggestion that RAI censored Antonio Scurati’s monologue because it criticized Meloni, her party and lingering neo-fascist sentiment has dominated Italian news for days. In a bid to put the issue to rest, Meloni published Scurati’s essay itself on her Facebook page with an introduction accusing the left-wing opposition of concocting a scandal where none existed.

In the post, Meloni said she didn’t know what happened at RAI, but noted that the state-run broadcaster said it just didn’t want to pay Scurati 1,800 euros ($1,930) “for a one-minute monologue.”

The monologue, which was supposed to have been aired as part of RAI’s Liberation Day commemorations, recounted two well-known incidents: the June 10, 1924 assassination of Giacomo Matteotti, a Socialist lawmaker opposed to fascism by Mussolini hitmen; and the 1944 massacres of Italian civilians during the waning period of Nazi occupation.

“These two concomitant mournful anniversaries — spring of ’24, spring of ’44 — proclaim that fascism was throughout its historical existence — not only at the end or occasionally — an irredeemable phenomenon of systematic, murderous and massacre-fueled political violence,” Scurati’s essay said. “Will the heirs of that history recognize this for once? Everything, unfortunately, suggests that they will not.”

Meloni has tried to distance her Brothers of Italy party from its neo-fascist roots and has gone out of her way to forge ties with Italy’s Jewish community. Her forces have backed a long-delayed project for a Holocaust Museum and have strongly supported Israel, including in its current war in Gaza.

But the opposition has accused Meloni and her forces of refusing to firmly declare themselves “anti-fascist.”

In an Instagram post Thursday, Meloni again avoided using the term “anti-fascist.” But she celebrated how Liberation Day symbolized “the end of fascism” and “laid the foundations for the return of democracy.”

“We reaffirm our aversion to all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. Those of yesterday, which oppressed peoples in Europe and the world, and those of today, which we are determined to oppose with commitment and courage,” she wrote.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella, whose ceremonial position puts him above the political fray, took a harder line. After laying a wreath with Meloni at the tomb of the unknown soldier in Rome, he travelled to the Tuscan town of Civitella, site of a 1944 Nazi massacre of 244 civilians.

There, he demanded that Italians never forget the “Nazi-fascist barbarism” of World War II, including fascist propaganda and censorship that sought to deny the massacres, murders, deportations and other violations that took place on Italian soil.

“It is necessary — today and in the future — to remember those massacres and victims,” Mattarella said. “Without memory, there is no future.”

RAI has launched an internal investigation into the decision-making that led to the Scurati monologue being spiked. Scurati is the author of the prize-winning volume “M,” about Mussolini’s rise and its parallels with the present day.

Perhaps predictably, the suggestion that the state-run broadcaster spiked a text critical of Meloni’s governing party has only drawn attention to it, with calls for mayors to use their Liberation Day speeches this year to quote from it.

“At the root, there is a rule not to be forgotten,” commentator Aldo Grasso wrote in Corriere della Sera. “Once a text is censored, there is a strong risk that the text itself is no longer controllable and goes its own unpredictable way: the ‘boomerang effect.’”

The RAI controversy has further fueled tensions that were already high on a day traditionally that celebrates Italy’s Jewish community, given Israel’s war in Gaza and pro-Palestinian marches in Italy. But Italy’s association of partisans who fought against Nazi occupation and fascist forces planned to go ahead with marches, including one in Milan featuring Scurati.

“Long live the antifascist republic!” said this year’s Liberation Day banner of the National Association of Italian Partisans.