Benito Mussolini has been dead for decades, but nostalgia for the dictator is alive and well in Italy, as the recent furore over a fascist-themed beach has demonstrated.
Playa Punta Canna is a private beach located in Sottomarina, south of Venice. It has been run for years by Gianni Scarpa, an unashamed admirer of the late dictator who styles the facility an “anti-democratic zone and regime”, according to one of the signs at its entrance.
Even though the promotion of fascism is a crime in Italy, Mr Scarpa has never hidden his fondness for Il Duce and regularly broadcasts his own Mussolini-inspired views on a loudspeaker to his sun-seeking clients.
During one of his “beach broadcasts”, Mr Scarpa was recorded ranting that “50 per cent of the world population is shit”, denouncing democracy as “rubbish” and declaring his dedication to “the regime”.
This year, possibly to ratchet up the shock factor, Mr Scarpa added a few choice signs — notably, the one in front of the showers, which reads “gas chambers”.
Also visible are various posters of the late dictator, and the picture of a child with the writing “granddad Benito, for an honest and clean Italy, come back to life”.
A furore erupted after Italian daily Repubblica published an article exposing Punta Canna. Local authorities were up in arms and threatened closure. Noemi Di Segni, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, expressed her shock that the authorities had been unaware of this fascist throwback under their noses.
Mr Scarpa, for his part, strenuously denied he was ever a fascist, describing himself instead as “apolitical” and his tirades as “pranks”.
Mr Scarpa was boosted by the public support of the far-right Northern League’s leader Matteo Salvini, who invoked freedom of expression. In solidarity, the regional council’s education chief, Elena Donazzan, proposed holding a masked party at the beach. The theme? The fascist era, of course.
Three weeks after the story first surfaced, some of the more controversial paraphernalia, notably the “gas chamber” sign and the images of Mussolini, have disappeared from Punta Canna.
Depressingly, though, rather than keeping tourists away, the controversy seems to have increased the popularity of the beach. “Full house” signs have gone up as early as 11am recently and a Facebook page in support of Scarpa has gained thousands of likes.
Maybe unsurprisingly, in a country plagued by political infighting, corruption and illegal mass immigration, some are looking to the past for solutions. They seem to have forgotten that Mussolini was Adolf Hitler’s willing accomplice.