Leading academics react to the Graziani memorial

The decision, by the Italian town of Affile, to erect a monument in honour of Rodolfo Graziani is not only an insult to his victims, but also a challenge to those who research and write the history of colonial rule.  Focus on the Horn has asked a number of international scholars to comment on this issue; below, we document their responses in full. Please feel free to add your own comments! (For our background article on the Graziani memorial, see here).

Bahru Zewde is Emeritus Professor of History at Addis Ababa University and author of A History of Modern Ethiopia, 1855-1991.

” I do hope that your blog and other initiatives would culminate in the dismantling of this shameful memorial. This is not an academic issue. It is a matter of honour and dignity, not only of those in Libya and Ethiopia who were the victims of his bloody reprisals but also of later generations who had kept those martyrs in their memory. In Ethiopian history, Graziani is particularly notorious for what has come to be known as the Graziani Massacre when, following an attempt on his life on 19 February 1937, the Black Shirts were let loose on the population of Addis Ababa. Three days of indiscriminate killing set in. But not so indiscriminate was the systematic liquidation of a promising generation of young Ethiopian intellectuals. Their crime: having been part of the Black Lion Resistance force. Although they had surrendered to the Fascist forces months earlier, they were rounded up and executed.”

“We in Ethiopia are really shocked that such a thing could be allowed to happen. Even if we are aware of the residual fascism that has been a feature of Italian political life, we never thought it could go this far. Graziani is someone who, had he been alive, should have stood trial at an international court for crimes against humanity. Instead, we have come to learn that a memorial has been erected for him! Despite the record of hostility, including two wars, that have checkered the history of Ethio-Italian relations, Ethiopians bear no grudge against Italians. As a matter of fact, notwithstanding those wars, the two peoples have had cordial and warm relations. But such acts have the effect of disturbing such healthy rapport.”


Alessandro Triulzi is Professor of African History and coordinator of the PhD Programme in African Studies at the Università di Napoli ‘L’Orientale’.

“The building of a memorial at the door of Rome to honour Rodolfo Graziani, the butcher of Ethiopia (but also of Libyan resistance to Italian occupation and, let us not forget, of Italian youths refusing to take arms in the short-lived Fascist Republic of Salò, 1943-1945) is not only a national shame for all of us who live in Italy, but for Italy’s continuing institutional and societal amnesia concerning the country’s colonial past and its crimes. As scholars and intellectuals involved in the study of our own country and its troubled past in countries such as Ethiopia and Libya, we must reject and condemn such a strident gesture of institutional oblivion and renew our joint effort to throw light on Italy’s colonial past and its ambiguous inheritance for the postcolonial present.”


Alex de Waal is executive director of the World Peace Foundation and one of the initiators of the African Union Human Rights Memorial.

“The name of Rudolfo Graziani should not be forgotten by Italians, Ethiopians or Libyans. His record as a Fascist soldier and administrator, responsible for massacres and other brutalities, including most notoriously the mass killing of Ethiopians in 1937, should be inscribed in the history books and taught to students. Let the mausoleum at Affile serve as a memorial to the victims of his crimes and as a reminder that never again can such inhumane political ideologies and their barbarous acts be tolerated. Let this memorial be inscribed with the names of at least some of those who died at his hands, and let the judgment of their descendants and representatives be prominently displayed.”


Francesca Locatelli, Lecturer in African History at the University of Edinburgh, is currently completing an urban history of Asmara, 1890-1952.

“It is with deep shame and concern that we witness another state-sponsored rehabilitation of fascist ideology and leaders in Italy. Indeed, the monument to honour the “hero” Graziani (that costed 127,000 €) is one of the several initiatives that right-wing politicians have been promoting for years to send into total oblivion the memory of fascist crimes in Italy and overseas, to legitimise a past to which they are still strongly linked, and to revitalise values and ideas of that past, particularly the culture of violence and racism, on which their policies are still based (see for instance the increasing number of attacks on migrants and on gays, the institutional support for neo-nazi groups, etc.). Graziani is known for having been a minister of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana, less known unfortunately for the crimes he committed and sponsored in Libya and Ethiopia. This monument not only represents an insult to those Italians who fought for freedom and democracy, but also to the people of Ethiopia and Libya whose fight against fascist colonialism has been the root of their national pride.”

“It is our duty as scholars to keep alive the memory of fascist crimes in Italy, Europe and Africa, and it is our task to promote initiatives for the immediate removal of this insulting monument and for the condemnation of the politicians who sponsored it. According to the Italian constitution the apology of fascism is a crime. It is time to apply this fundamental principle in which Italian democracy is rooted.”


David Anderson is Professor of African Politics at the University of Oxford and author of Histories of the Hanged: Britain’s dirty war in Kenya and the end of empire.

“The erection of a monument to the memory of Rudolfo Graziani seems barely credible in the second decade of the twenty-first century, but perhaps it tells us something about the fragility of European politics at this moment of economic crisis. Fascist views are enjoying a revival in those countries worst affected by the financial problems confronting the European Union, and there is also a renewed vigour among those who look back to the empires of European colonialism as a glorious past.”

“A self-confessed war-criminal, Graziani was a proud and unrepentant fascist who viewed the military defeat of colonial peoples as establishing the international strength and leadership of the Italian state. His murderous actions in Libya, where thousands of those who resisted the Italian invasion found themselves incarcerated in concentration camps, was followed by the barbaric use of chemical weapons against the resistance forces in Ethiopia. Then, as the Second World War drew to a close, he endeavoured to maintain the fascist flag flying over the Salò Republic.”

“That these actions can now be glorified once again is disturbing, but it is not just the politics of Italy that is infected by such notions. Elsewhere in Europe there are many who remain reluctant to acknowledge the truth of colonial violence, and who would rather portray the European empires of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as forces for good.”

“The histories of colonial empires are still deeply contested in Europe. The German government has been bold enough to offer an apology to the people of Namibia for the Herero massacres and enslavements of the early twentieth century, and a compensatory ‘gift’ of development monies has been paid. But this liberal trend has not been followed by others. The French government has shrunk back from confronting the enormity of their actions in Algeria, and while the tortures of the battle of Algiers are now widely acknowledged the historical details of this are still purposefully obscured by a reluctance to release documents or to provide detailed evidence of what happened. In Britain, too, the government has refused to make apologies for the imperial past – despite the embarrassment of having to concede in a recent court hearing that tortures were inflicted upon African detainees in the Mau Mau rebellion during the 1950s. For the French and British, the memory of empire atrocities is an uncomfortable reminder that colonialism was ultimately about coercion and domination – but even that does not stop leading historians and other public intellectuals from jumping to the defence of empire.”

“Italy’s public veneration of an imperial war criminal takes things further than would be expected in France or in Britain, to be sure, but that there is still a need to promote a wider and better informed debate about this history of European empires is all too clear. It is an obligation that all serious historians of Africa and Asia should take very seriously – perhaps especially those in Italy.”


Filed under Ethiopia

8 responses to “Leading academics react to the Graziani memorial

  1. A Monument of Shame

    This is a Monument of Shame – erected to memorialze the shame of Italy. If I stop by in Italy one of these on one of my travels, I will look for this place and for the monument, and I promise you I will not leave it in one piece.

    G. E. Gorfu

  2. Pingback: NEWS e APPELLI « ASAI

  3. Never Forget, The campaign to stop the celebration of a fascist war criminals and Nazi collaborator

  4. Pingback: L’Italia piange Stazzema, ma rende onore al suo più feroce criminale di guerra « GeoPoliticaMente

  5. Pingback: L’Italia piange Stazzema, ma rende onore al suo più feroce criminale di guerra | Geopoliticamente

  6. Hibret

    All the scholars who added their voices to the international call for the dismantlement of the Graziani shrine deserve the fullest appreciation.
    The Global Alliance for Justice – The Ethiopian Cause has issued an open letter to the italian President and Prime Minister demanding the dismantlement of the Graziani mausoleum. For details on that and other relvevant documents, please check: http://www.globalallianceforethiopia.org.
    The Alliance is also striving for: (a) a Vatican apology to the Ethiopian people for its complicity with the Fascists (please note that, according to the BBC, a Vatican representative was present at the inauguration of the Graziani shrine on August 11, 2012); (b) the restitution of the Ethiiopian properties looted by the Vatican and the Italian Fascists; (c) the payment of adequate reparations by the Italian Government to the Ethiopian people; and (d) the inclusion of the Fascist war crime in Ethiopia in the historic annals of the United Nations.

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