Honour the Victims, Not the Criminal
Above: RALLY in Affile to oppose Graziani mausoleum and park, photo by Claudio Proietti.
Below: GRAZIANI (second from right) with Himmler (fourth from right), Heydrich (second from left) and other Nazis and fascists at the funeral of police chief Bocchini, Rome, November 21, 1940,.
UEFA is due to decide next month what to do about racist chants by fans of Rome club Lazio at their match with Spurs. Such behaviour by Lazio fans is nothing new. The Italian club has long had organised fascist gangs on its terraces, and former star player Paolo de Canio who made his name with his fascist salutes was a member of one of them.
"I'm not a racist, I'm a fascist", Di Canio insisted a few years ago. He declared his admiration for Mussolini who had been "much misunderstood". So far as I know his politics have not changed since he came into British football, which to a non-fan like me puts the fuss over what someone may have said in a heated exchange on the pitch into a curious context. Still, who knows, if the Swindon Town manager keeps upsetting people the way he did some of his own club's fans, he might end up doing some ankle stretching exercises just like his deeply misunderstood hero.
Lazio takes its name from the province around Rome, and that's where, about 50 km from the capital, there's a town called Affile where some people have found another way of saluting fascism.
A mausoleum and park, dedicated to the memory of Fascist Field Marshall Rodolfo Graziani, has recently been opened in Affile, at a cost of €127,000 to local taxpayers. The mayor Ercole Viri has expressed hope that the site will become as ‘famous and as popular as Predappio’ – the burial place of Mussolini which has become a shrine to neo-Fascists.
Graziani was Mussolini’s commander in colonial wars in Ethiopia and Libya where he carried out massacres and used chemical weapons against the native populations. In Libya in the 1920s he became known as ‘the Butcher of Fezzan’. He was directly responsible for suppressing the Senussi uprisings, and for the construction of concentration and labour camps. He was also directly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Libyans including Omar Mukhtar in eastern Libya.
From 1935 to 1936, Graziani conducted the invasion of Ethiopia before becoming viceroy of Italian East Africa and governor-general of Addis Ababa in 1937. In an attempt to consolidate Italian control over the country, Graziani’s occupation army murdered up to 30,000 civilians in just three days in February 1937. Eyewitness accounts tell of how Italian soldiers doused houses with petrol and set fire to them.
In the same month, Graziani ordered the massacre of the monks and pilgrims at the ancient monastery of Debre Libanos. In May, he was responsible for the assassination of up to 3,000 Ethiopian intellectuals. For these actions, Graziani earned his second title: ‘the Butcher of Ethiopia’.
As Mussolini’s minister of defence in 1943, Graziani was responsible for putting down dissent in the Nazis’ puppet Salo republic, drafting a decree, which threatened any Italian who refused to serve in the army with execution. Many were killed as a result.
In 1943, Gollancz published a book called The Trial of Mussolini, which pretended to be a verbatim report of the Italian dictator's trial - which never came - and featured a number of prominent British politicians and newspaper owners like Lord Rothermere of the Daily Mail, whom Musso was able to call as character witnesses for his defence, quoting things they had said in his support before the war. It was written by "Cassius" - a pen name used by Michael Foot.
But Mussolini never faced such a trial, and nor did Graziani - even though he was among eight Italians against whom the UN War Crimes Commission agreed there was a prima facie case. We are bound to wonder whether Libyans and Ethiopians were seen as lesser breeds, against whom crimes could not only be forgiven, but forgotten. That is what people in these African countries who know thier history may well suspect.
In 1950, an Italian military tribunal condemned Graziani to 19 years for collaborating with Nazis. He served only four months. He was never prosecuted for specific war crimes. In the 1950s until his death, he was the head of the neo-Fascist Italian Social Movement party, the MSI. In the years of the Cold War when the NATO allies feared that Italy, with its strong Communist Party and unions might prove a weak link, they were inclined to see the fascists, including their terrorist wing, as a possible asset.
Nowadays, when Italy's far Right appears as arrogant and violent as ever, celebrating a fascist war criminal as a national hero is bound to give them a shrine to rally around, and encourage their actions. It is not just an insult to past victims but a threat to others roday.
Fortunately, in Italy and other countries a campaign is under way to oppose the Affile mausoleum and say that Graziani and other leading fascists ought not to be honoured. There have been demonstrations in Affile itself and at Italian embassies in London and elsewhere. A petition circulating online says:
We, the undersigned, condemn unequivocally this atrocious use of public money to celebrate a war criminal and a Nazi collaborator.
Furthermore, we call upon the European Union and our own governments to use current European and international legislation to:
(1) Demand that the Italian government and the Mayor of Affile issue an apology for allowing the memory of Graziani’s victims to be desecrated in this way
(2) Demand that the Italian government and the Mayor of Affile remove all allusions to Graziani, both direct and indirect, from the memorial
(3) Demand that the Italian government and the Mayor of Affile dedicate the memorial to all those in Italy and around the world who gave their lives in the struggle against Fascism
(4) Demand that the Italian government and the Mayor of Affile install a specific memorial at the site which commemorates those Africans who died resisting Italian occupation of their countries
There is a Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/Neverforgetcampaign
And a website: www.neverforgetcampaign.wordpress.com