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Not just a surname?

Not just a surname?

Romano Floriani Mussolini has signed for the Italian side Lazio. He’s not even played for their first team, and is already making headlines. Why?


transcript
Chloe Beresford, narrating:

Hi, I’m Claudia and this is the Sensemaker. 

One story every day to make sense of the world.

Today, why the surname Mussolini is making an appearance at Lazio

***

What’s in a name? 

Usually in football, not much. Unless you’re the son of a famous player, like Daniel Maldini or Giovanni Simeone. 

But what if your surname is Mussolini?  Or to be precise, Romano Floriani Mussolini.

He’s just an 18-year-old who has yet to play for his club’s first team but you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

That’s because he’s making headlines – not for what he’s done but for who he is.

He’s the great-grandson of Benito Mussolini.  Yes, that Mussolini, Il Ducethe fascist dictator who ruled Italy for more than 20 years – the man whose seizure of power inspired Adolf Hitler.

“Twenty eight years ago, a young Italian journalist was living in exile in Austria, poor and unknown. His name was Benito Mussolini. Today, he is 54 years old, and as his train crosses the frontier into a Germany rolling her biggest drums to greet him, how different now is the role that fate has chosen him to play in the drama of world affairs.

On the one hand, Italy’s Duce, in 15 years of power, has made his people believe that at home they are marching to a new prosperity and abroad, Italy is rebuilding the Roman empire.”

Benito Mussolini’s reception by Adolf Hitler, British Pathe

Romano Floriani Mussolini has signed for Lazio, one of Italy’s great teams.

Now you might reasonably say, “give him a break.”  And when he says, “I’m judged only for the way I play and not because my surname is Mussolini,” isn’t he making a fair point?  

He can’t help his surname. He didn’t choose his family.

Except Romano Floriani Mussolini is related to the facist leader on his mother’s side. His father’s surname is Floriani. 

When he was born in 2003, double surnames weren’t allowed in Italy – but the authorities and the Roman Catholic church made an exception in his case.  His parents were allowed to add Mussolini to his name.

And some people are asking: couldn’t he drop the controversial moniker?

His mother is Alessandra Mussolini. She has worked as an actress, has appeared in Playboy and is also the cousin of Sofia Loren. She’s a former Member of the European Parliament too.

She quit the film industry when a producer asked her to consider changing her surname. And she says that her son “wants no sort of meddling in his private life or choices.” But his choice of team has raised a few eyebrows.

And when you are naming an 18-year-old called Mussolini on your teamsheet, it’s not a good look when the club’s eagle handler – yes, Lazio has an eagle mascot – makes fascist salutes to the fans. 

That’s exactly what happened last week.

The handler–  a Spaniard called Juan Bernabé – admitted making the salute and shouting “Duce” to the Lazio fans. 

When questioned, he confessed his admiration for Benito Mussolini, who had done “great things for Italy” just as Franco had done for Spain.

“For me, as a falconer, to fly an eagle in the Stadio Olimpico is really unnerving because of how much it is wrapped up in Rome’s history. Every time I go onto the pitch, I feel like a centurion.”

Juan Bernabé, Serie A

And so Lazio suspended him. They also tried to play down their young player’s surname by writing his name on the teamsheet as Romano Floriani M.

It’s no surprise. 

Over the years, Lazio have been caught up in several incidents that link their supporters and players to fascism.

In 2005, Paolo Di Canio – then a Lazio player but also a lifetime fan of the club – was seen making salutes – seen by some as Roman salutes, others as facist salutes – towards the Lazio fans. 

In his autobiography, he wrote that Mussolini was “a deeply misunderstood individual.” And in 2015, he was fired by Sky Italia for displaying his fascist tattoo on air. 

Interviewer: “You said yesterday Paolo, that you’re no politician”

Paolo Di Canio: “Yeah.”

Interviewer: “But can you just take this opportunity to clarify your political views. Are you a fascist?”

Paolo: “I don’t have to answer that question any more…”

Channel 4 News

Then there’s the Ultras. 

The infamous Irriducibili group has recently disbanded. In 1998, they displayed a banner directed at rival Roma fans which read “Auschwitz is your homeland, the ovens are your houses.”

This is Football Italia presenter James Richardson explaining the problems with their power back in 2002.

“In Italy, there’s still a lot of power in the hands of the little people, in the fans themselves. They can still command the clubs, in some cases as to which players they buy and sell. And unfortunately, whilst it’s nice that in this multi national era for football that the fans still have some say in Italy, it’s almost universally what they’re using it to say are very negative things.”

James Richardson

Years later, in 2017, the same group were serving a ban from their end of the stadium they share with Roma.  They sat in the South end – the Roma end – and peppered it with stickers of Anne Frank, the Jewish girl who died in a Nazi death camp..  

Claudio Lotito, Lazio’s President, tried to smooth things over by visiting a synagogue to lay flowers. 

But leaked audio revealed he’d said “let’s just get on with this charade.” The flowers he’d laid were not welcomed and were later found floating in the River Tiber.

So as you can see, Lazio have a chequered relationship with fascism. 

Romano Floriani Mussolini’s youth team boss says that the only thing that matters is whether he deserves to play and nothing else. 

Today’s story was written by Chloe Beresford and produced by Imy Harper.