28 January 2008

Museum for Lazio's #1 Fan

Ten days without a post, as I wrote my book for young readers on the American Revolution. However, I got some ideas for a series of posts, so perhaps it was worth it.

Meanwhile, a scan of recent news revealed that Benito Mussolini's Italian Social Republic is to get its own museum. The Daily Telegraph of London based a short piece on press agency bulletins. Through the magic of Google translation, you can read what Milan's Corriere della Sera kind of wrote about it.

It's not so much a museum as something more like the Freedom Trail in Boston, with the scattered sites marked by plaques for visitors to read. Of course, this is potentially a very controversial project in Italy, where the period between the fall of Mussolini's regime in 1943 and the end of the war was marked by a fierce civil war that has left a lasting legacy of bitterness and, one might say, soccer hooliganism. The Corriere article goes to some lengths to point out that it was begun under a left-wing provincial executive. Roberto Chiarini, a professor of contemporary history at the Faculty of Political Science of the University of Milan, and president of the Centro studi e documentazione sul periodico storico della RSI, is at pains to emphasize the scholarly nature of his efforts, citing his own book on Living in the Italian Social Republic, published last year. I'm not sure of my Italian here, but it looks like the library of the Center is based on 3,000 volumes donated by an organization of veterans who fought for Mussolini's republic.

As for Chiarini, he is described by Giampaolo Pansa, a journalist of decidedly right-wing views, as a man of the left. Regardless of who else might be involved in the project, at least the president appears a scholar.

I find Mussolini a fascinating figure, mainly because he could easily have made a few different decisions at key moments during his career and completely changed the history of Italy both during the war and in its postwar years. When Dennis Mack Smith's once-standard English-language biography of the Fascist dictator came out in the early 1980s, a review I remember (and used to have clipped out and stuck in one of my books) suggested that if he could have kept out of the war until it was clear the Allies would win, he might have gone on to become one of the honored founders of NATO, or at least have achieved some kind of accommodation with the West in the Cold War like Franco did. Instead, he wound up with his body hanging by its heels in Milan. Oh, and he's generally accepted to have been a fan of the Lazio soccer club in Rome, although actually the evidence for this is not altogether definitive.

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