National holiday today to celebrate liberation on May 3rd 1945. So perhaps some historical context today as the country heads out to family lunches.
On April 27th 1945 at Dongo the 52nd Garibaldi Brigade of communist resistance fighters halted an armored division of German and Italian fascists heading towards Switzerland. Asleep in a truck dressed in German uniform was Benito Mussolini and in a car behind claiming to be the Spanish consul’s wife was his mistress Claretta Petacci. The next day Colonel Valerio ( not his true name) of the 52nd took them in a car to the Villa Belmonte where he pushed them against a wall and shot them with a borrowed machine gun. He then returned to Dongo and shot 15 of the Italian fascists who shouted Viva L’Italia as they died. What Italy ? Valerio was heard to say in response.
and so Italy came out of the 2nd World War much as it had done from the 1st and indeed from unification. Divided and unsure of its identity. The South had been liberated way back in 1943 whilst the north had endured 2 years of vicious fighting. Italian against Italian in civil war. 43,000 partisan mainly communist fighters died, 10,000 civilians in reprisal raids mainly at the hands of the various local police and militia units. At the end of the war some 20,000 former Italian fascists were hunted down and killed by vigilantes. After the fall of Rome in June 1944 the socialists, communists and Christian Democrats came out of hiding and with the backing of Roosevelt took control of the government. Churchill was incensed ” I was not aware that we have conceded the power to form any government without the mandate of the people” he said. In fact these parties were to dominate Italian politics for the next 45 years.
A little music perhaps from 1946
The new constitution was based on the “values of the resistance” but, of course, the South had not been involved nor shared those values. This was most noticeable in the decision to remove the king who did not fit in with the values having fled South when the allies landed. It was a close run thing 13M to 11M votes. But the north almost to a province voted to remove him while the South voted overwhelmingly to keep him (Naples 80% for). In the South in time for the elections in 1946 a new party was formed Fronte dell’Uomo Qualunque ( The Ordinary Man Party) that basically rejected the values of the resistance and asked to be left in peace away from the meddling politicians in Rome. They received over 1M votes in the election.
Mussolini was dead but the Italian politicians failed to do anything about the Fascist issue. There were no Nuremberg trials and apart from the reprisals most Fascists not only survived but prospered in post war Italy. In 1960 62 of the 64 prefects had been functionaries under Mussolini as had all 135 police chiefs and all of their 139 deputies. The real problem was that this was true in the judiciary as well. Azzariti who became head of the Constitutional Court in 1957 had been President of the Race Tribunal from 1939 to 1943. Admittedly the Americans had made it difficult for the Italians . Marshall Aid and all the World Bank loans were linked to the government keeping the communists out of power and therefore governments needed the right wing vote that included all the fascists. So also began the process of buying votes, of buying influence and of bribing the electorate that has become the norm in Italian politics.
On August 31 1957 two monks drove up to a cemetery near Predappio and deposited from the back a wooden box. It contained the bones of Mussolini which had been kept in a monastery since being stolen from the Piazza where his body had been hung upside down in 1945. The newly elected Christian Democrats that depended on the neo- fascist deputies vote to cling on to power decided the time was right to allow his proper burial . At the vote sitting to the far left of the the Chamber sat one Walter Audissio who it was by then known was the Colonel Valerio who had shot him. The cemetery remains to this day a pilgrimage site to a very steady stream of visitors.