The Alleanza Nazionale continued in its attempts to detach itself from its
historical roots. On the other hand, it fielded and supported candidates with a
racist background in the 1997 municipal elections. In contrast to 1996, there
were several serious attacks on Jewish sites, including Molotov cocktails and a
firebomb thrown at Jewish institutions. Roger Garaudy's book The Founding Myths
of Israeli Politics was translated and published in Italy by a right-wing
publishing house. On March 28, 1998, a military court in Rome handed down a
verdict of life imprisonment to former SS officers Erich Priebke and Karl Hass,
for their part in the Ardeatine Caves massacre in 1944. Both men were appealing
an earlier verdict, of July 1997.
THE JEWISH COMMUNITY
Some 30,000 Jews live in Italy out of a total population of 57 million. The
largest communities are in Rome (15,000) and Milan (10,000). There are smaller
communities in Turin, Florence, Livorno, Trieste, Genoa and several other cities.
The Unione delle Comunita Ebraiche Italiane (UCEI) is the roof organization of
Italian Jewry. In addition to providing religious, cultural and educational
services, it represents the community in official matters. Several international
Jewish organizations have affiliates in Italy. There are Jewish schools in the
main communities. The Jews of Rome publish a monthly journal, Shalom, and the
Milan community puts out Bolletino.
EXTREMIST MOVEMENTS AND HATE GROUPS
Extremist Right-Wing Parties
The Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance -- AN) continued in its attempts
to detach itself from its historical roots. Its leader, Gianfranco Fini, with a
small group of executive members, is pursuing a double objective: to orient the
party toward the Italian political center, and to increase its credibility as a
democratic-conservative party in the Thatcherist mode, within the wide-ranging
right-wing coalition Polo della Libertá, led by Silvio Berlusconi.
As part of its efforts to gain political legitimacy, the AN has been taking
steps to dissociate itself from the anti-Semitic policies of the fascist regime
(1922-43) and of the Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana --
RSI ) (1943-45). In December the AN inaugurated the Centro Studi Giorgio
Perlasca (Giorgio Perlasca Study Center) in Rome, which bears the name of the
Italian citizen who saved thousands of Jews in Hungary from deportation. The
promoters and organizers of this center include Franco Perlasca, Giorgio's son
and a councilor of the AN, and the journalist Enzo Palmesano, author of the
motion against anti-Semitism passed at the 1995 congress in Fiuggi. Both
Perlasca and Palmesamo visited Israel to dedicate a forest in the name of
Giorgio Perlasca. In December, Gianfranco Fini, in his capacity of deputy of the
European Parliament, asked all EU members to exert pressure on their governments
to return the property of Holocaust victims. Fini has also made several attempts
-- unsuccessful up to now -- of organizing an official visit to the state of
Notwithstanding these initiatives, Fini has refused to openly repudiate his
party's historical bonds with the RSI, claiming this was implicit in the Fiuggi
congress motion that condemned all totalitarianism (see Continuity or Change in
the Ideology of the Alleanza Nazionale). Moreover, some factions have been urging
that the party "overcome" its fascist roots, without betraying them. Exponents
of this line include Teodoro Buontempo, who was a candidate for deputy mayor in
the November municipal elections, and who has made several controversial
statements concerning Jews.
Further, in the 1997 administrative-municipal elections, the AN fielded and
supported candidates with a racist background. In April-May, the AN candidate
Mauro Ghefi elected to the Grottaferrata council (near Rome), was at one time a
leader of the Movimento Politico Occidentale (Western Political Movement), a
political organization akin to the skinheads, whose headquarters were closed in
1993 under the anti-racism Mancino Law. In November, the AN supported outgoing
mayor of Chieti, and candidate of the Movimento Sociale-Fiamma Tricolore, Nicola
Cucullo, who in 1994 expressed regret that Hitler had not "fried" all the Jews.
He was elected by a 60 percent majority. Overall, the AN suffered a serious loss
in these elections, forcing Fini to undertake serious organizational changes
within the leadership.
Other signs that the AN has not truly broken with its fascist past include its
objective, while not openly stressed, of abrogating the article of the Italian
constitution which forbids the reconstitution of the fascist party. Further, AN
leaders and party members participated in various neo-fascist events, such as
the funeral of the son of dictator Benito Mussolini and the election meeting of
Teodoro Buontempo, as well as other occasions at which classic neo-fascist
symbols were displayed.
The AN presents itself as a party of law and order and is among the parliamentary
parties demanding that restrictions be placed on immigration laws. Many of its
followers organize or participate in rallies or popular initiatives against the
"invasion" of male prostitutes from South America, or demand the closure of
Italy's borders to immigrants. Recently, the party has adopted the populist
action model used by the Lega Nord (see below), partly in order to compete for
influence with the latter (see R. Borcio, La Padania promessa, Milan, 1997).
The Lega Nord per l'independenza della Padania (formerly, Lega Nord; Northern
League for the Independence of Padania -- LN), under Umberto Bossi, remained in
conflict with the central government over its demand to separate the north-central
region of the country from the rest of Italy. Following the declaration of an
independent Federal Padanian Republic, the LN announced the establishment of
institutions parallel to those of the state and of civil society, such as law
courts and a police force. It should be noted that at the ceremonial opening of
the so-called republic's constitutional assembly in November, one of the twelve
invited delegates of independent movements was the nationalist and anti-Semitic
Russian leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
In order to develop Padanian nationalism and territorial identity, the LN has
been focusing on the socio-economic differences between northern and southern
Italy, and on the dangers of immigration from outside the EC. This political
emphasis has in fact legitimized and reinforced certain prejudices already
present in the population, and has given rise to some anti-Semitic episodes.
Among these was the parliamentary question posed in June by a LN senator
concerning "the disability deriving from religious traditions practiced even in
Italy," referring to infibulation performed on Arab girls and circumcision
"widespread even in developed societies such as the Jewish community." The
senator asked the minister to find out if such practices were compatible with
Italian law, and requested preventive measures "to protect the minors." Another
senator from the same party, commenting in July on the trials of Priebke and
Hass (see below), denounced the existence of a "Jewish lobby" in Rome, which was
spreading "hatred in every way and on every occasion." It should also be noted
that a leaflet was circulated in May in the city of Verona, signed by Gruppo di
fuocco Ernst Nikish (Ernst Nikish Firing Squad), which is linked to the LN. The
leaflet accused the unified Italy (of 1866) of having robbed 60 percent of the
land of the Venetians and sold it to "Italians and Jews." In certain areas of
the Veneto, in Verona for instance, there is collaboration among sympathizers of
the Catholic fundamentalist movement, the radical right and the LN.
During the April-May municipal elections the LN suffered a slight loss
nationally compared with 1996: 6.7 percent versus 7.6 percent in 1996. While
losing some support in several important centers such as Milan, Mantova, Pavia
and Gorizia, its appeal grew in small provincial towns and villages. A similar
tendency was observed in the municipal elections of November, in which the LN
obtained mayoralties in two cities: Varese (stronghold of the party) and
The small Movimento Sociale-Fiamma Tricolore (Social Movement-Tri-Colored Flame
-- MS-FT) party, led by Pino Rauti, a deputy of the European Parliament,
obtained 1.2 percent of the vote in the November municipal elections. The only
city of importance where this party gained a mayoralty was Chieti (about 50,000
inhabitants in the Abruzzo area), where Nicola Cucullo obtained the majority of
the votes in a coalition of the MS-FT and the Polo della Liberta. Among the
candidates for the Milano council was Sergio Gozzoli, a frequent contributor to
the rightist, anti-Semitic publication L'Uomo Libero and one of the ideologues
of the skinhead movement.
Ideologically, the MS-FT's program is very similar to the corporativism of the
MSI (Movimento Sociale Italiano). Like the AN, it presents itself as a party of
law and order, and serves as a focus for the right's most radical wing. The
MS-FT's approach to the problem of immigration from underdeveloped countries is
based on differential racism.
Rauti, who during the fifties founded the Ordine Nuovo (New Order) study center
which revived anti-Semitic and racist subjects and slogans of the fascist era,
declared in April that he did not support the statement made by French FN leader
Le Pen that the gas chambers were a detail in history. According to Rauti, the
gas chambers were an enormous fact, which conferred a grave moral responsibility,
and that the time had arrived to discuss the Holocaust as a phenomenon of
unimaginable cruelty in human history.
Two representatives of the MS-FT, Tomaso Staiti di Cuddia and Adriano Tilgher,
both former leaders of radical movements, were expelled from the party. Tilgher
founded in September the Fronte Nazionale (National Front), a very small movement
which follows the political line of Le Pen, who was invited to Rome during the
election period last November. The original National Front, founded in 1990 by
Franco Fredda, was dissolved after the conviction of its leader and another 45
members in 1995.
Few groups are organized on a national level, but many small groups operate at
the neighborhood or city level. The militants of some of the groups dissolved in
accordance with the 1993 Mancino Law continue to be active, but without a
defined structure, especially in Rome. In the Veneto area, particularly Verona,
some minute organizations, imbued with a mixture of extreme right and Catholic
fundamentalist ideologies, fight either for the moral health of the family or
against Muslim immigrants and the organizations that help them.
Skinhead numbers have been much reduced due to the measures taken by the police
and magistrates since the enactment of the Mancino Law. Nevertheless, some
individual skinheads or small bands of them continue to be involved in violent
episodes against immigrants from African countries.
In July a comprehensive police operation in about twenty cities led to the
discovery of a new organization Hammerskins, whose activities even extended to
the south of the country. It appeared to be a strongly hierarchical,
military-type organization, with a low political profile, but with symbols and
cultural references similar to those of the disbanded organizations. It also had
strong links, through the Nazi music network with the British followers of
Combat 18 and Blood and Honour (see UK).
The neo-Nazi organization Forza Nuova (New Force) was founded by Roberto Fiore,
ex-leader of the national revolutionary Terza Posizione (Third Position), and by
Massimo Morsello (ex-leader of the extreme right subversive Nuclei Armati
Rivoluzionari - Armed Revolutionary Nuclei). Documents discovered during the
searches carried out by the police in the Hammerskin case revealed that the
Forza Nuova extended throughout Italy, particularly in the Lazio area, and had
its center in Rome. Its apparent aim was to embrace all the radical right, to
the right of the AN. The police also think that Fiore could have used MS-FT
facilities in order to build a neo-Nazi movement "with the purpose of
disseminating hatred and racial discrimination." The manifesto published by the
movement indicates a political line which could be considered as a meeting point
between the extreme right and Catholic integralism. In June, Fiore and Morsello
published an appeal in a national newspaper calling for the abolition of the
Mancino Law, as well as discriminatory clauses in the Italian constitution, such
as the ban on the reconstitution of the fascist party. Among the signatories
were representatives of the AN. A text with similar content appeared in the
electronic magazine Foglio di Lotta di Bologna (Document of the Struggle of
Bologna). Among other claims, it attributed the initiative for this law to the
dictates of the international oligarchy, and particularly the ADL, "executive
(and frequently armed) branch of the Jewish Freemasonry of the B'nai B'rith,"
which acts through representatives of the Italian Jewish community.
It should also be noted that among the numerous fan clubs of the various Italian
soccer teams, many are formed by militants or sympathizers of extreme right-wing
parties or organizations, which frequently instigate episodes of racism or
anti-Semitism during the matches by means of slogans or banners. In this
atmosphere, calling the opposite team or its fans "Jew," is a frequently used
Violence, Vandalism, Threats
In contrast to the previous year, there were several serious attacks on Jewish
sites. Twice, in February, Molotov cocktails were thrown at a building on an
island in the Tiber River housing the Temple of the Young and a Jewish hospital.
No casualties were reported. In addition a firebomb hurled at Rome's central
synagogue on the night of March 29 caused minor damage to the entrance. Italian
police detained a 34-year-old Egyptian who seemed drunk or mentally disturbed. As
in previous years there were also anti-Semitic graffiti and threats. Anonymous
telephone threats were received, for example, at the office of the Venice
congregation and the home of its cantor. They included anti-Semitic curses and
slogans such as "Hitler did not finish the job and we will continue."
Anti-Semitic Propaganda and Holocaust Denial
Anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial articles continued to be published in extreme
right publications such as Orion and Avanguardia. The Jewish financial conspiracy
to control the world (Mondialismo ) was again the main theme in anti-Semitic
articles. In April, Avanguardia published articles from the fascist press of
1944-45 stressing that the sole enemies of fascism were the Jews and their main
instrument, the Freemasons. Orion, on its January issue, published two articles
by the Holocaust denier Robert Faurrison.
The book of Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy The Founding Myths Of Israeli Politics
was translated and published in Italy by the rightist publishing house Graphos.
Following the publication, a conference was organized by Orion, Graphos and
Circolo Culturale Amis - Il Fondaco dei Mori (Islamic cultural institute). The
main speaker was Garaudy. A special edition of his lecture was published by the
A book written by Mg. Vitaliano Mattioli, a historian at the Papal University, who embraces Holocaust denial theses, provoked tensions between the Italian Jewish community and the Holy See. The book The Jews and the Church, blamed the Jews themselves and their presumed characteristics and defects for the calamities brought upon on them, as well as for the plutocratic-Masonic-Judaic and Bolshevist conspiracies to dominate the world. Following protests from the Jewish community, Mattioli's book was withdrawn from Vatican and other bookstores.
ATTITUDES TOWARD THE HOLOCAUST AND THE NAZI ERA
War Crimes Trials and Jewish Assets
On March 28, 1998, a military court in Rome handed down a verdict of life imprisonment to two former SS officers, Erich Priebke and Karl Hass, both in their mid-eighties, for their part in the execution of 335 civilians at the Ardeatine Caves on March 24, 1944. Both men were appealing an earlier verdict, of July 1997, in which Priebke was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment and Hass to ten. Families and friends of the victims were so angered at this verdict that a near riot ensued. Reaction to the more severe verdict in the courtroom was one of approval. The Ardeatine massacre affected the people of Italy very deeply. After the earlier verdict, Priebke was allowed house arrest because of his failing health. Neighbors in the area protested, posting slogans such as: "Merry Christmas, Murderer!" and "Priebke, get out of our house!"
In contrast to the first trial, the second caused less uproar, but increased opposition to trying such an old man, and for offenses dating so far back in time. There were various public declarations and initiatives in defense of the accused, among them a petition sent in November to the association Uomo e Libert? (Man and Liberty) for forwarding to the London secretariat of Amnesty International (according to the organizers, more than six thousand signatures were collected) for "multiple and lasting violations of rights practiced against Mr. Priebke." A senator and four representatives also initiated an inquiry in parliament into the proceedings against Priebke. Among these declarations and initiatives, some included attacks against the Jews, such as the violent five-page document distributed by Priebke's lawyer Paolo Giachini in the courtroom. According to this document, the Wiesenthal Center had initiated the Priebke case in order to fulfill the demands of Jewish-Zionist extremism which "often considers the Jewish people as a chosen race," and to seek financial compensation from the civil part of the process and presumably from Germany, an operation that could turn into a worldwide offensive against industrial concerns, insurance companies, banks and states.
The half-yearly report on security prepared for the parliament by the president of the Council of Government noted that the legal proceedings against the two ex-Nazi officers had given new impetus to National Socialist propaganda, even though this propaganda was only being translated for the time being into declarations of solidarity.
The Italian insurance company Assicurazioni Generali was accused, together with seven of Europe's largest insurers, by heirs of Holocaust victims and by Jewish organizations, of stealing billions of dollars. The lawsuit filed in the US charged the insurance companies with concealing vital information, requiring the production of death certificates that had never been issued, acting in bad faith and enriching themselves at the expense of Holocaust victims. Generali finally set up a 12 million dollar fund in commemoration of Holocaust victims.
Two new Italian films featuring Holocaust themes - a fact-based epic drama and documentary attracted public attention in Italy in 1997. La Tregua (The Truce), based on the book of Holocaust survivor Primo Levi, recounts his return to Italy after Auschwitz, while the documentary Memoria (Memory) is based on interviews with Italian Holocaust survivors.
The writer Furio Colombo, a member of the Italian parliament, proposed a motion to have October 16 designated as a remembrance day for victims of the Holocaust. On October 16, 1943, more than 1,000 Jews from Rome were deported by the Nazis. Two hundred MPs backed the motion.
RESPONSES TO RACISM AND ANTI-SEMITISM
In February, the trial of 60 skinheads belonging to the Milanese group Azione Skinhead and Base Autonoma, was completed. They were accused of offenses against the Mancino Law. Forty of the accused were given jail terms ranging from 2 to 18 months, and 20 others were acquitted. Among this last group were Sergio Gozzoli and Maurizio Boccacci, ex-leaders of the disbanded Movimento Politico. Their acquittal was due to the fact that their leading role in the two above mentioned movements could not be proven. Thus, while the court condemned the acts of violence, it did not punish the anti-Semitic expressions that Gozzoli pronounced in the courtroom, considering them included in the right to exercise freedom of opinion. Also in February, 43 skinheads of the organization Veneto Fronte Skinhead (Venice Skinhead Front) were indicted, among them its leader, Pietro Puschiavo. In this connection, in August the Italian police raided over one hundred locations in dozens of cities where young Nazis were known to meet.
In the wake of the Jewish cemetery desecration in December 1996 (see ASW 1996/7), Green party Senator Athos De Luca introduced a parliamentary motion calling for greater security at Jewish cemeteries and severe penalties for desecration of any type of cemetery.