When electioneering trumps history

Italy’s former PM Berlusconi was a guest of honour at last Sunday’s opening of a new memorial inaugurated in Milan’s main station where the Milan-Auschwitz trains left with hundreds of Jews who would never come back. At the inauguration Berlusconi tried to distance Italy’s wartime leaders from the Nazi war crimes and implied that apart from the criminal racial laws, Mussolini also did a lot of good things for Italy. There are several issues with this affirmation. First of all, it is true that Mussolini did some good things for Italy, in fact so did Hitler for Germany (emerging from the Weimar hyperinflation depression, for example) or Stalin in the USSR, or indeed every dictator in his time. If they didn’t do anything good, they wouldn’t be around for long. The second issue is that it is historically not correct to say that Mussolini was forced to adopt the racial laws by Nazi Germany. Mussolini did so in 1938 before the alliance with Hitler. Finally, even if many Italians think that during the Duce’s time, trains ran on time, how inappropriate to commend Mussolini on the day of memory of the holocaust while inaugurating a holocaust memorial.

Because Berlusconi is a very smart man, we have to assume that this wasn’t a gaffe, but a thoughtful comment designed to impress the extreme right wing electorate. In so doing, however, he may have alienated even more middle of the roaders who will frown at voting for such a coalition.