ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni marked the anniversary Friday of one of the worst World War II-era massacres in German-occupied Italy, but the main association of partisans who fought to free Italy from fascism quickly criticized her comments.
Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party has neo-fascist roots, issued a statement to commemorate the March 24, 1944 massacre at the Ardeatine Caves on Rome’s outskirts. There, 335 people were shot to death as a reprisal for an attack by partisans that killed 33 Nazi soldiers on a street in Rome.
Meloni said it was up to all Italians to remember the “barbaric” slaughter and to teach future generations what happened. She said the massacre “marked one of the deepest and most painful wounds inflicted on our community: 335 innocent Italians slaughtered simply because they were Italian.”
The National Association of Italian Partisans, or ANPI, which preserves the memory of the World War II resistance movement against fascism and has warned of an emboldened far-right in Italy, criticized Meloni for “not remembering everything.”
The group faulted in particular the premier’s reference to the 335 people killed merely “because they were Italian.”
“Sure, they were Italians, but they were chosen on the basis of a selection that affected anti-fascists, resistance fighters, political opponents and Jews,” ANPI leader Gianfranco Pagliarulo said in a statement.
He added that the list of those who were slaughtered was compiled “with the complicity” of Rome’s police chief, the interior minister of deposed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s northern Republic of Salo and a Nazi war criminal. Pagliarulo said they were “all fascists.”
Opposition lawmakers also faulted Meloni’s comment. “One day will you be able to write the word ANTIFASCIST?” tweeted Nicola Fratoianni, a lawmaker from the Alliance of Left Greens.
Meloni has sought to allay concerns about her party’s neo-fascist roots, insisting during Italy’s election campaign last year that the Italian right had “handed fascism over to history” and had unambiguously condemned the suppression of democracy and anti-Jewish laws.
Since becoming premier in October, she also has reached out repeatedly to members of Rome’s Jewish community. Meloni also hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Rome earlier this month.
But one of the Brothers of Italy’s leaders, Senate President Ignazio La Russa, has also proudly displayed Mussolini memorabilia in his home. La Russa joined Italy’s president and other dignitaries at a commemoration Friday at the Ardeatine site, which took place while Meloni was in Brussels for a European Union summit.
Asked about her comments, Meloni said she was being inclusive, or “omnicomprehensive,” in describing antifascists as Italians, the ANSA news agency said.
Italy never went through a process similar to Germany’s denazification, and a neo-fascist party, the Italian Social Movement, or MSI, was part of Italy’s first postwar government in 1946. Meloni joined the MSI’s youth branch as a teenager in Rome and went on to lead the youth branch of MSI’s successor party, the National Alliance.
The Brothers of Italy party succeeded the National Alliance and retains the tricolor flame of the original MSI as its logo.