ROME—The crypt holding the remains of Benito Mussolini in his hometown of Predappio in northern Italy has for years drawn neofascists and other sympathizers who come to pay their ill-guided respects to Italy’s father of Fascism.
And even while images from across the world have shown that old monuments to worse times are being torn down, in Italy things are very different. Just this month, Mussolini’s descendants applied to the town council to make his tomb into a national monument, citing the number of people it draws each year and the tourism dollars in the way of fascist souvenirs that are sold in the small town. The Mussolini family thought that the taxpayers should foot the bill to maintain it and pay the annual cemetery dues.
The cemetery is open year-round but the crypt is only open to visitors on the day of Mussolini’s birth, death, and his October march on Rome in 1922. There has never been a year when no one showed up, the Mussolini family has argued, citing the need for the city to pay for attendees to open it to the public year-round.
Mussolini’s granddaughter Alessandra, herself a right-wing politician, has asked the mayor of Predappio to give the tomb what is called “monumental” status, and the family lawyer published a letter in the local newspaper pleading that elevating the tomb’s status is in Italy’s “clear interest” to accommodate the “constant flow of devotees” who pay homage to their idol.
The town will make its decision in September but its right-wing mayor, Roberto Canali, has hinted he doesn’t see a problem. “It will help the cafés, restaurants and shops in the town,” he told local media.
The former left-wing mayor Giorgio Frassineti disagreed in an open letter. “We are talking about a dictator who passed racial laws and ruined the country—it’s unacceptable,” he wrote. “This is all about money. The family are saying to the mayor: if you want the tomb open every day, you pay for it.”
Before losing to his right-wing successor, Frassineti had secured €3.5 million in private and state funding to open a research center to study the ills of Fascism. The proposal was strongly opposed by the Mussolini family and scrapped by Canali.
The request to make Mussolini’s tomb a legitimate tourist attraction comes on the heels of a request to establish a Museum of Fascism in Rome, which was handily turned down by the city’s mayor Virginia Raggi last week. The original proposal claimed that similar museums in Germany showcase Nazi crimes without glorifying them. The association of the partisans of Italy who fought Fascism said there was no assurance that it would not instead draw devotees. “We can only imagine how many people will be eager to show that Fascism also did some good things for Italy,” they said in a statement.
Sympathy for Fascism is alive and well in Italy, the association said, pointing to the fact that there are people who “have no shame in quoting Mussolini” and that there are politicians who look back on the fascist era with nostalgia.
The museum proposal was submitted by Maria Gemma Guerrini, a member of the Five Star movement just like the mayor of Rome. She had hoped to revitalize an old industrial building and provide records for scholars, Italians, and “tourists from around the world.”
The mayor quickly shot down the plan.“Rome is an anti-Fascist city,” Raggi said. “There must be no misunderstandings about that.”
Fascist symbols and architecture from Mussolini’s time are easily visible in Rome, including a giant obelisk that still bears Mussolini’s name at the Olympic stadium and a forest with DUX for “il Duce” as he was called, carved out and visible from the city . While the rest of the world has toppled their statues to racism, they have never been under threat and have needed no protection at all.