Mussolini's Ghost

by Derio Fo

In These Times magazine, March 18, 2002


We are witnessing in Italy a never-ending series of aberrations and hypocrisies by various political groups that are invoking-almost to the point of reclaiming the same words and gestures-a fascist climate. They use the same repertoire and shout the same slogans: freedom, effort, fatherland, Italy, defense of the race, culture of our civilization, original civilization....

Add to that what we call a "conflict of interest." Mussolini himself did not have the system of political privilege that Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister, has. On the other side, there's an eerie absence of opposition. It's true. It's a reality that can be felt: Our role has become one of mere dissidents trying to fill the void of political opposition. I attended the convention of the Democratici di Sinistra [Democratic Left Party]: They seemed paralyzed. "We must change, or we will die," they exclaimed. And having said that, they remained on the podium like statues of salt.

When someone like Pier Ferdinando Casini, president of the Parliament and member of the Union of Catholic Democrats, says things that sound like they should come from the left, such as, "Before changing anything at the RAI [Italian State TV1, we need to resolve issues involving conflict of interest," then we are in the midst of madness. This is someone on the right parroting the critical voice of a left that no longer exists, at a time when the right's efforts should be protested with important debates, meetings, demonstrations- in other words, any kind of presence. It's absurd that Casini tells his party members: "Wait, let's not overdo it." Even if this situation ends as a travesty or in nothing at all, the right will still have succeeded in speaking in the place of the opposition.

But one also sees new movements on the rise, especially among students, young workers and the elderly, who, through great and generous participation, seem to restore the waters of the resurrection. And I say, even, in the Catholic sense of the term, the waters of purification. These movements testify to an awe-inspiring resurgence.

However, instead of going along with these new movements, supporting them and applauding them, the left runs from them, as if disgusted. These are the same leftists, we should note, who are responsible for selling off our public schools, a plan young people, teachers and democratic-oriented families have made clear with the slogan: "Don't turn our schools into businesses." Before creating a private school system, we should concern ourselves with putting the one that already exists-the public school system-back together.

The same goes for their position on the war. Representatives of the center-left, in order to mitigate their position, plead: "Let's be careful not to upset the people. Let's not turn innocent people into victims." Let's be careful? Is that a joke? By now we know that 90 percent of victims are innocent, as Gino Strada, the author and founder of Emergency, an Italian organization that provides medical aid to war-tom regions, has explained to us. But, of course, we already knew that.

It has been calculated that the past three months of bombings ~ [in Afghanistan] have claimed more than 3,000 civilian victims, equivalent to the victims of the Twin Towers. This does not count the victims of the devastated cities, who live with atrocious hardships, or the invisible victims-"the invisible dead," as Strada once called them-whose numbers are frightening: thousands of orphans, whose parents were blown to bits by bombs and land mines. In this immense war-tom territory, it will take an estimated 200 years to clear the millions of land mines.

And all this for what? For a Pashtun victory that takes opium production back from the Taliban, opium that will still be sent to Pakistan to be refined and transformed into heroin. In the end, this means everything is put back into circulation with great force-the profits of the drug traffic recycled through American and European banks in a vicious circle of terrorist financing. As a journalist asked an official of the American government, "Given the financial trail of money-laundering that Swiss banks are involved in, when do you plan to bomb Switzerland?" The reply: dead silence.

But to return to Italy and to the decline of democracy that manifests itself there daily, I would not want this moment to become similar to what occurred when that other absolutist government was born, the one my father used to tell me about-he who, when very young, was a political refugee in France. I'm struck when I listen to those who witnessed that era firsthand say that they feel like they are reliving the '20s, the years of the birth of fascism.

Furthermore, we read the newspaper and see that Berlusconi's attorney, when presenting himself to the court for the first time after being charged with corruption, leaves the courtroom shouting: "There's no more justice!" His lawyers are there alongside Berlusconi's lawyers to demand the intervention of the minister of justice, a member of the Northern League, and chosen, conveniently, by Berlusconi's government.

We have before us the most irrational paradoxes, like something out of Alfred Jarry's King Ubu, the farce of the impossible: Laws are made expressly for the king, ministers are elected from his court to defend only his own interests, and the public applauds. At most, someone delivers a minor burp of indignation. With a clear conscience, the Cavalier and his men take every power in hand and enjoy total impunity. It is the logic of, "We will never go to prison."

I heard someone from Berlusconi's government say that they will meet with the center-left. "In one hand," he said, "we'll hold an olive branch and, in the other, a gun." Those were his exact words. It's true. The new fascism is there in their language and in their expressions. Beginning with "Business Italy" and moving to the "Business Party," we are all made into employees of the government, with the Big Boss at the center.

"Losers Beware!" was another fascist slogan. Today, it is enough to see the gestures, words, attitudes and the arrogance of these politicians, who beat their fists on the table, shouting "You're busting my balls" or "Get the hell out of my business" (like the Minister of Communications). We also hear "Arabs get out," "They can build their fleabag mosques somewhere else," and "They should stay in their ghetto." There's a new idea: a ghetto for those who are different, for those who are not willing to conform.

At times I feel anguished by this whole situation, a mute kind of melancholy. I continue to work in the theater, of course, and in parts of our performances we deal with these topics. And the public responds, but of course we're preaching to the converted.

The best thing today is this fantastic breeze and sun-these young people who are organizing themselves across the world. They need our help, information and the truth. But today we have no Jean-Paul Sartre who goes to speak at universities. In 1968 he held a conference on the theater of circumstance- political, popular theater. He opened the conference with a quote from Alberto Savinio: "Oh men, narrate our story."

Today, it is no longer a question of giving a history of the present, a sense of ltesprit du temps. Today theater directors and directors of theaters are on the right (some more recent converts than others) and have acquired a flair for flag-waving. Most intellectuals, in the meantime, are sleeping or simply pretending the warning signs don't exist-pretending that they have better things to think about.


Dario Fo, winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in literature, is an Italian anarchist playwright and actor. The following text is taken from a speech about the decline of democracy in Italy given on January 12 [2002] in Paris.

Translated by William Finley Green

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