ITALY: The Gentleman Fascist

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"Without a doubt it is a political trial, the biggest political trial to unfold in Italy since after the war. I am not accused of having done anything, such as broken anybody's head, but only of having thought or said certain things. If I get up and say 'Viva il Duce!' I can go to jail for twelve years. If a Socialist does it, nothing happens."

The speaker was Giorgio Almirante, 58, the dapper chieftain of the far right, neo-Fascist Italian Social Movement (M.S.I.), the country's fourth largest political party. Two weeks ago, he was stripped of his parliamentary immunity by an overwhelming vote of his fellow members of the Chamber of Deputies, who were responding to a nationwide outcry against a wave of Fascist-inspired violence (TIME, May 21). As a result of the vote, Almirante may be tried for the constitutional crime of "reconstituting the Fascist Party." Possible sentence: three to twelve years in prison. Last week TIME Correspondent Jordan Bonfante interviewed Almirante in Rome. Bonfante's report:

His words seemed to convey the utmost reasonableness. There was none of the jut-jawed belligerence of a Duce, none of the menacing rhetoric of a swaggering martinet. In fact, an ironic, Pirandellian sense of split realities was inescapable. Here was a former functionary of Benito Mussolini's last government denouncing the "totalitarian" ways of contemporary Italy.

Almirante suggested that if he ever goes to trial, he will turn the proceedings into a Roman circus. "I am going to call all the other [political] parties as witnesses," he said, "because all of them have collaborated with us at one time or another." While he did not minimize the violence that provoked the parliamentary vote against him, he blamed most of it on leftists and the rest on an anti-M.S.I. conspiracy on the part of the government: "I have also accused the Ministry of the Interior itself of having organized the violence of those rightist groups, organized them against us."

The action taken against him, Almirante is convinced, will backfire badly. If convicted, he said with a smile, he would accept his fate; he evidently envisions a useful kind of martyrdom. During his imprisonment, he proclaimed, "Our battle, our movement, would become very much stronger."

Is M.S.I, a Fascist organization? "We do not intend to separate ourselves from the movement of history," Almirante answered carefully. "I am inspired neither by Fascism nor by antiFascism. If Mussolini were alive today and said the things he used to say, he would make the Italians laugh." However, added Almirante, "if he were alive today, he would be a postFascist like me, and he would say different things. Everything has changed. Do you want me to appear on the balcony and exhort the country to go to war? That's laughable now. But I do not spit on that past. I am not ashamed of having lost the war. I did my duty, as so many did."