Italian Senate Chair La Russa’s Visit to Czech Republic Sparks Outrage

La Russa toured the Small Fortress in Terezin yesterday afternoon with a guide and a delegation from the Italian embassy. Photo credit: Ignazio La Russa, via Facebook.

Rome/Prague/Terezin, North Bohemia, April 26 (CTK) – Yesterday’s visit to the Czech Republic by the Chairman of the Italian Senate, Ignazio La Russa, sparked controversy in Italy, as the politician from the post-fascist Brothers of Italy (FdI) arrived on the day when Italy celebrates the national holiday of liberation from Nazism and fascism.

La Russa was scheduled to address a conference of EU parliamentary presidents in Prague and stopped at the memorial to Jan Palach, who burned himself to death in January 1969 in protest against the occupation of Czechoslovakia. He also visited the Small Fortress in Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp.

Historians, commentators and members of the Italian opposition criticised the timing of La Russa’s visit in particular. “I am very impressed that the Senate Chairman, Ignazio La Russa, is going to Prague to pay tribute to Jan Palach, who is certainly a hero of the fight for freedom, but he could have done so on any other of the 364 days of the year,” Gianfranco Pagliarulo, president of the Italian partisans’ association ANPI, said on Monday. He said La Russa was more likely to visit one of the villages in northern and central Italy that were razed by the Nazis and Fascists during the war, or otherwise commemorate the Italian resistance.

At yesterday’s anti-fascist march in Rome, attended by around 10,000 people, there were calls for La Russa to resign.

In a speech at a conference in Prague yesterday, La Russa said he was not in Italy precisely because he wanted to attend a meeting of EU parliamentary chairs. “As you know, 25 April is a very important day for Italy, when Italians commemorate the liberation from Nazi occupation during the Second World War and also the defeat of fascism,” said the text of La Russa’s speech. He added that he remembers Palach every time he has the opportunity to visit Prague.

La Russa stopped by the monument in Wenceslas Square shortly after arriving in Prague and left a bouquet without dedication.

He did not want to speak to Italian or local journalists. Several young Italians living in the Czech capital demonstrated against the visit in Wenceslas Square, the daily La Repubblica reported. They held banners to remind the public that the Italian constitution was written after the war by people who were in the resistance and underground, alluding to one of La Russa’s controversial statements about Italian history.

La Russa toured the Small Fortress in Terezin yesterday afternoon. According to a CTK correspondent, he greeted a group of Italian schoolchildren upon arrival at the Terezin Memorial and then, along with a delegation from the Italian embassy, he had a guided tour of the Small Fortress, which served as a Prague Gestapo prison for opponents of the Nazi regime between 1940 and 1945. La Russa also laid a wreath at the National Cemetery.

Jan Palach is a figure revered by Italian right-wing politicians as a patriot and freedom fighter against the Soviet empire. In 2009, on the anniversary of Palach’s immolation, then Youth Minister and now Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni visited the memorial in Wenceslas Square. She described Palach as “a young man whose story tells of love of country and commitment to sacrifice and shows the importance that young generations can have for the history of nations”.

Ahead of this year’s Italian Liberation Day, La Russa made several statements that also drew strong criticism. For example, he told reporters that the Italian constitution, which was drafted by lawmakers after the 1946 liberation, makes no mention of anti-fascism. He also criticised some of the Resistance’s actions, which he said led to Nazi retribution. The FdI party, of which La Russa is one of the top leaders, has “roots in post-war neo-fascism”, according to the ANSA agency, and its logo features a three-coloured flame, one of the main symbols of the Italian far right after 1945.

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