“Whoever differs from us, be it a foreign or a political opponent, is seen inevitably as evil. History has to help us to be cured from this. It is a vast experience of human varieties, a long encounter between human beings. Our life, as science, has all to benefit from this fraternal meeting” ~ Marc Bloch, Apology of History
The aim of this article is to, after having provided a background of the 20th century and in particular the 1943-1945 period, make topical the historical debate revolving around the historical phenomenon of Italian Resistance and its actualization nowadays in civil and political everyday life. The 25th of April, one of the most important Italian holidays that celebrates the liberation from Fascism and the German occupation, still tends to divide rather than bring together the national population. It is no mystery that political nostalgia for the old days of Fascism is still consolidated in many souls of Italians. Now as back then, due to a time of mass migration and deep socio-economic uncertainty, the despise for democracy and its supposedly ineffective institutions still undermines constructive interaction between the far-right extremists and the rest. Casapound, whose foundation was inspired by the Fascist endorser and American writer Ezra Pound, is a legal political party in Italy that openly praises Benito Mussolini and the Fascist ideology. In the post-war years, with the de-fascistisation of the country still in process, neo-Fascist political formations grouped around the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), later given continuity by Alleanza Nazionale (AN), rose from the dead ashes of the Duce and his legacy. What are the causes that led to the protest against the celebration of values of democracy, political liberty and ability to make free and independent life choices that the Resistance movement is supposed to fully exemplify.
The historical period corresponding to the very last years of World War Two had been dense of diverging political ideologies and experiences, such as Fascism, Nazism, Socialism and Communism. These often opposing ‘projects of modernity’, as the British sociologist Gerard Delanty has named them, have clashed violently, especially during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. In this crucial time, the process of industrialization, which gained momentum in Italy only from the beginning of the 20th century, led to a central key role played by the masses in the new political scenario. The first half of the past century can be unanimously considered the darkest period in Old Continent’s history, as two devastating World Wars were fought on the European soil and brutal and repressive dictatorships were established at the expense of democracy and its values. Violence, and the ability to exercise through ‘legitimised’ means, became the predominant political mean adopted by authoritarian leaders such as Mussolini and Hitler to lay the foundation of their way to power. Both in Italy and Germany the claim made was that the use of violence was functional to the (re)establishment of law and order in the nation, which was composed by an integral and cohesive population. According to them, the nation and the people that composed it shared a common destiny, excluding the possibility of an alternative politico-historical pattern to that propelled by the Fascist and Nazi regimes. Therefore, as all the people were considered part of an overarching socio-economic, cultural and political project, they did not have the right to freely choose for themselves and their lives. ‘Il Duce ha sempre ragione’, ‘The Duce (Mussolini) is always right’, was the motto of Fascist Italy, as he perfectly personified the true essence of the Italian nation and thus the collective will of the people. Mussolini embodied the myth of the ancient Roman Empire the strong and vigorous man loyal to the nation-state, core tenets on which the Fascist ideology was laid upon. Before Mussolini came to power and during the twenty years of Fascist rule, between 1924 and 1944/5, every dissident of the regime, including religious figures, citizens, and political opponents, was either physically threatened or killed (or both) by the Fascist squads. The latter were patrols of civilians who embraced the Fascist political ideology and wanted to eliminate anyone who stood in its way to the power.
The Choice of Opposing the Fascist-Nazi Regime Political Status Quo: Resistenza
The so-called ‘short twentieth century’, an organic historical framework firstly defined by Eric Hobsbawm stretching from 1914 to 1989, has been characterized by man’s radical choices, that define his existential path, as they represent an in or out and are often irreversible. In a political spectrum in which extremisms were predominant, it follows that a single decision uncompromisingly determined which political side people took. As we simplify the complexity of history, we risk to be anachronistic in approaching it and reducing it to mere categories of classification. Above all, history is made by the people who live in that specific time period and might not be fully aware of what is occurring around them. People might not be aware of the consequences of their actions or non-actions. In the aftermath of the 8 September 1943 armistice, signed with the Anglo-Americans, Italy entered a period of politico-military chaos, since the Italian troops were not given any precise order on how to behave and if they had either to fight with or against the Nazi-Fascists. Towards the end of September 1943, Italy was divided into the southern-central part, controlled by the Reign of Italy, supported by the Allies and the northern-central part was controlled by the ‘Repubblica di Salò’, a newly formed puppet Fascist state under the Nazi rule. In this complex and controversial historical setting, we can detect the fundamental difference between those who want to change the existing status quo, and thus make independent and even risky choices, and those who passively accept it and do not take actions. The Partisans embraced the arms and began to oppose the Nazi-Fascist regimes through the guerrilla warfare, giving rise to the so called ‘Resistenza’ (Resistance). The Resistenza has represented a crucial life changing experience for many young people (some of them were even eighteen years old), as they decided to fight to upheld and (re)establish the values of freedom, democracy and patriotism in which they firmly believed in. Within this multifaceted and controversial politico-historical phenomenon, according to the historian Claudio Pavone, we can distinguish three different conflicts. First of all, the Resistenza was a patriotic war, because it strove to liberate the country from Nazi domination. It can be considered a civil war between the Partisans and the Fascists who remained loyal to the Repubblica di Salò. Additionally, it also represents an inter-class war between the workers and the Communists against the capitalist and landowning classes who supported Fascism. Moreover, differently from what it is commonly believed, the Partisans belonged to different political backgrounds: there were the Communist, the Catholic, and the laic defenders of the Republic. In a situation of deep crisis of the state institutions, these people decided, motivated by different driving forces, to not obey the repressive regime anymore and to commit themselves to the liberation of their land. In a historical context where anomie prevailed, violence still represented the most widespread mean to affirm authority and dominance. Violence always generates other violence and due to this the brave who firmly decide to resist oppressive dictatorships often are obliged to respond with the same weapon. In times when laws and rules are absent, credit must be given to those who constructively destruct the political order which caused the life of so many civilians and innocent people who obstructed it. Similarly to the Fascists, the Partisans, whose composition was very diverse, did not indeed use half measures in dealing with their political opponents, the Fascists, but also their internal enemies. A historical event in particular conveys the complexity of the Resistance movement due to its internal fragmentation. Between the 7th and the 18th of February 1945, in Friuli Venetia Giulia, at the border with Slovenia, one of the saddest moments of Italian history was witnessed: the Porzus’ massacre. In these long contended lands, members of a Partisan formation closely connected with the Italian Communist Party and Tito’s groups murdered seventeen members of the Catholic and laic-socialist partisan group called Brigata Osoppo. Only this year, after seventy-two years of voluntary violence, Anpi, the Italian Partisans’ national association, has made an official visit to this terrible historical site, on which mystery still flutters. This leads to one of the main reasons, apart from these tragic events, for which the 25th of April is often dismissed by large portion of the Italian population. With the intention of counteracting the forcedly imposed Italianisation by Mussolini during the Fascist regime in the regions of Friuli Venezia and Dalmatia, the Yugoslav Partisans loyal to Tito carried out an ethnic cleansing by throwing them in the Foibe, deep natural sinkholes. Thousands of Italian families, most of whom were Fascism’s adherents, were unjustly killed simply because of their nationality and thus their supposed political faith, often imposed upon them. As Communist Partisans were Tito’s accessories and supporting armed groups, the PCI, the Italian Communist Party, for almost forty years on the highest ranks of the political scene, has long been accused of a silence which refused to condemn these crimes against humanities. As the Foibe massacres are not regarded worthy of a national anniversary, a deeper fault line breached between the ones who cherish the 25th of April and the discontent ones who reject it, as they perceive it a politically biased celebration of antifascism.
Our today’s duty as Italian Citizens: Antifascism
The bottom line is the core values and principles that we cherish today as Italian people, united in standing against the barbarities perpetrated by the Nazi-Fascist regimes during the Second World War. The peculiar fact is that many Italians still do not celebrate the 25th of April. This is due to the fact that they tend to associate the celebration of antifascism with Communism, or their ancient relatives had been adherents of the Fascist regime during its entire course. The Resistance movement was indeed a socio-politico movement that did not involve the majority of the Italian population. Southern Italy’s population, with few scattered exceptions, did not take part in it. The radically different historical paths which the north and the south of Italy took proven by the opposite outcomes at the 1946 institutional Referendum, during which the Italian people were asked to choose between republic and monarchy. Whereas in the north of the country the republic won with 68 % of votes, in the South the monarchy prevailed with 64 %, conveying the idea of a deeply divided country. The Resistance movement, from which southern Italy was unfortunately in large parts excluded from, symbolized the clash between the new liberal and democratic Italy and the old Italy of Fascism and monarchy, completely disintegrated by the war and the military loss. The Resistance laid the politico-historical and socio-cultural foundations of the Italian Constitution. The latter is indeed a mixture of the Socialist-Communist, Catholic and Laic-Liberal political beliefs and values that were restored in our country in this time period after almost twenty years of imprisonment. Everyone, not just a part of the Italian population, ought to celebrate this day as a collective moral rebirth against oppression and tyranny. As it is historically incorrect to assess the Resistance solely as a revolutionary war, it is equally wrong to devalue due to fact not everyone was patriotic or inspired by the love for freedom. In my opinion, everyone who feels to cherish the antifascist values of political liberty and liberalism, freedom of expression, democratic debate, the dignity of all people and even equal opportunities and rights for women, is invited to celebrate this day with the Italian people. Fascist is not necessarily someone who is nostalgic of Mussolini and/or Hitler, but whoever is racist, sexist, homophobic, makes of use of verbal and physical violence, affirms the superiority of his/her nation over others and thus the necessity to colonize inferior populations, despises certain national minorities. Trump in the U.S., Putin in Russia, Erdogan in Turkey, Orban in Hungary, Modi in India, Duterte in the Philipinnes and the 22 % (more than 1/5) of votes obtained by the FN in the French elections, have to function as a warn of the worldwide rise of Fascist authoritarianism and thus urge to upheld the legacy of antifascism and its values that was given us. Antifascism does not belong to any political ideology or party, it represents the very basis of our every day political, social and civil life as world citizens.