Abdul-Rahman Badawi in Perugia

26 Mar

The section comes from the autobiography of the Egyptian writer Abdul-Rahman Badawi, a man whom Taha Hussein called the first Arab Philosopher of the modern age. He was a notorious misanthrope and also a prolific writer: two things which are certainly not mutually exclusive. Here he describes the time he spend in Perugia learning Italian in 1937. He had just come from Munich, where he had been learning German, so he was really in the belly of the beast just before the beginning of the Second World War. He ends with a well expressed (in Arabic at least) paragraph on that old topic: the fleeting nature of power.

 

The Echo of Political Events in Perugia

 

 

Here we should begin by mentioning some of the echoes of political events, which reached Perugia.

 

Perugia was the starting point of the “March to Rome” on the 27th of October 1922. 25,000 Fascists were on this march, led by 4 of the party leaders: Balbo, Di Bono, De Vecchi, and Bianchi. Meanwhile, Mussolini was in Milan waiting for the King Vittorio-Emanuelle III’s move and the king was forced, by these events, to appoint Mussolini Prime Minister. So, it is for this reason, Perugia was an important place in the history of the Fascist movement and it is natural that the Fascist party had become powerful there. During my stay I saw the echoes of two major political events of the time.

 

The first was the Spanish nationalists’ capture of Santander in the north of Spain with the help of an Italian brigade, which Italy had sent to Spain to help the nationalists against the communists. The brigade was under the command of General Gumbara and Italy celebrated this victory as if it was them who had won the battle and not Nationalist Spain. A large group gathered in the large square, which was enclosed by the public library, with Corso Vannucci running through it and in the middle a historic fountain. In the square a teacher called Ginbbini was delivering a speech with wild fervour. He was, in fact, our Italian teacher in the University where foreigners took classes. I saw that the square was full of people wearing black shirts, the sign that they were party members.

 

The second: Mussolini’s visit to Berlin from the 25-29 of September. The square mentioned above was full of a large number of people, who were there to hear Mussolini’s speech. He spoke in German and the presenter in Berlin gave a simultaneous Italian translation. I still remember a particularly eloquent sentence from it. “You cannot get to Rome without passing through Rome, just as you cannot get to Rome without passing through Berlin” [sic]. This statement was a confirmation of the alliance between Germany and Italy, which was known by the name Rome-Berlin Axis. It was signed in Berlin on the 24th October 1936. Hitler signed it for Germany and Ciano, the Italian foreign minister, signed it on behalf of Mussolini. Mussolini described it on 1st November 1936 by saying:

 

“This Alliance… this vertical line from Berlin to Rome is not a barrier but rather an axis which all the countries of Europe who have a desire for peace and cooperation can unite around.”

 

But it pleased me that the will of this crowd did not see its fruition. For I returned to Perugia in October 1947 to refresh my memory of the place and I found that it had become a “red” town. By this I mean communist and it was as zealous for Marxism as it once had been for Fascism. I even heard some of the people of Perugia boasting about their role in the “resistance” despite the fact that the American and British Allies had taken Umbria in the beginning of 1944. I.e. after the Allies landed in the south of Italy between 3rd and 20th September [1943] there was only a short time before they took Umbria, and not one sufficient to form a “resistance”. This is the same phenomenon that I would see in France after then end of the war: every Frenchman I found boasted about being part of “the resistance” which, in actuality, only a few people were part of. But everyone is like this, everywhere, in circumstances like that.

 

So, truly, he is deluded, the leader who claims to have “popular support” or who believes what the masses scream when he is at the height of his power. For these are the very masses who will pour forth upon him – or his memory – the ugliest curses when he falls from power.

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