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Football fascism and fandom in modern Italy

ผู้เขียน: แหล่งที่มา:ต้นฉบับ เวลาปล่อย:2023-01-14

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The Fascist regime laid the foundations of contemporary football in Italy, however its influence was not profound enough to explain the far-rights existence in stadiums since the 1980s. The far-rights presence in Italian football has instead been a direct consequence of the weakness of the post-war state.

Remember those mobile phone advertisements where they asked people who they most would like to have a one-to-one with? Ian Wright picked Dr Martin Luther King, my choice would have been Mussolini.

This paper will examine the relationship between Fascism and football (calcio) in Italy, from the mid-1920s and the rise of Italys Fascist regime up to the present day, focusing on how the stadium has become a key venue for both reviving the memory of the regime and Mussolini and for expressing and propagating extremist ideology. Its objective is to establish how the far rights contemporary association with the game has developed and the extent to which it can be traced back to Italian Fascism of the 1930s. The chronology of this analysis will establish the fundamentals of Fascisms takeover of the game before contextualising its development in post-Fascist Italian history. Drawing upon existing knowledge regarding Fascist memory, it will make an original contribution to the understanding of football and politics in Italy by contextualising the games enduring connection with the far right within the framework of contemporary Italian history. While there has been a growing interest in the politicisation of Italian football and its fan groups, there has been no academic consideration of the long-term connection between Italian Fascism and foot-ball, as if the strong link between the two had been broken by the political rupture occurring in 1945.

Following the collapse of Fascism in 1943 and the Nazi-Fascist puppet-state the Italian Social Republic1in 1945, the reconstitution of the Fascist party was made illegal by the 1947 Italian Constitution, and the apology of Fascism banned by the 1952 Scelba Law.2Extreme right-wing ideologies nonetheless persisted in postwar Republican Italy, and football has since provided a visible outlet for the expression of their beliefs. Not simply a sporting/political issue, however, this is indicative of a number of unresolved problems within the postwar state that have permitted the far right to maintain its presence and visibility.

Through analysis of the secondary literature regarding Fascist memory and contemporary news reports that have highlighted the far rights exploitation of stadiums as highly visible political venues, this paper will offer an explanation as to why the relationship between football and Fascism in Italy has been so enduring. Beginning with the 2017 case of stickers at the Stadio Olimpico (Rome) that portrayed Anne Frank wearing an AS Roma shirt, the article will establish Fascisms roots in the game and how its memory and continuing popularity have been created and explained. Italys failure to definitively break with Fascism and even begin to come to terms with its past will be seen to have contributed to the extreme politicisation of Italian society in the 1970s, which was transferred into the stadiums and their fan groups.

One of the groups most associated with neo-Fascism is SS Lazios IrriducibiliultraS, who have established a close relationship with former players Paolo DiCanio and Sinisha Mihajlovic. Their political identities will be examined before finally addressing the recent establishment of interdependencies between the football clubs, television, business interests and politics that have shaped the games production and consumption and have turned it into a Wild West of entertainment where almost anything is permitted with little or no sanction, including the unfettered propagation of Fascist ideology.

In October 2017, some SS Lazio fans attended the Serie A match against Cagliari from the unfamiliarcurva sudof the Stadio Olimpico, the home end for their archrivals of AS Roma. The identities of each club and their fan groups are distinctive and rooted in their origins, as Francesco Ricatti points out in his analysis of Roman football. Roma, which had adopted the symbol of the she-wolf and the colours of the city (dark red/yellow) developed a strong connection with the urban center and its working class whereas Lazio the teams name being the same as the province in which Rome is located came to represent the surrounding region. While Roma fans took pleasure in derogatively referring to their Lazio rivals asburini, those who came in from the countryside to sell butter, Lazio supporters equally refer to Roma as a team of butchers and Jews, based upon their original core areas of support in Rome, which included the slaughterhouse and the ghetto (Ricatti, 2010: 222-223).

Banned from their own customary end (curva nord) of the Olimpico following racist chants the previous week, the Lazio club exploited a loophole to allow fans to attend the match by annulling their season tickets for one game and buying a ticket for thecurva sud, at a token price of €1. This sleight of hand deliberately undermined the punishment imposed by Italys sporting justice system and brought theIrriducibili ultraSinto the enemy territory, where they conducted what the football federation (FIGC) President Carlo Tavecchio described as an unspeakable act (Pinci, 2017b: 51). A man not known for using politically correct speech,3in 2014 when discussing the issue of foreign players in Serie A, Tavecchio referred to Opti Poba who used to eat bananas before coming here and now he plays for Lazio.4

Romas apparent Jewish links, combined with the ticketing scam, explains how and why some members of theIrriducibili(Immovables)ultraSchose to leave stickers in thecurva sudstating romanista ebreo (the Roma fan is a Jew) plus another with the image of Anne Frank, one of the most well-known victims of the Holocaust, wearing a Roma shirt (Pinci, 2017a). The logic it is offensive to be called a Jew is not exclusive to Lazio fans either; Roma supporters have also painted Anne Frank supports Lazio on walls in the city (Pinci, 2017b; Merlo, 2017). As one Jewish woman stated: Roma and Lazio ultras who are usually divided by the stupidity of football are, however, united in their use of blind anti-Semitism (Merlo, 2017).

SS Lazio President Claudio Lotito made an apparently penitent visit to the Rome Synagogue to lay a wreath in Lazio colours, for which he was criticised by Romes Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni. His statement that the Jewish community is not a washing machine (Bisbiglia, 2017) appeared to be a direct reference to how Italys far right sought to cleanse itself of its extremist and anti-Semitic past via openly apologetic gestures, a topic which this paper will return to. Lotitos visit had little effect. As passages from Anne Franks diary were read aloud in Serie A stadiums prior to the next round of Serie A matches and players wore T-shirts opposing antiSemitism, a small minority of Lazio fans sang the Fascist hymn Me ne frego (Marrese, 2017).

Calcios contemporary relationship with neo-Fascism was evidenced again within weeks, with Eugenio Maria Lupis post-goal celebratory gesture for his Seconda Categoria5team, Futa 65. Taking off his team jersey to reveal a T-shirt bearing the flag of the Italian Social Republic, the player also gave a straight-armed Roman salute. Officially part of the Fascist regime since 1925, this salute was adopted as a substitute for what was considered the bourgeois handshake in 1932. According to Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi, it became thesine qua nonof the real Fascist, the element without which one could not be considered a Fascist (Falasca-Zamponi, 2000: 113). Controversial enough as it stands, Lupis gesture was even more scandalous given the teams opponents, Marzabotto. In 1944, the area surrounding this village south of Bologna, was witness to a mass murder of at least 770 citizens carried out by Nazi Waffen SS forces. The reasons for the massacre have never been fully explained but historians now agree that the massacre was not a reprisal, but an act of preventative terrorism aimed at the civilian population (Foot, 2009: 133). Although this match took place at a relatively low level of Italian football, attention was drawn to the incident by the President of the Regional Committee for the Honour of the Fallen at Marzabotto, Valter Cardi, who protested at the area being forced to accept the umpteenth unacceptable insult during a football match (Camilletti, 2017). In an attempt to distance itself from the incident, the club and its players, without Lupi, visited the Marzabotto Memorial chapel one week after the event.6

There is much in these episodes to explain how and why Italy has had such difficulty in separating football from Fascism, including ignorance, a fundamental disrespect for authority, the ineffectual nature of Italian justice, a lack of leadership, and the important relationship between football clubs andultrgroups of supporters. Before turning to these, however, the origins of the relationship should be established.

Football and Fascism have been linked since Mussolinis regime restructured the game in 1926 with the Carta di Viareggio. Fascism took interest whencalcioquickly became arguably the most significant mass popular cultural practice in Italy. In response to the games rapid expansion across the country and its consequent disorderliness, Fascism set about restructuring the sport and moulding it to respond to the regimes needs as a tool of propaganda and national identity. Principally done via the imposition of a new Fascist hierarchy of officers, a new constitution that imposed disciplinary measures and rules regarding foreign players, and the creation of Italys first national competition, this stimulated the formation of new clubs such as AS Roma and AC Fiorentina. Although there was no single overriding motive for the intervention, seizing control of an increasingly chaotic game was crucial for a regime that had forced its way into power while promising to restore order to Italian society. At the same time, the Carta di Viareggio was underpinned by the concept of nation: Serie A would offer a national competition with which all Italians could identify, while improving standards and thereby the competitiveness of the national team in the international arena.7

Fascisms intervention changed football in Italy forever and stamped an enduring mark upon the game via its organisation, stadiums and successes. Italy hosted and won the 1934 World Cup, holding on to the trophy in France in 1938; in the interim a team of Italian university students won the 1936 Olympic football tournament. Thus, Fascisms intervention and investment certainly reinforced the games pre-existing solid foundations for the game while Italys mythical heroes, matches, and victories were filtered to the general public via a highly censored mass media and later retold, thus developing an inevitably long-standing association with the regime. However, the clear identification between aspects of the regime and footballing success also led to an embarrassed silence on behalf of many about those victories [] Italys relationship with the football of the 1930s, as in so many areas, was a difficult one (Foot, 2006: 442-443).

The fall of Fascism on 25 July 1943 began the de-Fascistisation of Italian sport, as the Italian Olympic Committee (Comitato Olimpico Nazionale Italiano CONI) was divided in two parts between liberated Italy and the Republic of Sal. The former international tennis player, ice skater, journalist and sports administrator Count Alberto Bonacossa was made head of CONI. A strong monarchist, he was the perfect candidate to briefly head CONI during the challenging period between the fall of Fascism on 25 July 1943 and the Armistice declaration on 8 September of the same year. He also represented much about change, or the lack of it, in post-regime Italy. While he had never held a position of responsibility under Fascism, he was most likely sympathetic to its rule, and his appointment by Marshall Badoglios government indicated how post-Fascist Italy would be one of continuity and discontinuity rather than a country that had definitively broken from its past.8

Rather than substantially altering the old order and posing difficult questions as to ordinary Italians responsibility for what had happened under Fascism, the focus for change was one that sought to sweep away the trappings of the old regime and those considered responsible for leading it. Although Bonacossa abandoned his position after little more than a month, he was reconfirmed as an International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Committee member in 1946. Conducting much of Italys immediate postwar sporting diplomacy, he protected its IOC membership and avoided its exclusion from international competition, unlike what had occurred with Germany and Japan (Forcellese, 2013: 169-172).

First appointed as CONI regent on 28 June 1944, and then Extraordinary Commissioner in October 1944, Giulio Onesti re-launched Italian sport. Criticised for appointing individuals tainted by their relationship with Fascism, he was accused of making CONI more oligarchic than it had been under the regime.9The issue reflected the broader problem of what to do with former regime activists who remained within the government administration and state apparatus. In a state where Fascist Party membership had been mandatory, the complete eradication of those who had been employed in the civil service under the regime was impractical. The cleansing that did take place, however, was that of partisans or anti-Fascists that entered the public administration immediately after the liberation.10This situation was exacerbated by the lack of any formal justice proceedings for prominent members of the political, military, judicial and economic leadership of Fascist Italy who had planned or carried out war crimes, unlike that for Nazi leaders at the Nuremburg trials.11

This continuity was also the responsibility of the Italian Communist Party (PCI). By the mid-1930s leading PCI figures Palmiro Togliatti and Antonio Gramsci had already begun to theorise Fascist rule by acknowledging its popularity among the Italian middle class. Advocating the construction of long-term alliances with the middle classes rather than a direct attack upon the state, the Italian road to socialism was intended to avoid revolution and the possibility of Italian communism once again contributing to the conditions for the collapse of democracy (Foot, 2014: 203). Committed to cooperating with its political rivals, the PCIs deal with other anti-Fascist parties was confirmed by party leader Togliattis about turn at Salerno (svolta di Salerno) in March 1944, in which the theoretically still revolutionary PCI accepted the immediate leadership of the king and the prospect of shared government with the Catholics and monarchists. Furthermore, as Minister of Justice in the post-liberation anti-Fascist coalition, Togliatti pushed through an amnesty that enabled many Fascists to escape punishment. As there was no wholesale reform of the 1930 Rocco penal code, many judges who were either Fascists or who worked within its system remained in post after 1945, and despite widespread support for their abolition, the Prefects12survived although many of them had supported Fascism during its rise and time in power.

Sport further reflected this, with considerable continuity between officers of the regime and the Republic. A notable case was that of the Florentine noble, the Marquis Luigi Ridolfi, who joined the Fascist movement in the spring of 1921. He participated actively in the activities of the Fascist squads and was vice-commander of the II Florentine legion during the March on Rome, in 1922, which forced Mussolini into power (Lungonelli, 2016). Secretary of the Provincial Fascist Party, from 1926-1929, Ridolfi was made a Parliamentary Deputy in 1934 and reconfirmed in 1939 and 1943.13He was also the founder (1926) and first president of AC Fiorentina and the driving force behind the construction of the clubs avant-garde stadium, the former Giovanni Berta now Artemio Franchi.14Unlike national-team manager Vittorio Pozzo whose supposed links to the regime [] led to his isolation in the 1950s and 1960s and to the new stadium in Turin not being named after him in 1990 (Foot, 2006: 442), Ridolfi continued to hold important positions within Italian sport post-Fascism. In 1951 he became head of the FIGCsCentro tecnico(coaching centre) and relaunched the idea of a football university for players and coaches that had been mooted in the interwar years. Inaugurated a few months after his death in 1958, the centre at Coverciano, in the periphery of Florence, was dedicated to him.

President of the Italian Athletics Federation (FIDAL) from 1930-1942, Ridolfi was unanimously elected in 1957, holding the post until his death. From 1954, he was also a member of CONIs board that exerted significant international influence via three Italian members of the IOC Executive Committee ex-international tennis player Giorgio De Stefani, former Turin Podest (Fascist Mayor), Prefect and Minister of Finance, Paolo Thaon di Revel, and Alberto Bonacossa.15Aristocratic and self-financed, they were kindred spirits amongst the IOCs oligarchic elite and key to Italys successful bid to host the 1960 Olympic Games16that came above all, thanks to the choice of a sporting politics of continuity by CONI (Forcellese, 2013: 167).

The presence of former Fascists and sympathisers at all levels of government, public service and state administration contributed to the creation of a broad idea of Italians as intrinsically good people bravagente who were victims rather than accomplices or supporters of Fascism. Pushing the blame for the post-1938 excesses of the Fascist regime principally onto the influence of Nazi Germany thus creates a bad German/good Italian discourse that shifts or eliminates any sense of guilt for what happened, thereby creating the image of a benign regime and leader. This is, of course, contingent upon whether Fascist Italys brutal colonial campaign in Eastern and Northern Africa, racial legislation, and concentration camps, for example, are even recognised let alone critically analysed. The long-term result of this has been a rehabilitation of Fascism and Mussolini, as if nothing happened in Italian history. While Fascism has not exactly become good, it is no longer made to appear as something completely bad. This neutral profile legitimizes many of the values, ideals and references that have been, and often still are, used by some right wing parties. (Mammone, 2006: 213)

The postwar Republics failure to effectively deal with the legacy of the regime was evident in its acceptance of the creation in 1946 by the defeated Fascists of a political party, which, if not calling itself Fascist, clearly indicated itself as the successor to the RSI by calling itself the Italian Social Movement (Movimento Sociale Italiano MSI) (Dunnage, 2002: 133). Thus, the repression and distortion of memory was critical to the existence and development of postwar neo-Fascism and the MSI. The partys unrepentant links to the regime lasted until its 1995 party congress at Fiuggi where, in an attempt to create a legitimate political force capable of governing, the MSI was dissolved and replaced by the post-Fascist Alleanza Nazionale (AN). Driven by Gianfranco Fini, he rejected the MSIs previous references to Fascism, condemned anti-Semitism and the 1938 Racial Laws, visited the Fosse Ardeatine monument in Rome17to pay homage the Partisans and Italians soldiers executed there, before going to Auschwitz in an act of recognition of those murdered at the concentration camp in addition to the Italians soldiers killed at or deported from the Russian front.18Improving the partys electoral and government prospects, it was hugely controversial among its base of support, and a faction of the old MSI remained loyal to its ideals. Refusing to join the Alleanza Nazionale, they formed the Movimento Sociale Fiamma Tricolore (MSFT). As Testa and Armstrong note, this Movimentist brand of fascism is present today in the majority of the Italian neo-fascist youth groups and is certainly recognizable amid the UltraS (2010: 91).

At this point some consideration of the semantic debate regarding the dif-ference betweenultrandultraSis required. The first point to underscore is that these committed groups of fans are not necessarily, by nature, violent. In differentiating between the two terms, Ricatti has argued that whileultris sometimes substituted withultras, both are usually synonymous,although they are sometimes used with different meanings by supporters of Roma, who indicate with the first the traditional Italian soccer barrak-ers, and, with the latter, groups closer to the English model of hooligans (2010: 221). Testa and Armstrong also dispute the frequently presumed assumption that earlier establishedultrand the more recentultraSare synonymous with the English term hooligan: In the Italian context, theUltraSare perhaps hooligans, but of a very different ilk, because they arenow inextricably linked with late 20th-century Italian neo-fascism (Testa and Armstrong, 2010: 3).

A further bridge connecting Fascist football of the 1930s to the neoFascism of the stadiums today was the period of intense and extreme political violence in Italy from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. Both a playing-out of the unresolved civil war19from 1943-1945 and the dominant postwar Christian Democratic Partys failure to introduce reforms in response to the dramatic modernisation of Italian society during the economic miracle, the polarisation of Italian politics, the politicisation of thepiazzasand the accompanying violence was transferred into football stadiums.

The protest movement that began in the universities in 1968 and moved into the factories the following year radicalised large sectors of society and left a tradition of small and highly politicised groups of young Italians from which theultremerged. Strongly identifying with their stadium, club and locality, they took the conflict felt in Italian public life into the stadiums, gavecalcioa political context and significance, and offered supporters a political identity. Divided by their support for communism or neo-Fascism, they united around an objection and resistance to all forms of organisation and control (Triani, 1990: 133-134). Mimicking the style, structures and countercultural features of political groups (Podaliri and Balestri, 1999: 91), the creation ofultrcollectives at both ends of the political spectrum was reflected in their names, such as Milans leftist Fossa dei Leoni (Lions Den), arguably the first modern ultr group formed in 1968, and the Brigate Rossonere (Red and Black Brigades), and their right-wing city rivals of the Inter Boys SAN (Armed Black-and-Blue Squad) formed by members of theFronte della Giovent the youth movement of the Italian neo-fascist party MSI (Testa and Armstrong, 2010: 71).

The impact of Italys post-1968 radicalisation was reflected in the SS Lazio team that won its first league title in 1974 with a group of eccentric players renowned for their passion for firearms, militarism, parachuting and some who supported the MSI.20The clubs title success attracted new supporters and recruits to thecurva nordwhere groups such as theFolgore, who were named after an elite parachute regiment of the Italian military that was much admired by neo-fascist youths, began to appear. Some of these groups combined to form theEagles Supportersin 1976, who organised spectacular matchday displays. Dedicated but relatively pacifist and unpoliticised, they contrasted and occasionally clashed with the more extremeVikingswho dominated thecurvauntil 1987 and the emergence of theIrriducibili, who have gone on to become its main force (Testa and Armstrong, 2010: 55-56).

The power struggles within thecurva nordwere indicative of how, during the 1970s and 1980s, many older leaders lost control as groups began to fragment into smaller factions. While some became politically neutral or apolitical, others developed local and national political agendas. Cities with two clubs often had distinctive political identities, as in AC Milan being the traditional team of the railway workers/working class and their rivals Internazionale representing the more conservative bourgeoisie. Club identities also reflected regions with distinctive political allegiances, most notably those in the Northern League (Lega Nord) strongholds of Lombardy and Veneto that frequently demonstrated strong anti-southern and racist rhetoric. As local and provincial identities became intensified by the impact of globalisation upon albeit misguided ideas of Italian homogeneity, many fan groups shifted towards the extreme right of politics. With cities increasingly interpreted aspiccole patrie(small countries/motherlands), there was a corresponding increase in xenophobia and racism.

Such ideas and behaviours became increasingly evident among AS RomasBoys, who rose to ascendancy in the late 1980s as the old guard of thecurva sudbegan to dissipate. Taking the double-bladed axe as their symbol, thepillars of their ideology are equally predictable and populist: the glorification of Mussolini as the greatest man in Italian history and the honouring of ancient Rome and the Fascist era, bound together by cultural memory that reinterprets and reinvents the past. In 2005 at Livorno, a hated adversary due to both the citys and teams strong Communist history, they unveiled flags displaying swastikas and Celtic crosses (the symbol of neo-Fascism) and sang choruses of Duce, Duce in reference to Mussolini.21

The events were repeated at the Stadio Olimpico the following January when Roma hosted Livorno and included a black and white banner stating: Lazio-Livorno:stessa iniziale, stesso forno [Lazio-Livorno: same beginnings, same oven].22Once again seeking to offend via the connection with Jewishness, the banner worked linguistically in Italian due to the rhyme between the words Livorno and forno. Evidencing how club leaders were careful not offend extreme supporters, AS Roma president Franco Sensi asked simply that politics stay out of the stadium. Taking a similar line regarding sport and politics, Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni nonetheless connected the incident with the citys past: politics must stay out of the stadium [] but even more so the apology for the Nazi regime that brought so much horror and death to the world [] Rome is the city of the deportation of the Jews, Rome is the city of the Fosse Ardeatine. Behaviour like this cannot be tolerated.23Spokesperson for Romes Jewish community Riccardo Pacifici demanded a response from the Interior Minister Beppe Pisanu and Head of Police Marcello Fulvi, as to why the 1993 Mancino24that condemns the diffusion of racially-, ethnically- or nationally-based hatred had not been applied after numerous Jewish and non-Jewish fans in attendance at the stadium protested directly to the police (Caccia, 2006). By no means the first such incident, a similar banner appeared during the 1998 Rome derby: Auschwitz is your homeland, the ovens your homes (Caccia, 1998).25It was unfurled by LaziosIrriducibili, one of theultrgroups most associated with neo-Fascism.

Taking the eagle as their symbol, which is shared with that of the club albeit stylistically different, theIrriducibilimotto Dare, Believe, Be Reckless requires little imagination when associating it with the Fascist regimes mantra for Italian youth Believe, Obey, Fight. Admiring ancient Rome, the imperial past and glorifying Mussolini, they share these sympathies with their neo-Fascist Roma rivals. Such ideas are central to theultraS highly traditional and symbolic view of the world, and within this context, the importance of Mussolini goes beyond simply the flags in the stadiums. Viewed asthegreat man of Italian history, an individual who represented and enacted the will of the people, this revision of history is offered outside of the context of the regimes inherent violence and involvement in atrocities. It is also often presented as a purer, more honest period and thus contrasted with the corruption of contemporary politics.

Coming soon after the collapse of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, the Tangentopoli corruption scandal in the early 1990s brought an end to the postwar First Republic and prompted some historians to reconsider the events of 1943-1945 and Italys liberation. Rather than a moment of collective identification, the re-assessment of the Resistance accused the PCI of manipulating the historical record for its own base political motives (Carter, 2010: 168) and reduced the role of Communist partisans in the birth of the democratic republic. At the same time, it also extended to a rehabilitation of the regime and Mussolini. A clear example of this was Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconis insistence, in 2003, that Mussolini never killed anyone. Mussolini used to send people on vacation in internal exile.26Dangerously misleading and completely disingenuous, it is fake history. Presenting an apparently legitimate reading of the past, the distortion creates more respectability/acceptability for what was previously considered morally repugnan.

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