“It’s definitely not a good time to be a Nazi,” says a character named Yorki near the end of Taika Waititi’s recent satirical film JoJo Rabbit. But the same can’t be said for fascists in Russia, where the state media suddenly seems committed to resuscitating Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. The scandal started on January 7, when television and radio host Vladimir Solovyov reposted a glowing review of his 2013 short film about Mussolini. The review, written by publicist Igor Molotov, calls Mussolini a “brilliant man” who “gave the world a third way that Russia is partly traveling today.”
Solovyov’s Telegram post outraged his critics on social media, including opposition politician Alexey Navalny, who argued that it is inappropriate for a state journalist to promote content that expresses sympathy for a fascist leader. “The next time he calls me a ‘Nazi,’ I hope he signs his name: ‘Benito’s loyal son,’” Navalny tweeted. Others, like photographer and blogger Ilya Varlamov, pointed out that it would likely cause mass hysteria in the state media and among state officials if independent media outlets shared anything similar to Solovyov’s film or Molotov’s review.
In an amusing coincidence, Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation has previously reported that Solovyov owns real estate in Italy, including a luxury villa on Lake Como, which is where Mussolini was ultimately captured and executed in 1945.
Solovyov has never denied claims about his Italian property holdings, maintaining that he’s a wealthy, successful entertainer, and he responded to the Mussolini scandal by reposting his documentary in a tweet. He says the criticism from oppositionists amuses him, and he insists that his film doesn’t justify Nazism.
A day later, in an apparent act of solidarity, the state-run media network RT (formerly Russia Today) published a column by writer Dmitry Petrovsky, who argues that Mussolini’s relationship with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany was actually quite hostile. Petrovsky says Nazis were presented as fascists to the Soviet people only because it was neater than calling them “Nationalist Socialists” and he praises Mussolini as a visionary who prioritized Italy’s industrialization and infrastructure. In the end, yes, he was led astray by the Nazis and Italy became a “failed copy of Germany,” but Mussolini started out more admirably, Petrovsky says in his column. Igor Molotov, who authored the positive review of Solovyov's film, also writes for RT.