Mussolini’s great-grandson defends Italy’s Fascist era

Mussolini's great-grandson, who is running for a European Parliament seat with a small far-right Italian party, tried to nuance his fascist grandfather's legacy in comments to the foreign press in Rome on Wednesday.

Mussolini's great-grandson defends Italy's Fascist era
Caio Giulio Cesare Mussolini is running in the European elections. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

The fascist era was “a very complicated, complex period”, said Caio Giulio Cesare Mussolini, at a press conference in Rome for the Fratelli d'Italia (Brothers of Italy) party.

“You can't define it in terms of right or wrong, good or bad,” he said.

While the anti-Jewish laws of 1938 had been “a mistake, a shame”, the fascist period had left its mark on the country in other ways with, for example, its road network, he added. Many older people he met while campaigning expressed nostalgia for that period, he said.


In Italy it is still a crime to defend fascism, but asked about that law he said that the courts often ruled on the side of freedom of expression. The current ban on the fascist salute should be extended to the raised clenched-fist of the communists, he added.

Although Mussolini is only 10th on the party's electoral list, he features prominently on its posters. And there were plenty of journalists on hand to hear what the Italian dictator's great-grandson had to say.

The 50-year-old former Italian naval officer was born in Argentina, where his grandfather, Vittorio Mussolini, the second son of the dictator Benito Mussolini, fled in 1945 at the end of World War II. He now works for an arms firm, a subsidiary of the Leonardo group, formerly Finmeccanica.

Alessandra Mussolini campaigning for Forza Italia in 2008. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

He is not the first descendant of the fascist dictator to enter politics. Benito's grand-daughter Alessandra has been an MEP since 2014, having already served as a senator and a deputy in the Italian parliament. She is now a rival candidate — in another region — on a list led by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Benito Mussolini, the creator of fascism, came to power in Italy in the 1920s, established a one-party dictatorship and was an ally of Nazi Germany during World War II. He was executed at the end of the war. 

Italy's relationship with its fascist past is complicated, to say the least. Unlike in Germany, where the country's wartime leaders are overwhelmingly reviled and Nazi symbols a taboo, Mussolini's birthplace continues to attract admiring pilgrims, Il Duce trinkets are a common sight in souvenir shops and several mainstream Italian politicians have been known to publicly express admiration for the dictator.

READ ALSO: The Italians who worship Mussolini

Mussolini souvenirs for sale in Italy. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Silvio Berlusconi, head of Forza Italia and four-time prime minister, once remarked while in office that “Mussolini never killed anyone”, despite his collaboration with the Nazis to send Italian Jews to their deaths and his troops' brutal occupation of Ethiopia.

More recently Matteo Salvini, leader of the League and Italy's interior minister, has said that “a lot of things got done” under Italy's Fascist government, hailing Mussolini's infrastructure projects and pension system while dismissing his race laws as “madness”.

Salvini, who is also Italy's deputy prime minister, is prone to invoking the dictator's words on social media: last July, on the anniversary of Mussolini's birth, he posted the phrase “So many enemies, so much honour” in an echo of a well-known Fascist slogan.

READ ALSO: Is Italy's League a ‘far-right' party?

Photo: Paco Serinelli/AFP

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Phallus of Pompeii: Italian art exhibition reveals ancient sexuality

Raunchy scenes may redden faces at a new exhibition in Pompeii on art and sexuality in the ancient Roman city, where sculptures and paintings of breasts and buttocks abound.

Phallus of Pompeii: Italian art exhibition reveals ancient sexuality

 Archaeologists excavating the city, which was destroyed by the eruption of nearby Vesuvius in 79 AD, were initially startled to discover erotic images everywhere, from garden statues to ceiling frescos.

Since those first digs in the 18th-century site, racy images have been found in taverns, thermal baths and private homes, from huge erect penises to a statue with both male and female physical attributes.

READ ALSO: Roman chariot unearthed ‘almost intact’ near Pompeii

It became clear that “this is a city where sensuality, eroticism, are ever-present,” Pompeii’s site director Gabriel Zuchtriegel told AFP as he stood in front of statues of bare-chested Centaurs.

The discoveries initially caused “dismay, embarrassment, and curiosity, and were seen by some as a great opportunity to think about the relationship with their bodies and nudity in a very different way”.

Pompeii’s site director Gabriel Zuchtriegel, poses during a new exhibition in Pompeii’s site entitled “Art and sensuality in the houses of Pompeii”. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The Neapolitan King Charles VII, who financed the excavations, shut some of the more bawdy finds away in a secret cabinet in Naples, only showing them to those of proven moral standing, Zuchtriegel said.

READ ALSO: Italian archaeologists uncover slave room at Pompeii in ‘rare’ find

That secret cabinet still exists today in the archaeological museum in the southern Italian city.

The exhibition, which runs until January 2023 and brings together some 70 works, begins with the vast erect penis on a statue of the god Priape – a Roman symbol of fertility and prosperity.

This photograph shows a “Statue-fountain of Priapus, symbol of prosperity” during a new exhibition in Pompeii’s site entitled “Art and sensuality in the houses of Pompeii”. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

Priape and his phallus was traditionally placed in the atrium, the large central hall of Roman houses.

Suitable for children?

Visitors are told this has nothing to do with eroticism, “though the modern imagination gives it this meaning”, says Tiziana Rocco from the Pompeii exhibition office.

The smirking of embarrassed tourists is proof enough of that, despite some wishing it otherwise.

“I think modern American culture is a little bit too prudish, and uncomfortable with the human body,” says Seattle tourist Daniel Berglund.

“It’s nice to see ancient culture that was more open and willing to display and glorify the human body,” the 40-year-old said as he lingered in front of paintings from a “cubiculum”, or Roman bedroom.

Various scenes are shown, including a man and a woman having sex. Further on, a series of oil lamps shine light on images to make pulses race – though the curators have not forgotten that some people will be bringing their children to the exhibition.

“Families and children make up a large part of our public,” says Zuchtriegel, who has put together an illustrated guide for them.

READ ALSO: IN PHOTOS: Pompeii’s treasures go on display at reopened Antiquarium museum

“The theme may seem difficult, but it is omnipresent in Pompeii, so it must be explained to children in one way or another,” he said.

In the guide, a centaur – a creature from Greek mythology that is half man, half horse – searches for a mate.

A visitor walks during a new exhibition in Pompeii’s site entitled “Art and sensuality in the houses of Pompeii. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

On the way he meets Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image, Dionysus, the god of wine, and Hermaphrodite, the child of Aphrodite and Hermes, who had both male and female sexual organs.

“It’s a playful way to meet the different figures of Greek myths present in Pompeii,” Zuchtriegel said