25 April is celebrated in Italy as Liberation Day, marking the victory of the Italian Resistance and the fall of Mussolini’s fascist regime. There are strong ties between the partisans of the Resistance and the International Brigades, with many veterans of the Garibaldi Battalion continuing the struggle against fascism in their home country during World War II. The IBMT has worked closely with the ANPI (National Association of Italian Partisans), especially with their members based in London. This short piece comes from Luigi Riva from Bergamo, providing the history of Liberation Day in Italy. Originally posted on the FFALB Google Group.
The liberation of Milan, 25 April 1945
25 April 1945 is the day on which the Comitato Liberazione Nazionale Alta Italia (National Liberation Committee of Northern Italy), whose members included our Luigi Longo, ‘Gallo’, of the International Brigades, and whose clandestine command was in Milan, ordered the general insurrection in all territories still occupied by the Nazi fascists by directing all the partisan forces active in Northern Italy to be part of the Corpo Volontari della Libertà (Volunteer Corps of Freedom) and to attack fascist and German principals, to demand their surrender days before the arrival of the Allied troops, and to assume power ‘in the name of the Italian people and as a delegate of the Italian Government.’ This order included death sentences for all fascist leaders, including Benito Mussolini, who was shot three days later.
‘Surrender or perish!’ was the watchword of the partisans to the enemy on that day and in the days immediately following. It is a pivotal day in the history of Italy and has taken on added political and military significance as a symbol of the victorious struggle of military and political resistance carried out by the allied armed forces, the partisan military forces, the political prisoners during the 20 years of fascist dictatorship, those Italians who fought in defence of the Spanish Republic – Carlo Rosselli said ‘Oggi in Spagna, Domani in Italia!’ (Today in Spain, tomorrow in Italy!) – and then with the Resistance in Belgium and France.
The major industrial cities of the north, Milan, Turin and Genoa rose while those in central Italy had already been liberated by allied troops with the support of partisan groups such as the Maiella Brigade. However, the fascist violence continued; as the Nazi fascist troops fled to the mountains and to Austro-German borders, they left behind the blood of civilian victims, children, women, elderly, atrocities that are still hard to believe because they were so cruel and senseless.
A popular referendum in June 1946 decreed the birth of the Italian Republic and the end of the House of Savoia – fascism’s accomplice. However, as early as April 1946 the democratically elected government had decreed that 25 April would become a national holiday in memory of those who had fought the long struggle against fascism, the dead, the tortured, the massacred, the cost to all. Year after year, it has become an important day, we call it simply the 25 April. It is a popular event, people know the history, this celebration of freedom. There are large processions in the cities, flowers are brought to monuments and tombstones along the streets (of which Italy is full) in memory of victims that were shot or hanged, there is music and joy. There are also parades by Anti-fascist Associations although, sadly, there are no longer any veterans, and flags. I have also seen with pleasure the Spanish Republican tricolore and of course, ‘Today in Spain, tomorrow in Italy’.
Liberation Day in Milan, 2018
Since the late 1990s, with the resurgence of parties and movements of racists, sovereignists and fascists, there have been attempts to trivialise this important day. There have also been attempts to abolish it under the pretext that this holiday does not unite, as if liberty were a divisive thing. In some cities it has been the case that the mayor, certainly no democrat, has forbidden the municipal band to play ‘Bella Ciao’, the legendary partisan anthem.
However, this day and its meaning are now defended by more and more people, including many young people, and the participation in 25 April in Milan, the largest city in Italy, is extraordinary – thousands and thousands of participants. It happens that when the head of the procession arrives in Piazza Duomo, the end of the procession has yet to start from the bastions of Porta Venezia...amazing!
This year, because of the coronavirus, there will be no parades in Italy. However, despite the fascists, we'll still be there! ANPI has asked that on 25 April at 3pm, we open our windows, stand on our balconies and sing and play ‘Bella Ciao’. So, I will sit on my balcony, fly the ANPI flag, the Spanish Republic flag and the flag of the Garibaldi Battalion and sing partisan songs all afternoon. Well friends, now and always: Resistance!
Posted on 23 April 2020.