Italy marks Liberation Day

April 24, 2017
Partisans liberate Milan. April 25, 1945.

On April 25, 1945, the National Liberation Committee of Northern Italy (CLNAI), called for an insurrection against the Nazi-Fascist occupation of Italy.

Based in Milan, the Committee was led by (among others) Sandro Pertini, a key figure of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) who later became Italian president in 1978.

Pertini made the announcement to the “Italian citizens and workers”, declaring: “Nazi-Fascist occupation must be ended and Italy has to be liberated, so the invaders have to surrender or perish.”

Shortly after, the Fascist regime was overthrown, the Nazi-Fascist armed forces surrendered to the Allied powers and the resistance movement succeeded in Italy’s liberation.

The Italian resistance began in 1943, straight after King Vittorio Emanuele III announced a September 8 armistice with the Allies. The king nominated Pietro Badoglio as head of the new government after deposing Benito Mussolini.

The first Italian cities to be liberated by the resistance were Bologna (on April 21, 1945) and Genoa (on April 23, 1945). The Nazi-Fascists armed forces capitulated on May 3, 1945, after signing their surrender on April 29.

However, the date of April 25, 1945 has a symbolic value. On that day, the Nazi-Fascist troops began to retreat from the cities of Milan and Turin. This was a fatal blow, which gave way to the final victory of the Resistance.

Milan and Turin were the most important strategic points of the Italian Social Republic (RSI), founded by Mussolini and his loyalists after the September 8 armistice. The RSI represented the last-ditch attempt of the Italian and German fascists to prepare a counter-offensive against the resistance.

For the Nazi-Fascists, losing Milan and Turin in one stroke was a coup de grace. From that moment on, their army fell apart and Mussolini tried to seek refuge in Germany, but was caught and executed by resistance fighters.

The resistance movement represented a huge popular uprising and national unity. All the non-Fascist groups put aside their differences and joined forces against the common enemy.

Within that movement, Communists and Christian-democrats, Socialists and liberals, republicans and anarchists coexisted and cooperated for a common goal: the overthrow of fascism.

Resistance fighters were called the “Volunteers for Freedom” by their leaders, but they were popularly known as the “Partisans”.

However, even today some neo-fascist groups are still trying to manipulate history. With the complicity and the support of a large part of the parliamentary right, they seek to tarnish the Partisans’ memory.

The neo-fascists and ultra-conservative fringes of Italy are getting more attention by the media. Every year, on April 25, they organise shameful parallel events in which they try to spread their distorted version of history. In their narrative, the Fascists were innocent victims of Partisan cruelty.

This is happening despite the fact that, in Italy, apologising for or promoting fascism is a crime.

Moreover, it must also be said that the governing centre-left Democratic Party (PD) is complicit in these scandalous practices. Indeed, just a few days ago, PD president Matteo Orfini said that the National Italian Partisans Association (ANPI) was “becoming a dividing element, despite its anti-Fascist values, and for this reason the Democratic Party is not going to take part into the next Liberation Day Parade in Rome.”

Giuseppe Sala, the PD mayor or Milan, is no better. He failed to stop the neo-Fascist rally, which will take place in the city on April 25 to commemorate the fallen of the RSI.

The PD also backed criticisms from Italian Jewish community of the ANPI for accepting pro-Palestine groups in its Liberation Day Parade. This is despite ANPI president Carlo Smuraglia repeatedly stating that everyone is welcome to join the parade, which is the greatest symbol of national unity.

Paradoxically, the PD accuses the ANPI (which has campaigned against some PD policies) of betraying the anti-fascist values of Italian Republic, when in fact it is one of their few defenders.

The real problem that results is that Italian people tend to minimise the atrocities committed by the Fascist regime and sometimes confuse criminal ambitions with freedom of opinion.

As a result, openly neo-fascist parties are rising again and threatening the roots of freedom and democracy. But history is clear and undeniable: Fascism is the legitimisation of political and social violence, the denial of individual freedom, the criminalisation of dissent and diversity, and the exaltation of war and imperialism.

Italian socialist Giacomo Matteotti, brutally murdered by the Fascists in 1924, put it simply: “Fascism is not an opinion like any other: it is a crime.”

For these reasons, it is historically wrong to equate Partisans and Fascists. The Fascists opposed freedom and installed a dictatorship, while Partisans heroically fought to win freedom and end Fascist oppression.

The so-called Togliatti Amnesty, a law pushed in 1946 by the then Minister of Justice Palmiro Togliatti of the Communist Party, granted clemency for the political crimes made by the Fascists, especially during World War II.

This act was a fundamental step to re-establishing the national peace, despite being not well-received by some Resistance fighters.

But the amnesty showed unequivocally that the aim of the resistance was not to physically eliminate every single Fascist, but to give freedom back to Italian people. Partisans were not driven by resentment nor by a sense of superiority, but only by desire for freedom.

It is important not to confuse forgiveness with forgetting: forgiving the Fascists is one thing, but it is never right to forget the crimes of Fascism.

It is crucial to retain a common awareness of the historical crimes of Fascism, in order to prevent similar events from occurring again.

Indeed, collective memory and common conscience are the best weapons in our arsenal against every form of fascism now threatening the Western world. Our duty is to spread and keep alive this memory.

Resistance cannot be conceived without historical memory nor political conscience.

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