AFROLNEWS, 10 July 2008
Monuments and street names in South Tyrol, or Alpine northern Italy, are still idealising the "Alpini", Italy's historic elite mountain warfare soldiers that headed the brutal Italian attack and occupation of Abyssinia - later Ethiopia - in 1935. Especially, an Alpini monument in the town of Bruneck (Brunico) raised by the fascist regime of Dictator Benito Mussolini, is causing controversy and strongly surprised the Ethiopian Ambassador on a recent visit.
Bruneck's Alpini monument commemorates the troops of the so-called "divisione pusteria", guilty of attacks with poison gas and numerous murders during the Italo-Abyssinian War. At the command of fascist leaders, thousands of defenceless Ethiopians were brutally slaughtered at the time. Alpini General Pirzio Biroli reportedly told his soldiers: "Here you cannot be too much of a robber, murderer and rapist," and this is also how Ethiopians recall the action of the Alpini.
The controversial monument was erected in 1936, celebrating the war and the Alpini. But in northern Italy, many groups have fought against this celebration of the fascist government for decades. Before the end of World War II, the first attack on the monument was registered. Since that, the monument has been partly destroyed in 1956, 1959, 1966 and 1979. However, each time Italian authorities re-erected the monument.
Currently, the Südtiroler Schützenbund - a cultural association of Italy's German-speaking minority - is leading the battle against the hated Alpini monument. The association managed to invite the Ethiopian Ambassador, Grum Abay, to South Tyrol, where Mr Abay could see the ongoing hailing of Italian war criminals for himself.
Not only the Alpini monument in Bruneck commemorates the Italian attack on Ethiopia. Also in the regional capital, Bolzano, a column praising the unlawful war still stands in close vicinity to the city's large victory monument. Also in Bolzano, streets are still named after the locations of war crimes in Ethiopia and after those who committed them - such as Via-Amba-Alagi and Via-Pater-Giuliani.
In the course of a cordial two-hour talk,
Mr Abay was given much documentation of the presence of fascist monuments and names commemorating the attack on Ethiopia, which he promised to hand over to the President of Ethiopia, Girma Woldegiorgis, and his Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi. By chance, Ethiopian President Woldegiorgis had fought together with British units against the fascists during World War II.
Paul Bacher from the Schützenbund explained that
Neither in Ethiopia, nor in Italy, have the wounds of the Italo-Abyssinian war totally healed. Only recently, Ethiopia was able to recover the national symbol of the Axum Obelisk, which was stolen by Mussolini's troops during the war. "Italy has not yet apologised to Ethiopia for its crimes," Ambassador Abay noted.
On 3 October 1935, Mussolini started his attack on Ethiopia, and thereby also World War II, as the Abyssinian Empire was a full-fledged member of the League of Nations. The attack of Ethiopia served Italy and Nazi Germany as a test for further warfare, as cruel tactics such as the air dropping of poison gas was practiced.
The British physician, John Melly, head of the British Red Cross in the war-zone, thus reported horrified and outraged:
The cruel attacks on civilians were committed by the Alpini elite forces. Other atrocities committed by the Alpini in Ethiopia included systematic rape, torture and looting, in addition to the methodical slaughtering of the Ethiopian elite.
The planned charges for war crimes against Italy in an International Court were dropped because Italy switched over in time to the winning side during World War II. Italy paid Ethiopia US$ 25 million in total as compensation for the attack and occupation and never issued an apology.