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Is Mussolini cool again in Italy?

The open nostalgia expressed by Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his allies for Benito Mussolini isn't really much of a new story. The fascist leader's granddaughter, a former actress and Playboy model naturally, serves in Parliament as part of Berlusconi's political coalition. The 2009 documentary Videocracy features media tycoon and prominent Berlusconi backer Lele Mora proudly showing off the fascist-era anthem he downloaded as his ringtone.

But according to the Sydney Morning Herald's Tom Kington, the kids are digging Il Duce these days as well:  

At the turn of each year, Mussolini calendars appear in newspaper kiosks up and down Italy. They are often tucked away with the specialist magazines, but they are much in demand, according to the manager of one firm that prints them.

''We are selling more than we did 10 years ago,'' said Renato Circi, the head of the Rome printer Gamma 3000. ''I didn't think it was still a phenomenon but young people are now buying them too.''

Sixty-eight years after the fascist dictator was strung up with piano wire from a petrol station in Milan, Mussolini has quietly taken his place as an icon for many Italians.

Among his adherents are the masked, neo-fascist youths who mounted raids on Rome schools last year to protest against education cuts, lobbing smoke bombs in corridors and yelling ''Viva Il Duce''.

A mob that ambushed British football fans drinking in a Rome pub in November was also suspected of neo-fascist sympathies.

But the cult of Il Duce has also slipped into the mainstream. Last year's decision by a town south of Rome to spend €127,000 of public funds on a tomb for Rodolfo Graziani, one of Mussolini's most bloodthirsty generals, was met with widespread indifference.

One leading businessman has proposed renaming Forli Airport in Emilia Romagna, the region of northern Italy, where the dictator was born - Mussolini Airport.

Some say the Mussolini of today's Italy is simply a pop-culture icon -- a kind of right-wing Che Guevara -- signifying muscular patriotism rather than actual fascist ideology. It's a bit disturbing that young people are rediscovering a fondness for Mussolini at the same information has emerged indicating that he was far more complicit and supportive of Nazi war crimes than previously understood.

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