Silvio Berlusconi picked a terrible time to defend Italy’s World War II dictator Benito Mussolini — a Holocaust memorial ceremony in Milan. After his offensive comments were condemned particularly by his political opponents, he was forced to issue a statement attempting to clarify what he meant.
Berlusconi, who has a controversial political and personal life, stepped down as prime minister in November 2011 but is trying to make a political comeback. This depends upon the results of next month’s parliamentary elections in which his People and Freedom Party is hoping to form a coalition government. His oddly timed defense of Mussolini certainly won’t help at all.
Berlusconi, the country’s longest-serving post-war leader, had this to say about “Il Duce” according to Reuters:
“It’s difficult now to put yourself in the shoes of people who were making decisions at that time … Obviously the government of that time, out of fear that German power might lead to complete victory, preferred to ally itself with Hitler’s Germany rather than opposing it … As part of this alliance, there were impositions, including combating and exterminating Jews. The racial laws were the worst fault of Mussolini as a leader, who in so many other ways did well.”
Mussolini’s wartime government deported about 10,000 Jews, and most of them died in the concentration camps.
In addition to Berlusconi’s political foes who blasted his defense of Mussolini’s fascist and anti-semitic regime, Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said that “it is the height of revisionism to try to reinstate an Italian dictator who helped legitimize and prop up Hitler as a ‘reincarnated good guy.’ ”
USA Today reports that Berlusconi attempted some damage control after his pro-Mussolini remarks created outrage:
“Hours later, Berlusconi issued a statement saying he ‘regretted’ that he didn’t make clear in his earlier comments that his historical analyses ‘are always based on condemnation of dictatorships.’ “
If you are a student of World War II history, or even if you’re not, could you in any way, shape, or form conclude that Hitler ally Benito Mussolini “did well”?