Anti-Fascist Protesters Rally in Italy as Mussolini’s Heirs Gain Ground

ROME — The specter of Benito Mussolini returned this month in the form of a poster at Piazza Venezia, the Roman square where more than 70 years ago he fired up the masses with fascist speeches and stirred a fatal brew of Italian nationalism.

In many ways, the poster symbolized the debate on Mussolini — or at least the violent nationalism that fueled his rise — that has returned with force to the country as critical elections loom on March 4.

The re-emergence of extremist violence, harassment and xenophobia has gripped Italy and forced the country to reckon with the hard-right and fascist ideologies fueled by a lingering financial crisis and migration.

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But it has also spurred a countermovement. Demonstrators marched in Rome on Saturday to stand up to fascism.

We are here to say no to fascism and racism, which are a danger today for democracy and coexistence,” Carla Nespolo, the president of the National Association of Italian Partisans, said at a demonstration that brought thousands to the streets under the hash tags #FascismNeverAgain and #RacismNeverAgain.

As the elections approach, politically inspired violence has become an almost daily occurrence.

This month, a fascist extremist who carried a candle with an image of Mussolini opened fire on African immigrants in Macerata, wounding at least six people before he was arrested.

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Forza Nuova, a far-right party that marches with the straight-armed salute of Mussolini, has repeatedly clashed with the police and anti-fascist protesters.

Members of CasaPound, a political party that proudly claims to admire Mussolini, recently invaded the emergency area of a hospital in Bolzano to protest homeless people who take refuge there overnight.

As the violence worsens, some critics have blamed Matteo Salvini, the bombastic secretary of the League party and, to a lesser extent, Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the Brothers of Italy, the modern heirs of the party that rose from the ashes of Mussolini’s Fascists.

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Salvini and Meloni have joined former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and their coalition is leading in the polls.

Salvini has said on the campaign trail that fascism had done positive things for the country, and the center-right candidate running the Lombardy region, Attilio Fontana, has said that Italy had to protect “the white race.” He later apologized.

These parties, critics say, are sowing the seed of subversion through their populist courtship of voters and fomenting xenophobia by spreading an anti-migrant message.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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