Ethiopians are demanding an official denunciation and the destruction of a new statue recently erected in a park in Affile, Italy, a town 50 miles outside of Rome. The sculpture honors Benito Mussolini’s war minister, Rodolfo Graziani, who is viewed as a hometown hero in Affile
Ercole Viri, Affile’s mayor, has defended the $157,000 taxpayer-funded monument and memorial park, even though Graziani was a convicted war criminal, notoriously deemed as the “Butcher of Fezzan” and later the “Butcher of Ethiopia.”
Viri reportedly said he wants the memorial to Graziani to become as celebrated as Mussolini’s gravesite, which is in Predappio, Italy.
A growing neo-Fascist movement in Italy has made Predappio a shrine for Mussolini followers.
On the Affile webpage, affile.org, Graziani is remembered as having returned to the town after an early release from his sentence of 19 years imprisonment for war crimes: “After a brief reappearance in the office of honorary president of MSI, he died in Rome on Jan. 11, 1955, at the age of 73. His mortal remains, brought to Affile among a huge crowd of people, rest in the tomb of the old cemetery, alongside his family; he is perhaps too much forgotten, as he was during his life, despite the fact that he paid the price for the good … of the country.”
In North Africa, Graziani has never been forgotten. He is remembered for having waged vicious wars against Ethiopia and Libya in the 1920s and ’30s. “In 1937, Rodolfo Graziani directed a three-day massacre of over 30,000 unarmed civilians in the capital of Ethiopia upon the orders of Benito Mussolini,” members of the Global Alliance for Justice: The Ethiopian Cause wrote in an open letter to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.
“Over 440 Christian monks were singled out and murdered. People were dismembered, and soldiers took photos of the hangings, beheadings and torture proudly alongside their dead victims. The Graziani Massacre is well known to every Ethiopian and disgracefully unknown to the rest of the world. Graziani, prior to arriving in Ethiopia, was named ‘The Butcher of Libya.’ In Libya, Graziani presided over concentration camps, used chemical weapons and murdered thousands of innocents for Fascism.”
Libya was a former colony of Italy; Italian Libya lasted from 1934 to 1943. But Ethiopia resisted colonization by fighting a resistance war against Italy from 1936 through 1941.
As Ethiopia fought off Italy, African-Americans in Harlem famously took up their cause. Harlemites donated funds and medical supplies, and many even tried to enlist so that they could fight alongside the Ethiopian resistance. J.A. Rogers, the famous author of “From Superman to Man,” wrote about the history of Ethiopia and Italian attempts to conquer it in his pamphlet “The Real Facts About Ethiopia.”
In a review of Joseph E. Harris’ book “African-American Reactions to War in Ethiopia, 1936-1941,” Charles W. McClellan notes that “Western complicity in Mussolini’s colonial ambitions and the interests of U.S. capital in the Italian Fascist regime encouraged African-American identification with Ethiopia. The political climate of the invasion suggested analogous relationships between international and domestic phenomena: Mussolini’s avarice recalled the graft and decadence of U.S. industrialists, Ethiopian suffering echoed Black America’s struggle for political and economic progress, and the League of Nations’ hypocrisy and impotence recalled the U.S. government’s inability to protect the lives and rights of African-Americans.
“Many Black Americans viewed the United States’ official statement of neutrality in 1935 as a tacit endorsement of Mussolini’s regime that was motivated by racial prejudice. People like Joseph Johnson were left with the impression that the United States ‘will not help Ethiopia because she is Black. She won’t do no more for Ethiopia than she will do to stop mob rule in the South.’ Thus, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia complicated Black America’s relationship both to the African Diaspora and to U.S. democracy.”
Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie Haile-Selassie, who chairs the Global Alliance for Justice: The Ethiopian Cause and who is the grandson of the former Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, is the main signatory for the open letter to Italy’s president, calling for the destruction of the Graziani monument:
“Italy must immediately act to halt a handful of right-wing extremists from ruining Italy’s international reputation and credibility. No park or memorial should be named in honor of Rodolfo Graziani, and those who perpetuate it should be stopped from doing so. If someone were to paint a portrait of Mussolini on the side of the Coliseum, wouldn’t it be a national imperative to reverse that? We expect such action now to reverse the opening of the Rodolfo Graziani Park and Memorial, which occurred on August 11.”
The letter continues, “Ethiopians and Italians around the world join the international community in proclaiming: ‘Never Again!’ to genocide, and we expect immediate action by the Italian government to reverse this disgraceful attempt to celebrate hatred and racism which violates Italy’s own Law No. 205/1993 prohibiting the dissemination of ideas based on superiority or racial and ethnic discrimination.”