LATINA, ITALY If you walk through the slightly dishevelled streets of Latina, a modern city of 100,000 located amid the fields and marshes south of Rome, you might fail to notice its connection to the sweep of European history. Its public buildings have a faded art deco charm, its cafés are sparse and lonely, and its people are mostly struggling workers in agriculture and light industry.
But there, in a little park, you will spy a strange old monument, in the shape of an eagle, that has only recently been pulled from the bushes and returned to its place of pride in front of the city hall.
Its chipped inscription, cleared of the dirt of 60 years in hiding, reads, mysteriously: "To Littoria: The memory of the strength of our race will bring us to victory now as then through a war for peace."
As you stroll away, puzzled, into a large urban park full of dog-walkers and children playing on swings and jungle gyms, you can't miss an even larger memorial, 10 metres high and topped with a more menacing eagle. It was put there by Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator who built this town as an experiment in utopian fascist urban planning. So it might not surprise you to see that this expanse of playgrounds and paths is called "Arnaldo Mussolini Park," after Il Duce's brother.
But it should surprise you. For the park, which has been here from the beginning, was named after Mussolini only 10 years ago, by a mayor who proudly called himself a fascist. And if you return to the eagle-festooned city hall, and climb its stairs to the mayor's office, you will find a team of assistants hard at work on another such project: A giant mosaic, to be placed at the centre of the town square this year, which has at its centre a large and heroic portrait of Benito Mussolini.
In the 60 years since the Second World War ended on May 8, 1945, Europeans have devoted themselves to putting that deadly conflict in the past. Yet today's Europe is shaped, in dramatic and surprising ways, by the dynamics and conflicts established in the war and its immediate aftermath. It is a continent of 450 million people that was built, by North Americans and Europeans, on the ashes of the war. And Europeans are only now beginning to admit that they still live in the shadow of the war.
Nowhere is that hidden dynamic more evident than in a city like Latina.
When this place was built on cleared swamps in 1932, it was known as Littoria, the City of Fascism, its original name taken from the Roman centurions who marched ahead of the emperor carrying the shields, known as fascia, that gave the violent ultranationalist movement its name. This was the model city for the fascist movement that swept Europe and attempted to take over the world. After fascism was defeated in the long struggle of the Second World War, this city was given the more innocent name of Latina, and its residents and leaders struggled to move beyond its ominous past.
But the new mayor of Latina, like hundreds of other local, regional and parliamentary leaders in Europe today, is eager to embrace the legacy of fascism.
"For too many years, the real history of Latina has been darkened," said Vincenzo Zaccheo, an elegantly dressed man who has a lifelong politician's ability to focus on three things at once, as he took calls and answered questions while surrounded by aides and hangers-on in his ultramodern office.
"Littoria has had to pay for its original sin -- the City of Fascism -- so that when fascism left, they changed all the names and erased everything. There were even some crazy people who wanted to destroy it. But now we need to respect the great intentions, the man, the centre of the city."