Italy marked the 50the anniversary of its liberation from fascism this week amid a political climate that resounded with strong echoes of the World War II conflict between the fascists and the resistance.
The April 25 celebrations this year came two days after local elections, whose official results showed surprise gains for the center – left parties and a sharp setback to the center-right allies of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Both Berlusconi’s Freedom Alliance and the former communist Democratic Party of the center-left each won just under 41 percent of the vote.
Rightist leader Gianfranco Fini acknowledged that his National Alliance had fared less well than it had hoped, with 14.1 percent of votes.
The elections, however, showed a country sharply — and almost evenly – - divided politically, 50 years after the end of the war.
On April 25, 1945, Italy’s anti-fascist partisan movement declared an insurrection in northern Italy, where dictator Benito Mussolini had set up a puppet government after being driven of Rome by the Allies.
Three days later, on April 25, Mussolini, his mistress Claretta Petacci and other fascist leaders were executed by partisans and their bodies were strung up in Milan’s Piazzale Loreto.
On Tuesday, church services, rallies and other events were held throughout Italy to mark the anniversary.
President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro began the day by paying homage in Rome to the 335 victims of the March 1944 Nazi massacre at the Ardeatine Caves.
The victims, who included 75 Jews, were executed by the Nazis in reprisal for a partisan attack that killed 33 Nazi stormtroopers.
The massacre is regarded as the worst was crime to have taken place in Italy.
Scalfaro later issued an appeal for national unity during a mass rally of 100,000 people in Milan’s Duomo Square. “This is a day of celebration for the entire Italian people,” he said. “History cannot be changed, and only respect for the truth should be the basis of reconciliation.”
Recent political changes in Italy, and particularly the rise of conservative forces allied with Berlusconi, have opened debate about the wartime conflict between the anti-fascist resistance and supporters of Mussolini’s fascist government.
Berlusconi, who resigned in December rather than face a no-confidence vote, was elected prime minister last year after forging a coalition that included the National Alliance party, which includes former neo-fascists.
Fini, the National Alliance leader, was for years the leader of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement.
Conservatives have been urging that the April 25 holiday be a commemoration of Italians on both sides — fascists as well as resistance fighters — who fell while fighting for their widely disparate visions of Italy.
There have also been calls that April 25 should be a day of reconciliation granting dignity to both sides.
“It’s enough that we recognize the dignity of those who died,” said Pino Rauti, a hardline neo-fascist leader who refused to go along with Fini’s transformation of the National Alliance into a more mainstream conservative party.
Opponents of the right urged that the anniversary be an occasion to speak out against Berlusconi, Fini and their policies and to reaffirm the anti-fascist stand of the wartime resistance as the bedrock of Italy’s postwar political development.