Parade Group Is Criticized for Inviting Rome Rightist
Published: October 8, 2005

The Italian-American foundation that organizes the annual Columbus Day Parade in Manhattan has come under fire for inviting an Italian cabinet minister who once fought for Benito Mussolini.

Officials from the parade organizer, the Columbus Citizens Foundation, said yesterday that the official, Mirko Tremaglia, 78, would attend the parade on Fifth Avenue on Monday along with other guests, including Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court, who is grand marshal.

Mr. Tremaglia, a member of the right-wing National Alliance party who is Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's minister of Italians abroad, has said he is proud of having volunteered for the military in the Republic of Salò, the Fascist state that Mussolini formed after his government in Rome was overthrown in 1943. In 1946, Mr. Tremaglia joined the Italian Social Movement, one of the country's main postwar neo-Fascist groups.

Last Oct. 12, after an Italian government official, Rocco Buttiglione, was rejected for a post in the European Commission, Mr. Tremaglia made headlines across Europe by using a vulgar slur for gay people to describe many members of the European Union.

"It really raised my blood pressure to hear they invited Tremaglia," said George De Stefano, 52, a writer from Queens. "It tarnishes the image of Italian-Americans."

Mr. De Stefano, who has written a soon-to-be published book, "An Offer We Can't Refuse," about the Italian-American mafia image, said Mr. Tremaglia was "clearly one of the most objectionable figures in Berlusconi's government, a man who is proud of trying to rehabilitate the Fascist movement in Italy."

Stephanie Romeo, 46, a picture editor from Brooklyn who is gay, said she was "disgusted" at the invitation, particularly because "there are so many great Italians they could have honored."

Speaking of the parade organizers, Ms. Romeo said, "This group is very right-wing and out of touch with younger, progressive Italian-Americans."

Lawrence Auriana, president of the foundation, said that Mr. Tremaglia was invited to attend because of the good he has done for "Italians all over the world." He said that Mr. Tremaglia had been named a "special guest of honor" at the 2003 parade, but that the government official was simply attending this year.

Regarding Mr. Tremaglia's service under Mussolini, Mr. Auriana said, "He was a very young man then, a teenager really, and a person has the right to change his views over time." Mr. Auriana noted that former Communists are now officials in democratic governments in Eastern Europe.

Mr. Auriana added that he did not know if Mr. Tremaglia had renounced his Fascist past. "He doesn't speak a word of English so I haven't read about his past views," Mr. Auriana said.

In 2002, the foundation barred from the parade two Italian-American actors from "The Sopranos," Dominic Chianese and Lorraine Bracco, because their series depicts Italian-Americans as mob figures.