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.


'European Olympics' coddling dictators before it even has sports

I missed this last month, but apparently Europe is getting its own continent-level Olympic-style tournament, and the first event will be held in 2015 in … Baku:

"We are the only continent without senior Games. We do not have an event like the Asian Games or the Pan American or African Games," said [European Olympic Committee President Patrick] Hickey, who also heads the Irish Olympic Committee.

The first edition of the four-yearly event will be staged by cash-rich Baku which had unsuccessfully bid for the summer Olympics of 2016 and 2020.

"Baku and Azerbaijan are not strapped like the rest of Europe. We wanted to get this off the ground and this event will be at no expense to the national Olympic committees," said Hickey.

It's understandable that energy-rich Azerbaijan would be more enthusiastic about building stadiums than crisis-ridden Western European governments, but it's unfortunate that the first Olympic-style athletic event for an overwhelmingly democratic region is being held in one of its very few authoritarian countries. (In a related story, an Eastern European think tank just named President Ilham Aliyev "corruption's man of the year.")

Aliyev will surely look to exploit the games as a PR opportunity, as he did with last year's controversial Eurovision Song Contest, though as Eurasianet reports, opposition groups are also looking to take advantage of the international attention.

The bigger problem for the organizers may be that not all the major sports federations have signed on to the event yet -- athletics, swimming, and basketball. It's hard to imagine an Olympics-style event without running, swimming, and hoops, but maybe they'll have the kinks worked out by Minsk 2019.