Italians… Mussolini has returned?

A declassed petty bourgeoisie, frightened by the perception of a foreign invasion; a party that invokes the antipolitical and suspicious of the activity of the Parliament in a climate of decomposition and economic crisis. Much noise: from sabres and propaganda speakers. And, at the end of the stairs of the Quirinal Palace, a strong man with a list of ministers under his arm. A century later, Italy looks back in search of some answers while a certain fascination for Benito Mussolini is reborn in bookstores, television and cinema. A cultural phenomenon that coincides with a resurgence of fascist parties (CasaPound, Forza Nuova…) and a climate in which many perceive the aroma of Italy that cooked the monster between 1919 and 1921. The return, beyond the share of nostalgic, is articulated around a fictionalized biography that has dispatched more than 100,000 copies since September and has managed to unseat some weeks to the very same Francesco Totti in the charts.

M. Il figlio del secolo (Bompiani, 2018), the monumental work of Antonio Scurati -thought of as the first part of a trilogy of which a series is already underway- stormed the bookstores four months ago. His 839 pages and the novel approach to a figure about which, in reality, there were few mysteries to be solved did not invite commercial euphoria. But the author was clear about the key to a work that will now translate into 20 languages ​​(in Spain it will be published by Alfaguara) and has covered the television talk shows. “No one had dared to narrate the conquest of Mussolini’s power without prejudice, a taboo prevented him from doing so. It was almost 100 years since the founding of fascism and it was fair that it fell, that one could count on the ruthless and unprejudiced freedom of literature. It had always been a story based on antifascist prejudice. The sentence as absolute evil came before any speech. First, you had to declare yourself antifascist. And it was necessary, of course: the Italian Republic is based on that. But the new antifascism, the new formative story of a democratic conscience cannot be based on ideological prejudice. It must be equidistant, as do art and literature. The sentence comes after reading, not before”, says Scurati.

The author studied that period for five years and built a fast-paced story about the rise to power of an ex-socialist corroded by resentment and the only weapons of a newspaper (Il Popolo d’Italia) and a group of squads that sowed terror in a discredited society. All the thoughts and reflections of the young Mussolini are based on his speeches and articles, in conversations verified by the author. There are fragments of newspapers and official reports. The story is sewn on the basis of tiny historiographic remnants of those days. But, still, there was a risk in his eyes. “I armed myself with very rigorous processes. Each character, event, joke, each speech would be historically documented or contrasted. I did not grant myself the freedom of invention. If there is a scene where Mussolini blasphemes, there are at least three testimonies that confirm it“, he says.

But in 2018 there were more approaches to the Duce. Luca Miniero’s film Sono Tornato was also released successfully, based on the film that parodied Hitler’s return to contemporary Germany. In this case, a disoriented Mussolini landed in Rome and ended up becoming a television star. Before finishing the year, the Romanzo di Benito (Utet, 2018) came to bookstores, a work about all the false myths about the Italian dictator built by Pasquale Chessa. Whitening the monster?

Some, like the historian Donatella Di Cesare, think that for years Mussolini has continued to enjoy in Italy a benevolent look that separated his achievements from his mistakes. “The narrative in the immediate postwar period and in subsequent decades has been very justifying,” he says. But the new magnetism of the dictator, beyond the emergence of fascist phenomena for millennials in Italy such as CasaPound (with aggressions included), is explained by other factors.

Paolo Mieli, former director of Il Corriere della Sera and essayist, points to three reasons. “First, the coincidences between some things that happen today and in the era that preceded the appearance of Mussolini: disorder, disorientation and fear. We have the impression that this will help us understand the current time and policy. In addition, Mussolini and Hitler have always been described as horrible phenomena, but it is never possible to understand how consensus could be so high, also internationally. The third element is due to Scurati’s book: a very voluminous work, but written as a novel that allows approaching the most secret and complex parts in an understandable way. Until now accessible books were too superficial, and the complete ones were difficult to read, “he says.

Italy is going through a democratic nebula in which its minister of the Interior and leader of the party with the most support in all the polls is dressed as a policeman, is photographed with condemned football ultras and paraphrases Mussolini all the time with some of his slogans. He is often heard the “Me ne frego” [something like I sweat it], “Io tiro dritto” [I go forward], “Chi si ferma è perduto” [the one who stops is lost] or “Tanti nemici, tanto onore” [so many enemies, so much honor]. But are there real similarities between the two periods? Scurati believes that there will be no more Mussolini, but points out: “It all started with a few professionals of violence, artists like Marinetti … but he was accompanied by the petty bourgeoisie that felt impoverished, betrayed by politics, disgusted by corruption, bewildered for the parliamentary games … The statements of Gabriele D’Annunzio and Mussolini against what happened in Parliament remind us of what we hear now. Today’s leaders speak the same language.”

Emilio Gentile, one of the greatest experts and author of more than a dozen books about that period, believes that all this sounds like commercial hyperbole. Gentile, who has not read Scurati’s book, maintains that the comparison with the present is meaningless. “All this is a fad that will happen. Today there is this journalistic and advertising game of talking about a return of fascism that is not absolutely possible. Not even in other ways like ‘the eternal fascism’ to which Umberto Eco referred. To speak of a return to that is ridiculous and to sustain it continuously means that antifascism is continually defeated. And that is a lie. Antifascism won in 1945. What strikes me as a person who has studied this subject for 50 years is that Mussolini does not present any mysterious character. He was extroverted, he wrote a lot about himself. There is no explanation for the comparison beyond that of bringing it closer to the model of strong men who go around the world today. ” But the new commercial magnetism of M., waiting this year for a television series (from the producers of The Young Pope ) and the other two chapters of the trilogy, is not over.

Unauthorized translation of the original article in Spanish, published on January 20, 2019, in the newspaper El País by Daniel Verdú.

Source: Italianos… ¿Mussolini ha vuelto?

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