Our colleagues at “Focus on the Horn,” have posted an essay by Jacob Wiebel and Toni Weis, “A Monument for Graziana: Italy’s unresolved relations to its violent colonial past.” The story of one Italian town’s decision to mount a memorial to honor Marsahll Rodolfo Graziana also appears on the August 29, 2012 website of the New York Times. In line with our work on memorialization, we offer you an excerpt of the Wiebel and Weis essay, which is available in full here.

Earlier this month Affile, a small town in the Italian region of Lazio, has inaugurated a Mausoleum dedicated to the memory of the fascist Field Marshal Rodolfo Graziani. The Marshal’s name is well remembered in Ethiopia for his use of chemical weapons and for ordering massacres which cost thousands of Ethiopian lives, including those of a sizable portion of the country’s intelligentsia, during the Italian invasion and occupation of the country in the 1930s. Coverage of these news in the Italian media has remained marginal and has largely centred on the exorbitant price tag of almost 130.000 €, paid for with regional funds. The erection of a monument to a fascist leader has been denounced by some, but the violent colonial realities created by that leader have received little attention. The memorial to Graziani powerfully illustrates Italy’s ongoing flirtations with far-right politics; but it also acts as a reminder of the systematic human rights abuses and war crimes on which Italian colonialism was built, and of the sad fact that these have never engendered the public debate and societal soul-searching that their gravity, and their victims’ dignity, demands.

The illegal use of chemical weapons in the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, claiming thousands of lives, is well documented. For example, on the eve of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in March 1936, Graziani sent a secret memorandum on his preparations for the conflict to the Ministry of War in Rome. In this file, which has recently been purchased by the Library of Congress (see footnote 1), he outlined his strategy for overcoming the numerous but poorly-armed Ethiopian defense forces. Central to this strategy was the large-scale use of illegal chemical weapons:

Condizione essenziale per la riuscita dell’ operazione: […] libero uso di bombe e proiettili a liquidi speciali per infliggere al nemico le massime perdite e sopratutto per produrne il completo collasso morale.”

[“Essential condition for the succeeding of the Operation: […] the free use of special-liquid bombs and shells in order to inflict maximum losses on the enemy, and above all to effect his complete collapse of morale”]

Rodolfo Graziani in the 1930s. Image in the public domain.

Graziani’s lack of hesitation in employing chemical weapons explains the success of his troops’ advance and discloses his indifference towards international standards of warfare, which also extended to the bombing of a Swedish Red Cross camp that was treating wounded Ethiopians (see footnote 2). But above all it reveals his disregard for the value of human life and his willingness to pursue the goals of fascist Italy at any human cost. That this disregard was not limited to the lives of Ethiopians is evident from his earlier actions in Libya, where his “pacification” campaign was built on concentration and labour camps in which thousands of Libyan detainees perished. In Ethiopia this will to kill was on constant display.

Full article available on the “Focus on the Horn of Africa” blog.

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2 Responses to A Monument for Graziani: Italy’s unresolved relations to its violent colonial past

  1. Mahlet Mairegu says:

    A group of London-based campaigners has called for a candlelit vigil and demonstration outside the Italian Residence in London’s Grosvenor Square to take place on Friday 31st August from 2pm to 8pm. A spokesperson for the campaign said: ‘To think that in 2012 a member state of the European Union would use public money to celebrate a man who is known as the Butcher of Fezzan [in Libya] and the Butcher of Ethiopia is not only shocking but beneath contempt. In which direction does this take Europe?’

    An online petition calling for a public apology from the Italian government and the mayor of Affile as well as a re-dedication to all those who died as a result of Graziani’s policies in Italy, Libya and Ethiopia reached over 500 signatures in just two days. The figure is set to rise.

    The campaigning team said: ‘When we read about the story we were disgusted, as were our Italian friends. Graziani’s policies in Libya and Ethiopia were directly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians. He set up concentration and labour camps in Libya. In Ethiopia, he massacred up to 30,000 civilians over three days. And, as a Nazi collaborator, he was responsible for murdering thousands of his own countrymen.’

    The petition calls upon the EU and national governments to use current European and international legislation to:

    1. Demand the Italian government and the Mayor of Affile to issue an apology for allowing the memory of Graziani’s victims to be desecrated in this way
    2. Demand the Italian government and the Mayor of Affile to remove all allusions to Graziani, both direct and indirect, from the memorial
    3. Demand the Italian government and the Mayor of Affile to dedicate the memorial to all those in Italy and around the world who gave their lives in the struggle against Fascism
    4. Demand the Italian government and the Mayor of Affile to install a specific memorial at the site, which commemorates those Africans who died resisting foreign occupation of their countries

    For more information please follow the link: http://www.facebook.com/events/455405297824425/

  2. Mahlet Mairegu says:

    We were equally upset and angered by the Affile’s move to honour this mass murder. Since it is our responsibility to show our concern and disagreement, a small group of friends organised ourselves and have so far:
    · We staged a demonstration in London, UK, which took place
    on 31st August this year
    · began an international petition which can be found on http://chn.ge/PDQgs1
    · Stared a blog
    collecting all relevant materials about the memorial and the period at hand on http://www.neverforgetcampaign.wordpress.com
    · And have also established a facebook page http://www.facebook.com/Neverforgetcampaign in order to
    keep everyone up to date.

    So, if you also disagree with this memorial, we kindly urge you to sign the online petition and tell the world that those who have died resisting the advancement of Fascism did not die in vain.

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