ROME—Baker Umberto Avigliano of the southern Italian town of Maratea was just doing business when he put the finishing touches on the toothbrush mustache on a cake emblazoned with the face of Adolf Hitler above the inscription, “Auguri Chef,” (Best Wishes, Chef).
He had taken the order for the €30 ($36) cake from the waitstaff at a local restaurant who apparently have a running joke with their chef who they say looks and sometimes acts a lot like the German Führer. But when he put the cake in the refrigerated window case for pick up, locals from the town complained and the local paper accused him of “making Nazism banal” under the headline: “How is it possible that we have made a sweet treat from the man responsible for the Holocaust?”
“It wasn’t my choice to make that cake,” Avigliano told The Daily Beast by phone. “Some people want sexy women on their cakes; some people want dictators. I’m just the baker.”
Avigliano says he took the Nazi cake out of the window case after several people stopped in the shop to complain. But the fact he felt no qualms about making a Hitler cake in the first place is telling. The country is peppered with monuments to Italy’s dark past, and it is common for Italians affiliated with the far-right parties to lament the passing of that dark era.
There is wine with Benito Mussolini labels and even a 650-bed beach club near Venice that was warned last month for displaying outright Fascist Party propaganda. Just last week, the far-right Forza Nuova Party introduced an anti-immigration poster featuring a white woman in the clutches of a black man, almost exactly like the propaganda Mussolini used against American soldiers during World War II, right down to the slogan: “Defend her from the new invaders.”
But homage to the horror might soon be a thing of the past.
On Tuesday, Italy’s lower house of parliament passed a law that criminalizes fascism fanaticism. The measure includes jail time for the public display of the stiff-armed Roman salute commonly used by fascists and Nazis. Those who display or sell fascist or Nazi gadgets also face six-month to two-year sentences, which would increase by eight months if those goods are sold online.
The new law still has to pass the Italian senate where it faces stiff opposition from Italy’s Five Star Movement and right-leaning parties who say it is an infringement on free speech. It replaces a law that only goes as far criminalizing attempts to revive the Fascist Party.
The law does not address what to do with the many monuments to fascism across the country. Unlike many of the Confederate statues under scrutiny in the United States, the Italian monuments were all put up by Mussolini to feed his egomania, not to honor him after he died.
Over the summer, part of the forest he planted north of Rome that spelled out “Dux” (Duce in Latin) in enormous letters was destroyed in a wildfire. The dictator’s granddaughter, Alessandra Mussolini, who is a right-wing member of parliament, wants it replanted.
Those who support the bill aren’t calling for the many obelisks and towers built as shrines to fascism to be brought down, just that they be scrubbed of the standard “MUSSOLINI DUX” engravings. But they do want to shutter stores like the many in the northern city of Predappio where Mussolini was born.
On July 29, the day Il Duce was born, hundreds of mostly foreign sympathizers flock to his hometown donning black shirts to honor the dictator. Any time of the year, one can buy mugs with swastikas and flip-flops with any variety of propaganda slogans. His former home is now a museum that provides a list of fascist-friendly restaurants. In a ski resort outside of Rome, guests can sleep in the very bed where Mussolini was briefly held prisoner during World War II.
It’s unclear whether the new law will ever make it past the final hurdle. Until it does, Andrea Lunardelli, the maker of Mussolini-labeled Vino Camerata (which translates as comrade wine and sells for €7.50, or $9, a bottle in stores, including some Autogrill service stops along the country’s main highways) intends to keep putting various images of Il Duce on the label.
Who can blame him? He sells around 10,000 bottles of the wine each year. He also sells wines with Hitler and Stalin and some less controversial figures like Leonardo da Vinci and Winston Churchill that sell much less.
“The new law is unacceptable,” he says. “I do not see why I should take them off. We have already had the tyrant in Italy and it was more than enough. Now we have a thousand. They are just afraid of ghosts.”