Recently I started reading a web site about archeology and history in Rome entitled ROMA ARCHEOLOGICA & RESTAURO ARCHITETTURA. A very interesting site, mostly in Italian language with articles and photos from various Italian papers and from archeologists. I often say that Rome does not change, you could have been in Rome 100 years ago and return now, you probably would not see much change except for the obvious cars and traffic, modern lights and other modern conveniences. Otherwise the street scape is the same. Romans and Italians in general keep everything if it is connected to history. It is almost a religion and is the source of a lot of discussions amongst many people of different social background.
In the last few weeks a furious debate has been taking place, the President of the Italian Parliament Laura Boldrini a member of the Left wing Ecology green party suggested that she would endeavour to have the word DUX for Duce the title of the late Benito Mussolini who was Prime Minister of Italy from 1923-1943 and dictator removed from the giant obelisk in the Foro Italico formerly known as Foro Mussolini.
The Foro was built in 1933 to mark the ten years in power of Mussolini and his Fascist Italian Party. This Foro, the word means plaza or Forum gathering place was built with large stadiums and other building for the Fascist Party. Though Mussolini was ousted from power by his own party in July 1943 in a vote and was later executed by the Italian Communist Partisans in 1945, his memory and shadow still occupy an important place in Italian Politics. The Foro renamed Italico is as it was when it was built and is the site of the Olympic Stadium, the games were held in Rome in 1960.
Many tourists seeing this giant obelisk to the fallen Fascist dictator and ally of Adolf Hitler are amazed that it is still standing tall and no one has lifted a finger to remove it.
Miss Laura Boldrini in Parliament used her position as President of the Chamber of Deputies to demand that the word DUX be removed from this monument. This provoked a debate that is still raging, how dare she make such a demand and it is none of her business to attack the memory of Mussolini and his monument. Many Italians believe firmly that Mussolini il Duce was a great man and did great things for Italy. He was in power for 20 years after all and he did in the first ten years do quite a few things to help the Italian economy and poor peasants, he launched many giant infrastructure works and introduced measures which benefited quite a few people. On the other hand he was ruthless and his rule was violent and he associated himself with Hitler after some initial hesitation, this alliance led to his downfall and to a war Italy could not fight nor win.
Though for us Mussolini is clearly a bad guy on the wrong side of history, Italians do not see it that way. Il Duce is part of history now and for better or for worse he occupies an important place in 20th century Italian history. Also Italians have 3000 years of history, Rome the Eternal City is 2768 years old this week. They had quite a few bad rulers before Mussolini, so they have experience which in their minds balance things out. Will Ms Boldrini get her way, that is far from certain, the obelisk and the inscription has been standing for 82 years so what is the problem.
It is sure that in any other country, subsequent governments would do all they can to erase and obscure the past when dealing with a difficult topic like a ruler who engaged in a war of aggression and who committed crimes against Humanity. But in Italy it is only a foot note at this point. More importantly has many newspaper articles and politicians have remarked to erase words on a monument does not change the past nor make it more palatable. It should be remembered that Rome is a city were building a single subway line is 12 years late and 2.5 billion Euros over budget, still no one cares much because this delay was cause by the fact that the sub-soil of Rome is littered with artefacts of its Imperial past. In Italy you do not touch history nor its buildings or monuments. Look at the Mausoleum of Augustus the first Emperor and nephew of Julius Cesar. A fortune is being spent on restoring it and creating a new piazza with renowned architects designing the site. After all Romans will point out that Octavian later Augustus, known to be by historians as one of the best Emperors for the quality of his long rule, was voted by the Senate of Rome the titles of Imperator, Father of the Country, Prince and after his death he became a god. Surely this is important enough 2001 years after his death in 14 AD to clean and restore his giant Mausoleum. I do not think that this kind of logic would work here but it does in Italy.
Every country has its own peculiarities and this is just one of them with Italians. I remember Canadians trying to argue with Italians about Mussolini and pointing out that he was a Fascist and a dictator, that he was terrible only to be told calmly by Romans that Mussolini did make mistakes, lots of them, but that happened when he was old and tired, after 1938, surely he can be forgiven. There is also the fact which is unescapable when in Rome, that you may criticize Italy and Italians and many things you see but never forget that for a Roman you are a foreigner and Rome is the Capital of the World, nothing compares to it, even today.
Of course you also have lots of Italians who agree with Ms Boldrini and her wish to erase the memory of Il Duce and cast them in the proper light in terms of their responsibility in the Second World War and the terrible impact it had on Italy and the world. I suppose you have to be Italian to understand why this fierce debate is taking place between Ms. Boldrini, her allies and opponents in Parliament in Rome and in the Italian Media.