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Large Assembly in Italy Pays Controversial Tribute to Hitler Despite Nationwide Ban

Opposition politicians in Italy on Monday demanded that the government, headed by far-right Premier Giorgia Meloni, explain how hundreds of demonstrators were able to give a banned fascist salute at a Rome rally without any police intervention.

The rally Sunday night in a working-class neighbourhood commemorated the slaying in 1978 of two members of a neo-fascist youth group in an attack later claimed by extreme-left militants.

At one point in the rally, participants raised their right arm in a straight-armed salute that harks back to the fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini. Under post-war legislation, use of fascist symbolism, including the straight-armed salute also known as the Roman salute, is banned.

Democratic Party chief Elly Schlein, who heads the largest opposition party in the legislature, was among those demanding Monday that Meloni’s interior minister appear in Parliament to explain why police apparently did nothing to stop the rally.

Schlein and others outraged by the use of the fascist-salute in the rally noted that last month, when a theatregoer at La Scala’s opera house’s premier shouted “Long live anti-fascist Italy!” The man was quickly surrounded by police from Italy’s anti-terrorism squad.

“If you shout ‘Long live anti-fascist Italy’ in a theatre, you get identified (by police); if you go to a neo-fascist gathering with Roman salutes and banner, you don’t,’’ said Schlein in a post on the social media platform X. Then she added: “Meloni has nothing to say?”

Rai state television said Monday evening that Italian police were investigating the mass salute at the rally.

Deputy Premier Antoni Tajani, who leads a centre-right party in Meloni’s 14-month-old coalition, was pressed by reporters about the fascist salute.

“We’re a force that certainly isn’t fascist, we’re anti-fascist,’’ Tajani said at a news conference on another matter. Tajani, who also serves as foreign minister, noted that under Italian law, supporting fascism is banned. All rallies “in support of dictatorships must be condemned,” he said.

Leaders of Italy’s Jewish community also expressed dismay over the fascist salute.

“It’s right to recall the victims of political violence, but in 2024 this can’t happen with hundreds of people who give the Roman salute,” Ruth Dureghello, who for several years led Rome’s Jewish community, wrote on X.

Mussolini’s anti-Jewish laws helped pave the way for the deportation of Italian Jews during the German occupation of Rome in the latter years of World War II.

The rally was held on the anniversary of the deaths of two young men outside an office of what was then the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, a party formed after World War II that attracted nostalgists for Mussolini. After the two youths were killed, a third far-right youth was killed during clashes with police in demonstrations that followed.

Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party has its roots in neo-fascism, has distanced from Mussolini’s dictatorship, declaring that “ the Italian right has handed fascism over to history for decades now.”

The late 1970s saw Italy blooded by violence by extreme right-wing and extreme left-wing proponents. It included deadly bombings linked to the far-right, and assassinations and kidnappings claimed by the Red Brigades and other left-wing extremists.