Il Duce's citizenship scrapped after 91 years

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The honorary citizenship was granted to the Fascist dictator in 1924. Photo: Vituzzi
11:46 CEST+02:00
A town in the northern province of Bolzano, in South Tyrol, has revoked the honorary citizenship of the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini – 91 years after it was granted.

The decision by authorities in Salorno follows similar moves by other towns in the mountainous province, including Termeno, Ora and Cortaccia, as the region tries to eradicate reminders of the fascist era.

The citizenship was granted in 1924 - six years after Italy annexed South Tyrol from the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the First World War.

“Fascism was a very painful chapter for South Tyrol,” Stefan Zelger, a representative for the separatist party, South Tyrol Freedom party, was quoted by Il Fatto Quotidiano as saying.

In April last year, the Piedmont city of Turin also revoked the honorary citizenship of the fascist leader, a move that provoked opposition from some parties, including Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

But opponents would have a tougher time trying to block such a decision in the semi-autonomous South Tyrol, where resentment over Mussolini’s “Italianization’ of the region during his time in power lingers.

In the few years following the annexation, there was no interference from the Italian authorities in the region's traditions and culture. But all that changed when Mussolini came to power in 1922 and set about Italianizing the area by moving Italian people in, banning the German language in schools and the civil service, and forcing people to change their names.

Meanwhile, a pact between Mussolini and Germany’s dictator Adolf Hitler in 1939 was to have far-reaching consequences. The pair gave German-speakers a stark choice – either stay in South Tyrol and be forcibly Italianized, or move into the German Reich and renounce their homeland.

Although most opted to leave, the outbreak of the Second World War prevented a mass exodus. However, the plan left in its trail painful wounds, having divided society and split families, with those who chose to stay being branded traitors.

By the early 1960s German-speakers' unhappiness erupted in a bombing campaign, and it took UN intervention to settle the dispute, resulting in the 1972 agreement that gave the region power to write its own laws.

Despite the agreement, a wave of terrorism by separatist campaigners persisted until the late 1980s.

Although the region has since prospered peacefully, there are still calls for independence from Italy, as well as to have all reminders of the Mussolini era – including some of the souvenirs that can be found in shops across the rest of Italy – to be completely banned from the region.

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"There are plenty of Fascist symbols in South Tyrol...the main one being the Victory Monument [erected under Mussolini's orders] in Bolzano, reminding us of the so-called victory after the First World War," Cristian Kollmann, spokesman for the South Tyrol Freedom party, told The Local in late September. 

Read more - South Tyrol: where an identity crisis linger

Mussolini reminders might not be welcome in South Tyrol and other parts of Italy, but the dictator still has plenty of fans, as The Local discovered earlier this year.

Read more - Revealed: the Italians who worship Mussolini

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