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Stop Pretending Italian Fascists Were Innocent Victims

In 2004, Silvio Berlusconi’s government introduced the “Memorial Day” in honor of “Italian Exiles and the Victims of the Foibe.” The commemorations are devoted to Italian refugees who left Yugoslav territory between 1945 and 1960, as well as those killed in the wave of violence following the armistice —known as the foibe, after the sinkholes where many bodies were buried. This “Memorial Day” continues to be marked each February 10, two weeks after International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

For almost two decades, the official pageantry around Memorial Day has served a far-right bid to present a parallel genocide of Italians, supposedly ignored by historians during the Cold War era. Revisionist historians and right-wing ideologues speak of the 4,500 dead and 250,000 refugees as victims of “savage Communist violence.” Each mention of Fascist crimes is sure to prompt right-wingers to mention this forgotten genocide, as if to balance out the Mussolini regime’s own record of mass murder.

Historian Eric Gobetti’s book E allora le foibe? (But what about the foibe?), published earlier this year, seeks to push back against this now pervasive narrative. Investigating the actual mechanisms of the postwar violence, it puts what happened in its proper context. The Yugoslav partisans did not fight a “genocidal” war against Italians as Italians; their violence was directed against members of a fascist regime and ruling class that had invaded Yugoslavia in 1941 in alliance with Nazi Germany.

Gobetti’s work has been attacked by right-wing politicians and media for bringing “ideology” into their preferred narrative of victimhood — with the attacks including threats against his family.  His crime is to put the violence at the end of the war in the context of the Italian army’s own colonial occupation of Yugoslav territories — twenty-nine months in which Italian troops killed tens if not hundreds of thousands of civilians.

That such context is today all but unmentionable gives a sense of the current state of historical discussion in Italy — and also reflects the rise of Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Fratelli d’Italia party. Faced with the lies and the attacks against Gobetti, earlier this month over 140 historians and representatives of civil-society groups published an open letter in Turin’s La Stampa newspaper, on the eightieth anniversary of the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia, calling for official recognition of the fascist crimes in that country.

Historian Stefanie Prezioso spoke to Gobetti about Italy’s crimes in Yugoslavia, the foibe killings, and the far right’s success in rewriting history.


I’d like to start from the title of your book, which we could translate as “But what about the foibe?” What audience are you trying to reach?


The title refers to the way these events have been instrumentalized by the neofascist right. I wanted this to be a book with a popular tone, giving a clear overview of things. The aim is to reach a general public that perhaps doesn’t know these events very well, but every year is subjected to this neofascist propaganda and doesn’t know what to think or how to respond. So the book is meant as an aid to understanding the essential points of what really happened, and so push back against this dangerous false narrative.


Read entire article at Jacobin