A mayor and two town councillors were sentenced to prison on Tuesday for commissioning a memorial to one of Benito Mussolini’s top commanders.
Mayor Ercole Viri received eight months for building the monument to Rodolfo Graziani, a Fascist-era general and convicted war criminal, in the town of Affile near Rome.
Councillors Giampiero Frosoni and Lorenzo Peperoni each got six months.
They were convicted under an Italian law that makes “apology for fascism” a crime.
The monument, a mausoleum for Graziani engraved with the words “Fatherland” and “Honour” set in a memorial park, was unveiled in August 2012, at a cost of some €130,000 to local taxpayers.
It met with protests from the Democratic Party and other leftists, as well as the national association of Italian resistance fighters, which took the case to court.
Speaking at the time, Viri dismissed the criticism as “idle chatter”.
Today the memorial stands in disrepair, covered in graffiti that denounces Graziani’s war crimes in Italy’s African colonies.
The prosecution had sought to have it seized, but the judge did not grant the request.
It will “certainly” remain in place, a defiant Viri told La Republicca after the ruling. He claimed that the sentences were politically motivated and insisted it wasn’t clear that Graziani was guilty of war crimes.
Graziani was dubbed the “Butcher of Fezzan” for his brutal tactics as commander of colonial Italian forces in Libya in the 1930s. Thousands of Libyans died in concentration camps he created to detain those who challenged Italian rule.
He earned a similar nickname in Ethiopia, where he oversaw the massacre of as many as 30,000 people. He also ordered his troops to use poison gas against Ethiopian forces, in contravention of Italy’s own laws.
Mussolini appointed him defence minister in 1943 and he continued to serve Il Duce until the end of World War Two.
After the war Graziani was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to 19 years in jail, though he was released after only a few months. He died in 1955 and was buried in Affile, where he lived for many years.
The monument was simply a tribute to one of the town’s famous sons, Mayor Viri said when it was first unveiled.
The monument didn’t stop residents of Affile reelecting him once and he expects them to do so again when he runs in April, he told La Repubblica.