ROME, Nov. 25 (JTA) — A plan by the mayor of a town in Sicily to name a street in honor of Italy´s wartime fascist dictator Benito Mussolini is drawing protests. The Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned the proposal, launched by Mayor Guido Costa of the town of Tremestieri Etneo. In a letter to Interior Minister Claudio Scajola, the Wiesenthal Center´s director for international liaison, Shimon Samuels, called on the Italian government to prevent what he termed a "horrific proposal." "Such an action is not only an offense to the victims of Italian fascism, but also an encouragement to neo-Nazis all over Europe," Samuels wrote. "Italy must not set this model for the younger generations." Wrote the left-wing Italian paper L´Unita: "Italy is returning to fascism." Costa is a member of the right-wing National Alliance Party, which is a part of the ruling center-right coalition government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The National Alliance traces its roots back to Mussolini´s fascists and the postwar neo-fascist party, the Italian Social Movement. During the past decade, National Alliance leaders have sought to distance the party from its fascist origins. Critics, however, have warned that many rank-and-file members remain loyal to a far-right ideology. In an interview last week, Costa in fact described himself as a "fascist" and called Mussolini a "great man." Costa´s decision to name a street for Mussolini "is only the latest in a series of similar initiatives taken at the local level by members of the National Alliance who have evidently remained at heart militants" of the Italian Social Movement, the Milan daily Corriere della Sera wrote Sunday. The newspaper termed these initiatives "mistaken and provocative" and called on the National Alliance leadership to condemn them, rather than maintain an "embarrassing silence." There have been several recent attempts in various parts of Italy to name streets for leading fascist officials. At least some of these were aborted after public protests. Mussolini came to power in 1922 and ruled Italy for more than two decades. As Nazi Germany´s closest ally in Europe, he instituted harsh anti-Semitic laws in 1938. He was executed by anti-fascists in 1945 shortly before the end of World War II. During the past several years, Italy has seen a wave of nostalgia for the Mussolini era — a development that has alarmed some observers. Mussolini´s tomb in his hometown of Predappio in central Italy has become a pilgrimage site for extremists.
JTA Staff This article was posted by JTA staff.