Fascists Rise Again

May 15, 1994

The institutions of Europe grew from the Allied victory in World War II. These institutions are by birth anti-Nazi and anti-Fascist. It will be hard for Europeans to accept Italy's neo-Fascists as members of European Union ministerial committees. But that is what the Europeans now must do.

Benito Mussolini founded the Fascist movement after World War I. He was made prime minister in 1922 and transformed Italy's government into his own dictatorship. He personified totalitarian power, the assertion of national grandeur, suppression of expression and subordination of private interests to the state. He became Germany's ally, Adolf Hitler's puppet in World War II, fell from power after 1943 and was executed in 1945 by partisans.

The right-wing government tycoon Silvio Berlusconi just formed, reflecting the March election, gives a deputy premier and five of 25 cabinet seats to the National Alliance, the political heir to Mussolini's Fascists. Fascist youth groups are coming out of the shadows. Just 49 years after his ignominious death, Mussolini's apostles claim legitimacy.

This can only send shivers through Europe as a precedent for legitimizing neo-Nazis in Germany and similar movements in every European country that harbored a dictator two generations ago.

Mr. Berlusconi's government is also hard for Italian constitutionalists to take. Its other junior partner, the Northern League, gained a deputy premier and the interior minister, who runs the police and intelligence services. The Northern League advocates secession and the dismemberment of Italy.

President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro has tried to commit the Berlusconi government to respect European alliances and Italian unity and freedom. Mr. Berlusconi, a political neophyte whose Forza Italia party and coalition allies won the March election decisively, has a mandate to rid Italy of corruption. He has no mandate, however, to rehabilitate Mussolini or dismember Italy. Nor has he an interest. Rather, he made a pact with two devils. His coalition may explode from internal contradictions.

Of all the disservices to Italian society rendered by the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats in their endemic corruption, creating the necessity for this coalition was the worst. As for the wealthy Mr. Berlusconi, taming Fascist and secessionist allies must become his highest priority. The voters who sent the Christian Democrats to pasture can do the same to him next time round.

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