A company near Italy's northern city of Verona is producing protective masks with Benito Mussolini's image on them, sparking a heated political row as the country struggles to handle the second phase of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to reports by Italian media, the company – based in the small village of San Giorgio in Salici – is selling anti Covid-19 face masks, featuring images of the Fascist dictator. The masks also include one of his famous slogans: "Walk, build and, if necessary, fight and win!".
News of the masks’ production spread on social media and caused immediate reactions among center-left politicians, who are part of the ruling coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.
Deputies of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) called on Italian authorities to "firmly condemn this disgraceful action" and urgently stop the production of the masks.
"Of the many things that can happen amid a pandemic, selling personal protective equipment with an image of the Fascist Duce is the most unpleasant possible," PD Senator Vincenzo D'Arienzo wrote on Facebook.
The masks are also available online on the many sites that sell Mussolini memorabilia. Some far-right social media commentators have praised the initiative, saying it promoted freedom of expression. But critics stressed it amounted to apology of Fascism, a crime under the Italian Constitution.
After being hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, Italy is facing deep political divisions, as its fragile coalition government grapples to handle the heavy social and economic fallout from the prolonged lockdown.
On Sunday, Giuseppe Conte, the prime minister, reassured Italians that they won't spend the summer in quarantine, but they'll be able to go on vacation, after two months of strict lockdown.
In an interview with Italian daily Il Corriere della Sera, Mr Conte said that special rules will be applied during the summer months to avoid new contagions. But he added that the new guidelines won't force people at home, allowing them to enjoy their holidays.
“This summer we won’t stay on our balconies and the Italian beauty won’t be quarantined,” Mr Conte said. “We will be allowed to go to the beaches, or the mountains, we will enjoy our cities.”
As Italy’s tourism industry has been hit dramatically by the coronavirus emergency, the premier suggested Italians to pick their country as a holiday destination, while international travels are still limited.
The Italian economy depends heavily on tourism, which accounts for about 13 per cent of its national output. Owners of beach and mountain resorts and all the businesses in the tourism sector are bracing to know the security rules they will have to comply with to be able to restart activities.
Mr Conte is also under surging pressure to deliver a much-awaited economic package needed to help citizens and firms to face a deep recession, as the Italian output is expected to drop by almost 10 per cent this year.