Fear in Rome over new ‘Fascist’ mayor

By Ruth Ellen Gruber, May 2, 2008

The election of Rome’s new mayor has brought the right wing to power in Italy’s capital for the first time since the Second World War.

Running on a law-and-order platform, Gianni Alemanno, 50, defeated centre-left candidate Francesco Rutelli by more than 100,000 votes in a tense run-off two weeks after centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi swept to power in national elections.

On the eve of the run-off, a group of 80 leftist Jewish intellectuals had published an appeal in the left-wing daily l’Unita calling on voters to reject Mr Alemanno, who began his political career in the youth wing of the Italian Social Movement, a neo-Fascist party established after the war by die-hard followers of Benito Mussolini.

“One doesn’t defend democracy by rewarding antisemitism and the moral heirs of Nazi-Fascism,” it said.

Mr Alemanno is a member of the right-wing National Alliance party, a key component of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom coalition. He served as Agriculture Minister in a previous Berlusconi administration.

He pledged to be “everyone’s mayor” and one of his first moves was to send a goodwill telegram to Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, offering “deferential greetings” and assuring “full collaboration for the good of all Roman citizens”.

Both Mr Alemanno and Mr Rutelli had courted Jewish votes. About 15,000 Jews live in the capital, forming the biggest Jewish community in Italy.

Many Italian Jews backed Mr Berlusconi, who is a strong supporter of Israel, and prominent Jews were elected to parliament on the People of Freedom ticket. They included the journalist Fiamma Nirenstein, an outspoken supporter of Israel who has lived in Jerusalem for the past decade.

But some Rome Jewish leaders had called for Jews to reject Mr Alemanno because of his neo-Fascist past and the open support he enjoyed from extreme right parties and factions, including the far-right La Destra [The Right] party. After his victory, some Alemanno supporters celebrated by giving the stiff-armed Fascist salute.

Rome community president Riccardo Pacifici had traded barbs with La Destra leader Francesco Storace ahead of the run-off. Mr Pacifici had threatened a Jewish protest if Mr Alemanno officially allied himself with La Destra.

Mr Alemanno rejected a formal alliance. But Mr Storace publicly announced his backing and, at a news conference, demanded an apology from Mr Pacifici for what he termed its “shameful campaign” against La Destra.

Commentators said that Mr Alemanno’s victory confirmed the country’s conservative shift.

Last updated: 12:14pm, May 7 2008