Remarks on fascism fuel row

January 3, 2003

When UK historian Eric Hobsbawm declared at the Rome History Book Fair last year that "we need to have the courage to say that not everything about fascism was terrible", he found himself in the midst of a storm over demands to revise textbooks about Italy's fascist past.

Academics and politicians close to the conservative coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi, an alliance that includes the ex-fascist Alleanza Nazionale, said that the textbooks gave a biased view of the 1922-43 Mussolini regime and needed revising.

The issue is dividing academics. At Florence University last month, historians, including Briton Paul Ginsborg, held a discussion on the political right in Italy. It was dominated by academics on the left and concluded that there were analogies between the policies of Mussolini's regime and the Berlusconi government's efforts to control Italian society by taming the judiciary or rewriting history books.

The next day MPs and youth leaders of Berlusconi's Forza Italia party attacked the university and called on education minister Letizia Moratti to prevent further meetings of this kind.

Professor Hobsbawm's comments that "for understandable reasons certain things could not be talked about after the war", making revisionism appear necessary, served only to fuel the row.

Professor Hobsbawm, however, warned that "the other face of revisionism is the conscious attempt to change a country's past for ideological reasons".

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