During a recent trip to Auschwitz, the Mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, defined the Holocaust as "the ultimate evil" and "the gravest event in modern history". This was echoed by Gianfranco Fini, the Speaker of Italy's Lower House, who said: "Anti-Jewish hatred today is mostly directed against Israel. Anti-Zionism denies the inspirational sources of the Jewish state, targeting the reasons for its birth yesterday and its security today."
These two rising stars of Italian politics have one thing in common: they are both post-fascist leaders who have made the long journey from the political isolation reserved for the European far-Right to the inner sanctum of political power. For them and their political colleagues the journey began with remorse. Critics claim that their rejection of fascism is only skin-deep — a calculated and cynical ploy to gain power. Whatever their reasons, these leaders are bound by more than 15 years of firm rejection of fascism. Those among their former counterparts elsewhere in Europe who have so far failed to do so remain in the political wilderness — and deservedly so.
The fact is that Western European societies have largely succeeded in building anti-fascist immune systems. This outcome is in no small part the product of fascism's total defeat in 1945 and the subsequent trials that exposed and punished its crimes. Crucially, right-wing totalitarianism was defeated in war, it was put on trial for its crimes and purged from politics, culture and society.
But our societies are not immune from sliding back into a totalitarian mindset, largely because communism, unlike fascism, was never given the treatment it deserved. Thanks to its temporary alignment with democratic forces in the battle against fascism, communism could claim the moral high ground in 1945. Its emergence as a mass movement that had successfully fought Nazism enabled communist parties and their fellow-travellers to avoid both the purges and the kind of moral stigma reserved for fascists. The Cold War — where a slow implosion over decades, rather than a decisive military defeat, marked the death of communism — meant that its ideological supporters could keep their place in the sun even as their past crimes were finally revealed.