Berlusconi Under Fire for Praising Mussolini

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 27 2013 12:56 PM

Berlusconi: Mussolini Wasn’t So Bad (Except for the Whole Anti-Jew Thing)

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Silvio Berlusconi accused the left of trying to exploit his comments for electoral gain

Photo by VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images

Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi certainly doesn’t have the best timing in the world. Proving just how tone deaf a politician can be, Berlusconi seems to have thought that the sidelines of a Holocaust remembrance ceremony was the right time to defend Italy’s fascist leader Benito Mussolini. Although Berlusconi at least did say that Mussolini was wrong to pass anti-Jewish laws, otherwise he wasn’t so bad. Berlusconi, who is running in next month’s parliamentary elections, also defended Mussolini’s decision to ally himself with Hitler, noting that he probably assumed the German leader was going to win and he wanted to be on the winning side, reports the Associated Press.

"It's difficult now to put yourself in the shoes of people who were making decisions at that time," Berlusconi said. “Obviously the government of that time, out of fear that German power might lead to complete victory, preferred to ally itself with Hitler's Germany rather than opposing it," Berlusconi said. He added: “The racial laws were the worst fault of Mussolini as a leader, who in so many other ways did well."

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Reuters explains that Mussolini’s “status in Italy remains deeply ambiguous.”  Outside the country, Mussolini is most known for his alliance with Nazi Germany, but his government also paid for infrastructure projects and welfare for supporters. Still, Berlusconi’s comments were condemned by several left-leaning leaders with some calling on the former prime minister to be prosecuted for promoting fascism.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.