War of Words Continues 50 Years After Fascists' Defeat

'FASCISTS, out of the procession,'' shouted angry demonstrators last week in Milan, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Italy's liberation from Fascist dictatorship.

But the insult was not directed at members of an extremist party, but at a delegation from the party of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi -- showing how deeply the Fascist era still affects Italians.

Five decades after the war that ended the Fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini, many Italians still use Communist or Fascist to describe their political opponents, whether or not the label fits.

Leading the targeted delegation of the center-right Forza Italia Party in Milan was parliamentary deputy Gianni Pilo. In the end, the police were unable to guarantee the safe participation of Mr. Berlusconi's supporters, who withdrew. Two women in the group were hospitalized with injuries.

Later, television reporter Marina Guffardi and her crew from the weekly program Tempo Reale (Real Time) threaded their way through the crowd, doing interviews. The Forza Italia supporters spotted her and shouted, ''Communist!''

These two snapshots from April 25 mark the day when the leaders of the largely communist Italian resistance managed to liberate Milan and other important northern cities from Fascist control, before the Allies ever arrived in the North at the end of their Italian campaign.

Mr. Pilo is a pollster for Berlusconi's Forza Italia Party, which governed last year in a coalition with the National Alliance, a right-wing party that gets about 14 percent of the vote and whose leader says Mussolini was the century's greatest statesman.

Ms. Guffardi works for a television station that was once dominated by the now-defunct Italian Communist Party.

The passions played out in Milan don't particularly surprise Sergio Romano, a history professor at the city's Bocconi University and a former Italian ambassador to the Soviet Union.

The left is tending to overplay the resistance in its press in order to brand the postwar republic as anti-Fascist, while right-wing newspapers are treating the cruelties of the bombing of Dresden, Germany, and the Yugoslav killing of Italians in Istria in an attempt ''to mar the picture of the resistance,'' he says.

''The resistance was a minority, there's no doubt in my mind about that,'' says Mr. Romano.

''The vast majority of the country just stayed at the window and waited for things to sort out,'' Romano adds.

The Committee of National Liberation, as the resistance -- or partisans -- was officially known, was formed in September 1943 by six anti-Fascist political parties.

''In September 1943 the partisans were only about 1,500, not more than 30,000 in the spring of 1944, double that in the summer (when the liberation of Rome and Florence created the idea of a rapid end to the war), 250,000 on April 25, 1945, and millions at war's end,'' writes historian Giordano Bruno Guerri in Panorama, Italy's leading newsweekly.

''The military contribution these men brought to the victory was marginal, but the resistance had an extraordinary moral and symbolic value,'' Mr. Guerri's article goes on to say.

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