European Parliament president Antonio Tajani has apologised for remarks interpreted as praise for Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and insisted he is “a committed anti-fascist.”
Mr Tajani, who is a member of Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party, came under fire after telling Radio 24 that before Mussolini “declared war on the entire world, following Hitler, until he promoted the racial laws”, the dictator did some “positive things”, such as improving infrastructure.
After an outcry in Italy and abroad, including calls for his resignation, Mr Tajani shot back on Twitter, saying it was disgraceful that his comments had been “manipulated”.
Shame on those who manipulate what I’ve allegedly said on fascism. I’ve always been a convinced anti-fascist, I will not allow anyone to suggest otherwise. The fascist dictatorship, racial laws and deaths it caused are the darkest page in Italian and European history.— David Sassoli (@EP_President) March 13, 2019
He later apologised for his remarks in a statement issued by his office in Strasbourg.
He said his comments were not intended to “play down an anti-democratic and totalitarian regime”.
“I have always been whole-heartedly anti-fascist,” Mr Tajani said. “I have always stressed that Mussolini and fascism were the darkest chapter in the history of the past century.”
Mr Tajani was the target of criticism for his initial comments on Mussolini from a wide range of sectors, including the European Commission vice-president and Human Rights Watch.
Italy has struggled to come to terms with its fascist past, with neo-fascist parties playing a role in post-war Italy while supporting fascism was made a crime.
Mussolini was Italy’s dictator for two decades until his summary execution in 1945. He allied fascist Italy with Nazi Germany in the Second World War and enacted racial laws that discriminated against Jews, paving the way for their deportation to Nazi death camps.
- Press Association