By: Kathleen Hughes, foreign correspondent
I recently went to a soccer game in Rome, Italy and, on my way to enter the stadium, I passed by an obelisk with the name Mussolini engraved in large letters on the front. I was shocked that a monument dedicated to such an infamous dictator was still standing and that people were causally going about their night without paying much attention to it. A few weeks later, I revisited that same obelisk with my fascism class and learned a little more about why Italians chose not to remove most of the fascist symbols and monuments in Rome.
The main reason, according to most Italians, has to do with the sheer number of fascist symbols throughout the city. It was supposedly impossible for Italy to simultaneously recover from Mussolini’s dictatorship and undertake the task of stripping the entire city of Rome of every remnant of fascist Italy. However, my professor, an Italian himself, told us that the true underlying reason that Italy has still not removed all of the fascist monuments concerns a lack of responsibility for what happened under Mussolini’s dictatorship. Many Italians believe that minimizing the impact of these fascist symbols will make the world forget the horrors of fascist Italy.
Even as we stood there, learning more about the Italian outlook on the past, I noticed a couple of flowers placed at the base of Mussolini’s obelisk. When I pointed them out to my professor, he told us how it is becoming impossible for these symbols and monuments to not have significant meaning in Italian society. He went on to state that, at this point, they are only inciting a surge of unhealthy nationalism, rather than acting as a neutral reminder of the past.
My professor’s theory on this phenomenon reminded me of the current political argument concerning the confederate monuments and flags that still infiltrate the American south. As America struggles to set a precedent of not honoring men who fought in the name of violating human rights, a strong push back from radical nationalists, including the public reappearance of the KKK, has made the efforts messy and controversial. I wonder if Italy sees this conflict and prefers to stay passive, rather than risk having a public showdown with those Italians who still salute to Mussolini’s obelisk.
Whatever the reason, it seems Italy is not ready to address the issue of fascist symbols. Those who attempt to do so are in the minority and are often beaten down by Italian officials who claim fascist monuments and symbols hold important cultural significance as art forms.
This trend of countries refusing to denounce symbols that are rooted in inhumane values is verging on dangerous and must be addressed by the people. If we want to avoid repeating history, we need to take a stand now and reevaluate the kind of emotions that these symbols are igniting.