EXPLAINED: What are Italy’s laws against support for fascism?

Some in Italy continue to glorify the Fascist regime, but doesn’t the country have laws against ‘apology of fascism’? We take a look at what the law says and how it has been applied.

Roman salute in Predappio, Italy
The Roman salute is still commonly used ny members of far-right groups in Italy. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

On the centenary of the March on Rome, the coup that started the country’s 20-year fascist period, public debate on regime’s legacy in Italy is filling the pages of national newspapers and Italian social media. 

Conversations around the darkest chapter of modern Italian history are also spurred by the self-evident post-fascist roots of the country’s new government.

READ ALSO: Italy reckons with legacy of fascism 100 years after march on Rome 

The newly elected Senate speaker, Ignazio La Russa, is an avid collector of Fascist memorabilia, while Italy’s new premier, Giorgia Meloni, once praised former dictator Benito Mussolini as a “good politician, the best in the last 50 years”.

But, while fascist nostalgia might not come as a surprise in Italy – ever heard the good old adage: “ha fatto anche cose buone” (“he also did good things”)? – you may also know that Italy has laws against support for Fascism, or defending fascist ideals.

Mussolini's tomb in Predappio

Large swathes of Italian society continue to glorify Fascism’s legacy, with some gathering around Mussolini’s tomb in Predappio every year. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

So why don’t these laws apply to certain political movements and high-profile figures in Italy?

Though such laws exist, they are rarely enforced. Here’s why.

Italy’s main piece of legislation against the dissemination of fascist propaganda is the so-called Scelba Law (Legge Scelba), introduced in June 1952 to complement Disposition XII of the Italian Constitution – the disposition outlaws any attempt to restore the defunct Fascist party.

Briefly, the Scelba Law prohibits any member of “an association, movement or group of people […] pursuing anti-democratic ends associated with the fascist party” and/or using violence “as a means of political struggle”. 

It also prohibits “exalting members, principles, events and behaviours of fascist nature”, and carries a potential sentence of between five and twelve years in prison.

While the Scelba Law might at first glance appear to be a fairly stringent piece of legislation, it actually has no power against those holding or glorifying fascist views unless it can be proved that they are actively working to reorganise the former Fascist party and undermine democracy.

READ ALSO: Is Brothers of Italy a ‘far right’ party? 

The scope of the law has been confirmed by the Italian Constitutional Court on multiple occasions, including in 1957, when the court stated that the law only applies to acts “aimed at restoring Fascism in Italy” – something which, by its very own nature, is incredibly hard to prove.

That’s ultimately why, despite attempts on the part of centre-left opposition forces to have them outlawed, political groups with patently fascist views, ideals and symbols – from the Fascism and Freedom Movement (Fascismo e Libertà) founded in 1991 to the newer Forza Nuova and CasaPound – are allowed to carry on their activities to this day.

That’s also why, aside from in a few isolated cases, making the ‘saluto romano’ (Roman salute) is not something that leads to a conviction for ‘apology of fascism’ in an Italian court of law.

Different law, different problems

Issues regarding the enforcement of the Scelba Law largely contributed to the introduction of the ‘Mancino Law’ in 1993.

The bill, which sought to widen the scope of the Scelba law, broadly punishes anyone “disseminating ideas based on racial or ethnic superiority” or inciting “discrimination or violence” based on racial motives, including through the use of emblems or symbols.

Breaking the law is punishable by anything from six months to six years in jail. 

CasaPound rally in Italy

Due to flaws in Italy’s laws against fascist propaganda, neo-fascist parties like CasaPound are allowed to carry on their political activities. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

But as with the Scelba Law, the enforcement of the Mancino Law has been problematic, to say the least, albeit for different reasons.

Firstly, some judges are hesitant to resort to using the Mancino Law because it doesn’t explicitly refer to the dissemination of fascist ideals.

Secondly – and more importantly – it is up to individual judges to balance the nature of a defendant’s actions against article 21 of the Italian Constitution, which protects freedom of expression. 

If article 21 is found to outweigh any considerations made under the Mancino Law, the defendant is acquitted.

Over the years, many Italian far-right forces have questioned the constitutionality of the Mancino Law, claiming it undermined people’s right to freedom of expression.

In 2014, the League party attempted to call a national referendum on repealing the law but failed to reach the required number of signatures.

Four years later, Lorenzo Fontana, who was recently elected new lower house speaker, demanded the abrogation of the law, which he described as an “instrument used by globalists to shroud their anti-Italian racism in anti-fascism”. Nothing came of it in the end.

Lorenzo Fontana, lower house speaker in Italy

The new speaker of the lower house of parliament, Lorenzo Fontana, described the Mancino Law as an “instrument used by globalists”. Photo by Andrea SOLARO / AFP

Fiano Law: a swing and a miss

Another attempt at tightening existing regulation against fascist propaganda was made in 2017, when left-wing Democratic Party (PD) deputy Emanuele Fiano managed to get his draft bill (Legge Fiano) approved in the lower house of parliament.

The bill effectively sought to resolve the issues inherent in the Scelba and Mancino Laws by outlawing the dissemination of any “item, image or symbol” associated with either Fascism or Nazism. 

The law would have placed Italy on the same level as Germany, which has long banned the use of fascist or nazist greetings and slogans as well as the sale of analogous memorabilia and emblems through Section 86a of its Criminal Code.

But political parties Forza Italia, Brothers of Italy and the Five-Star Movement all opposed the Fiano Law, claiming it posed an unjustified threat to freedom of speech – Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s new PM, went as far as dubbing the law “a freedom-destroying folly”.

Ultimately then, Fiano’s draft bill never made it past the Senate and ended up being consigned to oblivion.

Member comments

  1. Laws against Fascism? dont make me laugh , laws against western Democracy where it doesn’t exist would be more appropriate.

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How Italy is remembering victims of the Holocaust

Italy marks the 78th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on Friday with hundreds of events up and down the country, including talks and exhibitions as well as the laying of new ‘stumble stone’ memorials and other tributes.

How Italy is remembering victims of the Holocaust

On January 27th 1945, Allied troops liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. The United Nations chose this date as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorating the imprisonment and murder of over six million Jews, as well as Romany people and others.

From northern and central Italy, the Fascist regime together with the Nazis deported some 9,000 people to concentration camps during one of the darkest periods of the country’s history.

READ ALSO: Four places to remember the Holocaust in Italy

Italy marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Il Giorno della Memoria, on Friday with hundreds of events up and down the country.

The Italian Senate invited 92-year-old Holocaust survivor Sami Modiano to give a talk to students this week, and has shared the video of his emotional speech online.

On Friday evening, Rai 1 will broadcast a special programme at 9pm telling the story of Liliana Segre, the 92-year-old Italian senator for life and Holocaust survivor who was deported from Milan to Auschwitz along with her family.

Rome has Italy’s oldest Jewish community and many Holocaust memorials, famously including hundreds of ‘stumble stones’, or stolperstein

The bronze cobblestones are installed outside the former homes of those who were either deported to Auschwitz or killed in the Fosse Ardeatine massacre, as part of a Europe-wide project begun by German artist Gunter Demnig in 1997.

READ ALSO: Stumble stones: How Rome’s smallest monuments honour Holocaust victims

In the lead-up to this year’s Giorno della Memoria, 38 new stumble stones were placed around the city, including in the Jewish Ghetto, meaning the capital now has 374 in total.

Events marking the occasion in the capital this year include a multimedia exhibition at the Casina dei Vallati in the Jewish Ghetto, titled L’inferno nazista. I campi della morte di Belzec, Sobibor e Treblinka., and the biennial Arte in Memoria exhibition of contemporary art, which opens on January 29th at the Synagogue of Ostia Antica.

Six city museums are also taking part in the he Zakhor/Ricorda project, featuring video exhibitions by contemporary Israeli artists.

Milan meanwhile is laying 26 new stumble stones, meaning it will soon have 171 in total, mayor Beppe Sala announced earlier this week.

The city also unveiled a tram decorated with images of poppies and barbed wire. It stops at the Milan Central train station, where Binario 21, the platform from which trains carried Jewish Italians to their deaths, has been turned into a Holocaust memorial that includes video accounts by survivors and one of the original wagons used for deportations. 

READ ALSO: On the trail of the Italian Resistance in Milan