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Il Duce's flame burns bright again

Continued from Page 1

Mr. Zaccheo and his colleagues are not skinhead thugs or camouflage-wearing militarists, but modern European politicians -- proud members of one of Europe's more puzzling and alarming movements. As one of the most powerful municipal officials in Italy, he is a close associate of Gianfranco Fini, who as the founder of the National Alliance, the most far-right member of Italy's governing coalition, serves as Foreign Minister.

These men and their like-minded colleagues across Europe are often known as neo-fascists. Leaders of parties such as the AN or France's National Front, both of which have sizable numbers of seats in the European Union Parliament, say they have abandoned their fascist roots, that they are not racial supremacists but merely proud patriots with a deep dislike of immigration, and that they are not totalitarians-in-waiting but merely right-wing nationalists who have some admiration for the glory days of the 1930s.

"Those who say I am a neo-fascist, they are only trying to offend," Mr. Zaccheo says. "I'm not an authoritarian neo-fascist -- I'm very tolerant and accept the rules of democracy."

But the mayor, who began his career in the overtly fascist Movement Sociale in the 1960s, proudly says his key mission is to restore the town's founding era, and its founder, to their former glory. "If Mussolini were to live now, he wouldn't be necessarily known as a fascist. The 20 years he was in power were characterized by a great period of expansion and growth -- the development, the infrastructure, the growth, the laws that caused us to achieve the social benefits.

"Until a decade ago, he was unmentionable -- people forgot that Mussolini governed with a full consensus. And when that consensus was not here any more, we entered the most embarrassing page in the history of Italy. To hang a man with his head down in a square -- no decent society would do this to anybody."

A key goal, Mr. Zaccheo says, is to return the city its original, fascist name -- either by persuading Rome to change the name, or simply to paint "Littoria" under "Latina" on all the signs. In a town that has elected fascists and their ilk repeatedly over the past 15 years, this will not be an unpopular move.

The postwar generations in Latina, as almost everywhere in Europe, have struggled to create a new world that replaces, or at least papers over, the old dynamics of fascism. But people born here under his leadership, Mr. Zaccheo says, should be proud of their fascist roots.

"The new generation has to love everything about the city, because its origins are a source of pride. I am not judging fascism -- we just want to judge what fascism did in this city. What it did elsewhere is another story. I am only 58, so don't ask me about those things."

Sixty years ago, when the war ended, Europe began to be rebuilt in dramatic ways. Both the survivors and the occupiers wanted to build a new continent where fascism -- and its root cause, extreme nationalism -- could never again take hold.

In Italy and Germany, constitutions were rewritten and newspapers founded by the Allied occupiers in ways that would prevent fascist extremism from emerging again.

Economists, led by John Maynard Keynes, helped to create today's international monetary institutions, so that the most important pillar of fascism, the economy, would never again be merely a national force.

And finally, thinkers led by French diplomat Jean Monnet began to eliminate national governments and boundaries entirely, creating the roots of today's European Union -- a project specifically designed to stop fascism, and related forms of ultra-nationalism, from emerging again.

Today, though, there are hundreds of "black villages" in Italy, and similar towns in Spain and France, that are ruled by men who either consider themselves fascists or do not complain about being described that way. There are provinces in numerous countries that are controlled by ultranationalist parties, and fascist-linked parties have taken part in governing coalitions in Austria, Italy and elsewhere.

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