By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, January 27, 2013
ROME (AP) — Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy praised the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini for having been a good leader in many respects, despite his responsibility for anti-Jewish laws, immediately prompting expressions of outrage on Sunday as Europeans held Holocaust remembrances.
Mr. Berlusconi also defended the dictator for allying himself with Hitler, saying that Mussolini probably reasoned that it would be better to be on what he thought would be the winning side.
Mr. Berlusconi, whose conservative coalition is second in voter surveys ahead of next month’s elections, spoke to reporters on the sidelines of a ceremony in Milan on Sunday to commemorate the Holocaust.
In 1938, before World War II started in Europe, Mussolini’s regime passed racial laws barring Jews from Italy’s universities and from many professions, among other restrictions. When Germany’s Nazi regime occupied Italy during the war, thousands of Italian Jews were deported to death camps. The Italian government at the time, he said, “fearing that German power would turn into a general victory, preferred to be allied with Hitler’s Germany rather than oppose it.”
The racial laws “are the worst fault of Mussolini, who, in so many other aspects, did good,” he added.
Calls that Mr. Berlusconi be prosecuted for promoting Fascism quickly followed his comments.
“It is the height of revisionism to try to reinstate an Italian dictator who helped legitimize and prop up Hitler as a ‘reincarnated good guy,’ ” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which monitors anti-Semitism worldwide. Mr. Berlusconi’s praise of Mussolini is “an insult to the democratic conscience of Italy,” said Rosy Bindi, a center-left leader. Italian laws forbid the defense of Fascism. A candidate for local elections, Gianfranco Mascia, pledged to present a complaint seeking to have Mr. Berlusconi prosecuted.
Hours later, Mr. Berlusconi issued a statement saying he regretted that he had not made it clear that his historical analyses “are always based on condemnation of dictatorships,” the Italian news agency LaPresse reported.