ROME – An Italian government official has resigned after coming under fierce criticism for his proposal to rename a park in his hometown after the fascist brother of Italy’s former dictator, Benito Mussolini.
The proposal to rename the park after Arnaldo Mussolini was made earlier this month by the official, Claudio Durigon, an undersecretary in the economy ministry who is a member of the right-wing League party.
It reignited a debate over the memory of Benito Mussolini in a nation still struggling to reconcile its fascist past.
Unlike other countries that agreed long ago on a blanket condemnation of their authoritarian rulers, debates still flare frequently in Italy over whether a distinction should be made between what Mussolini’s supporters view as the good he did during his 1922-43 rule and the atrocities he ordered.
“The case is a clear example of how history can be revised in Italy these days,” said Andrea Mammone, an Italian historian at Royal Holloway University of London. “Fascist ideology and culture are present again not just in smaller, extremist movements, but also in major national parties.”
In recent years, Italy’s far-right parties have gained support.
One of them, Brothers of Italy, once fielded Mussolini’s great-grandson as a candidate for the European Parliament and is now the most popular party in Italy, according to recent polls.
It is followed close behind by Durigon’s anti-immigrant League party.
In an open letter of apology in which he announced his resignation, Durigon denied that he was ever a fascist.
But he said he wanted to pay tribute to the “great work” done by the Mussolini regime to reclaim the area around Latina, the city near Rome where the park is located, and to eradicate malaria there.
The name of Arnaldo Mussolini “is part of the memory of the city,” he wrote. “I was attacked for proposing to save the historical memory,” Durigon added.
The park was once named for Arnaldo Mussolini, but in 2017, the City Council renamed it Falcone and Borsellino Park to honor two slain anti-Mafia prosecutors, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who were killed by the Mafia in 1992.
Durigon, speaking at a rally in Latina this month, said he wanted to revert to the prior name of the park to honor Arnaldo Mussolini, who wrote for a fascist newspaper and was considered his brother’s mouthpiece.
“It must return to being the Mussolini park it had always been,” Durigon said to applause from the crowd.
Giuseppe Conte, a former prime minister who leads the populist Five Star Movement, dubbed the proposal “serious and disconcerting” and called for the resignation of Durigon.
Left-leaning parties, anti-Mafia associations and groups of anti-fascist fighters expressed outrage.