Berlusconi defends Mussolini for backing Hitler
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.
Berlusconi also defended Mussolini for allying himself with Hitler, saying he likely reasoned that it would be better to be on the winning side.
The media mogul, whose conservative forces are polling second in voter surveys ahead of next month's election, spoke to reporters on the sidelines of a ceremony in Milan to commemorate the Holocaust.
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 Germany's Nazi regime 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 that "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 killed.
Outrage, along with a demand that Berlusconi be prosecuted for promoting Fascism, quickly followed his words.
Among those voicing condemnation were prominent Jewish figures abroad.
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."
Italian laws enacted following the country's disastrous experience in the war forbid the 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 and populist appeal evoking ancient Rome's glories to achieve and keep his dictatorial grip on power, starting in the early '20s and lasting well into World War II. His Fascist "blackshirt" loyalists cracked down on dissidents, through beatings and jailings.
He encouraged big families to propagate the Italian population, established a sprawling state economy and erected monumental buildings and statues to evoke ancient Rome. Mussolini sought to impose order on a generally individualistic-minded people, and Italians sometimes note trains ran on time during Fascism.
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 vengeful 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."
Berlusconi is running in Feb. 24-25 Parliamentary elections and has repeatedly changed his mind on whether he is seeking a fourth term as premier. Monti is also running, but polls put him far behind front-runner Pier Luigi Bersani, a center-left leader who supported Monti's austerity measures to save Italy from the Eurozone debt crisis.
Polls show about one-third of eligible voters are undecided.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rossi: Crosby, Malkin didn’t sign on for this
- Penguins’ Malkin: ‘We’re not a championship team’
- Penguins eliminated with Game 5 overtime loss to Rangers
- Cole shuts down Diamondbacks as Pirates open road trip with victory
- First Amendment experts decry Plum authorities’ warning to students
- Fleury valiant in defeat
- All Pennsylvanians to pay more, GOP gleans from report on Wolf’s tax plan
- Pittsburgh man identified as Manchester shooting victim
- 2 Hempfield Area students charged with sexting
- Rangers’ defensive plan against Penguins was unwavering
- Pitt introduces Barnes as athletic director