Semantics | Are fascist footballers also racists?

Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni. Link to ANSA article.Rome | Paolo Di Canio and Lazio teammates abided yesterday by the request of Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni to meet with Nazi death-camp survivors. Three survivors addressed the players at Michelangelo‘s Piazza del Campidoglio; afterward, Di Canio sounded contrite, saying “we heard the stories of people who went through something terrible.” Although still attached to right-wing ideas that saw him lead a group of Lazio ultrí s as a youth, Di Canio says he opposes violence.

According to the Guardian, players for AS Roma had met on Feb 9 with 17 survivors, who advised them to stop playing whenever the players see Nazi symbols in the crowd. Such symbols were prominent at the Jan 29 fixture at Stadio Olimpico between Roma and Livorno: it was not the first time that ultrí s had unfurled banners to recall horrors of the Holocaust. “Gott mit uns” read one banner, duplicating the inscription on the belt buckles of Nazi soldiers. Another banner said, “Lazio-Livorno, stessa iniziale, stesso forno” (“Lazio-Livorno, same initial, same oven”).

Roma players heard Alberto Sed, 77, Auschwitz survivor and Roma fan, break down as he read a letter he had written to the club as a youth. Hungarian writer Edith Bruck, author of the memoir Who Loves You Like This, described the importance of individuals who helped save her from the camps. “She was reported to have said that a single footballer who stopped playing could restore dignity to the game,” The Guardian writes.

Such attitudes contrast with historical tenets of fascism. Benito Mussolini himself in The Political and Social Doctrine of Fascism pointed to a fascist century that would be a collective century, following the 1800s, seen to be dominated by individualism. Lazio’s Di Canio, who has made the Fascist salute to supporters, in violation of Italian law, has defended himself by saying, “I am a fascist, not a racist.” He has since sworn off the salutes. But given the Italian and German examples, in which elevation of the collective had a chilling racist component, his distinction lacks real meaning.

AS Roma fan magazine Il Romanista has offered, in the spirit of broad-mindedness, to give fans DVDs of La vita e bella (Life is beautiful), itself a controversial comedic probe of Holocaust sensibilities. Perhaps a better choice might be Vittorio De Sica‘s Garden of the Finzi-Continis, about the gradual indignities and persecution used to traumatize Jews in a small northeastern Italian town before the Second World War. The suspicions and symbolic wounds preceded much harsher treatment. Veltroni has reminded the political right of Rome’s complicity in persecution of the Jews. Rome is also, he said, “the city of the Fosse Ardeatine,” where on 24 March 1944 Nazi occupation forces murdered 335 political prisoners and Jews in retaliation for an attack by Italian partisans. Hence Veltroni’s insistence that rogue football symbolisms be extinguished: “The word ‘game’ and ‘swastika’ have no place together.”

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