Salò, a city in northern Italy that was the seat of Benito Mussolini’s government during the Italian fascist regime, will receive the country’s first museum dedicated to fascism, the newspaper said. The Art Newspaper.
With an inauguration scheduled for the autumn, the future Museum of the Italian Social Republic – the name evokes the fascist government established in September 1943, at the time of the Armistice of Cassibile, in the part of the Italian territory not occupied by the Allies, considered a puppet state of Nazi Germany – will be filled with photos of the time, posters of the regime’s propaganda, busts and videos of Mussolini’s speeches, newspaper clippings, audio clips of the anthem of the Italian Social Republic, among other memorabilia fascist, in addition to a bomb-proof shelter of the time, reconstructed.
A delicate maneuver, at a time when far-right movements are gaining traction in Europe and with Italy being governed by Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy party (FdI), a direct descendant of the National Fascist Party (Ignazio La Russa, co-founder of the FdI chosen by Meloni to preside over the Senate, was recently filmed in his home alongside busts of Mussolini).
While local anti-fascist associations see the museum as a potential “mecca for fascists”, the curators argue that it will serve to “clarify” a “controversial” period of Italian history, which has not been “properly” taught in the country’s schools. According to The Art Newspaper, Roberto Chiarini, Elena Pala and Giuseppe Parlato consider that Italy has never truly dusted off its past. “After the war, fascism was seen as something highly negative; a subject not even worth talking about.”
“Fascism created a rift in society that is still felt today”, points out Roberto Chiarini, who is also president of the center for studies and documentation on the Italian Social Republic, based in Salò. Lisa Cervigni, director of the Museum of Salò (MuSa), whose building will house the Museum of the Italian Social Republic, argues that it is necessary to reflect on the history of this period “in a balanced way”. “We are not interested in demonizing or defending the fascist era.”
MuSa has been working on this subject. It even had a permanent section on the Italian Social Republic and hosted temporary exhibitions on fascism, including The Cult of the Leader, in 2016, centered on the glorification of Mussolini and his propaganda machine. This exhibition was met with protests by anti-fascist demonstrators outside the museum.
Nostalgic for fascism?
Moreover, it is not the first time in Italy that a museological project of this type is on the table. Rome and Predappio, the city where Mussolini was born and where he is buried, already had plans to create their museums in 2020. There was no lack of opposition. Those responsible went back, archiving the projects.
Faced with the imminent completion of the museum in Salò, representatives of the National Association of Italian Partisans (ANPI), an organization founded by members of the Italian Resistance, and the anti-fascist charity Green Flame Brigade have warned that it could become a fascist pilgrimage site if not approach the topic with due care and framing.
Lucio Pedroni, director of the Brescia branch of ANPI, points out that the association “is not against” the creation of the museum per sebut that it is necessary to highlight and give context to the crimes committed during the Italian dictatorship, naming the plans to expose some of the memorabilia fascist as “ridiculous” and “banal”.
Pedroni also warns that some of these objects may come from private collections of “nostalgics for fascism”. According to The Art Newspaper, a prospective catalog that the newspaper had access to lists the provenance of the objects as “Private – Italian Social Republic Study Centers”, but does not mention who donated them. Curator Elena Pala says that “90%” of the items and documents came from “older collectors”, but denies that these can be described as nostalgic for fascism.
The ANPI director also mentions that Marco Bonometti, a businessman who is frequently described by Italian newspapers as an admirer of Mussolini, is among the museum’s financiers, information that the MuSa director neither confirms nor denies. However, she notes the The Art Newspaper, Gianpaolo Comini, who is on MuSa’s board and is also a member of ANPI, says that Bonometti is the institution’s only private financier. For Comini, the businessman is interested in supporting this project because it could increase the number of visitors to the MuSa and also because of “his sympathy” for the fascist period. O The Art Newspaper tried to obtain statements from Bonometti, but without success.
The Museum of the Italian Social Republic will occupy an entire floor of the MuSa. €235,000 has been allocated to the project: €100,000 from the region of Lombardy, €30,000 from the municipality of Salò and the remaining amount from private sponsors who have not yet been officially named.