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Last Updated: Friday, 9 January, 2004, 11:29 GMT
Italy's post-fascists to regroup
By Jan Repa
BBC Europe analyst

Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini has called a conference of his National Alliance party.

The conference on Saturday will be the first since the defection in November of one of the party's best known figures, Alessandra Mussolini.

Ms Mussolini, granddaughter of Italy's former fascist dictator, left after Mr Fini called fascism an "absolute evil".

The National Alliance is the second largest party in Italy's four-party coalition government.

Gianfranco Fini (left) and Alessandra Mussolini
Fini and Mussolini are now rivals
It was founded in 1995, following a split in what was then called the Italian Social Movement, itself built on the ashes of Benito Mussolini's Fascist Movement.

As late as 1994, Mr Fini had described Mussolini as the "greatest statesman of the 20th century".

Nevertheless, Mr Fini has been trying to move his party away from its fascist past into the respectable centre-right.

Conventional right-left distinctions do not always apply in Italy.

Regional loyalties matter too - as do people's own personal and family histories.

Alessandra Mussolini, a former topless model, is the niece of the film star Sophia Loren and daughter of Benito Mussolini's jazz musician son, Romano.

As a politician, she has frequently campaigned on such traditionally "left-wing" issues as women's rights.

Although the National Alliance draws most of its electoral support from Italy's poor south, Gianfranco Fini is a native of the rich northern city of Bologna - itself, paradoxically, a traditional communist stronghold.

Back in November, Mr Fini was courting Israeli opinion.

Mr Fini can take comfort from an opinion poll suggesting that his recent condemnation of fascism has the support of 70% of National Alliance supporters
Fascism, he declared on a visit to Israel, had been an "absolute evil", adding that many Italians had acted with "laziness, indifference, complicity and cowardice" in not opposing the anti-Jewish laws introduced in 1938 in imitation of Nazi Germany.

This proved too much for Ms Mussolini, who stormed out of the National Alliance party, saying her family's honour had been abused.

Several other leading party figures also objected, accusing Mr Fini of political cynicism.

Francesco Storace, governor of the Lazio region, which includes the Italian capital Rome, called Mr Fini's remarks a "media-driven operation".

Mr Fini now has his eyes firmly on elections to the European Parliament, due to take place in June.

Rival party

Ms Mussolini intends to campaign under the banner of a new party, called Freedom for Action (Liberta d'Azione).

However, Mr Fini can take comfort from an opinion poll, published last month, suggesting that his recent condemnation of fascism has the support of 70% of National Alliance supporters.

Many party activists still have a soft spot for the old fascist regime
But Mr Fini is also jockeying for influence within the Italian government with the third largest party, the Northern League - which, as its name implies, draws its support mainly from the northern provinces and used to advocate the creation of a separate northern state.

The party's newspaper has dubbed Mr Fini a "piranha".

Although Mr Fini expects to humble his own party critics, the continuing arguments strongly suggest that many party activists still have a soft spot for the old fascist regime - or at least regard it as a legitimate part of Italy's heritage.

In fact, Mr Fini's own overtures to Israel do not necessarily contradict this.

Until his alliance with Hitler, Benito Mussolini's regime maintained close links with parts of the Zionist movement and enjoyed considerable support within Italy's Jewish community, which saw it as an antidote to the discriminatory attitudes of Italy's "Catholic" conservatives.

Indeed, recent pro-Israeli pronouncements of politicians like Mr Fini and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi can be seen in the context of the Italian Right's traditional claim to be defending "European civilisation" against a succession of threats - including Arab nationalism and Muslim militancy.

Plan to form new Mussolini party
30 Nov 03  |  Europe
Il Duce 'sought Hitler ban'
27 Sep 03  |  Europe
Italy's Fini invited to Israel
09 Oct 02  |  Media reports
Post-fascist Fini takes EU job
24 Jan 02  |  Europe
Timeline: Italy
18 Nov 03  |  Country profiles

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