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Mussolini’s heirs bid farewell to party

March 22, 2009

By Guy Dinmore in Rome

Published: March 22 2009

They promised no tears on Sunday in closing an important chapter in Italy’s post-fascist history, but still the political heirs of Mussolini gave an emotional farewell to their rightwing National Alliance ahead of its formal marriage this week with the Forza Italia of Silvio Berlusconi.

Indeed some delegates wept openly as Gianfranco Fini, leader of the National Alliance, brought the curtain down, telling them not to be afraid of the future within the centre-right People of Liberty created by Mr Berlusconi, prime minister.

Gianfranco Fini speaks at the final National Alliance congress

Gianfranco Fini speaks at the final National Alliance congress in Rome

Dissolution of the National Alliance takes Italy a step closer towards returning to a two-party system that predominated before the collapse of the Berlin Wall. It also opens a new stage in what promises to be a bruising battle to anoint an eventual successor to the 72-year-old prime minister.

“Today we close a long chapter in the history of the right,” said Mr Fini.

The two-day national congress in Rome, attended by some 2,000 delegates, marked a victory for Mr Fini who has steered the National Alliance into the political mainstream since its birth in 1995.

That was the year he described as the “birth of the post-ideological right and the end of nostalgia” when Mr Fini led the National Alliance out of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement founded in 1946 by the allies of the late dictator Benito Mussolini.

Breakaway factions still cling to the old ideology, and may be joined by a few more dissidents this week, but they are almost meaningless on the Italian political scene, just as the radical left has splintered into political oblivion.

Tensions in the new ruling party are already surfacing, however. National Alliance leaders, including Mr Fini, drew most applause when warning of the danger of “single thinking” in the People of Liberty and a personality driven leadership.

“Parliament cannot be pushed into a corner,” said Mr Fini, currently speaker of the lower house who has resisted Mr Berlusconi’s efforts to bypass established procedures.

Even so, Mr Fini paid tribute to Mr Berlusconi while speaking of “moments of difficulty” during their alliance that began when the billionaire media mogul first came to office in 1994.

While Mr Berlusconi will be president of the new party, the leadership structure is still up for grabs. Contenders for deputy leader include Mr Fini and Giulio Tremonti, finance minister and deputy head of Forza Italia. Some Berlusconi supporters say he will anoint an outsider, possibly a woman.

Mr Fini is also challenged by his more militant allies, including Gianni Alemanno, mayor of Rome. His emotional speech – ending with a cry of “Long Live the National Alliance” – received more thunderous acclamation than Mr Fini whose moderate line, notably on tolerance for immigrants and the need for integration, drew polite applause.

It is in figures like Mr Alemanno and the populist Mr Berlusconi’s weakening of democratic institutions, that leftwing critics see a “creeping fascism” in Italy. Mr Berlusconi’s coalition is still dependent on the support of the rightwing xenophobic Northern League for its majority in the Senate.

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