Friday, December 21, 2007

Groups Outraged at Former Italian Royalty's Demand

Emmanuel of Savoy, center, son of Italy's last king, his son Emanuele Filiberto, right, and his wife Marina Doria of Savoy, are pictured in Milan, Italy, on Feb. 9, 2002. PHOTO: AP

Friday, Nov 23, 2007, Page 6

A demand by Italy's former royal family for compensation from the Italian state for their 56 years of forced exile was met with deep scorn on Wednesday by anti-Fascist and Jewish groups.

"We are astonished by the absurdity of this demand," said Massimo Rendina, head of Italy's largest anti-fascist association ANPI.

"The royal family benefited financially from the Fascist regime. Remember the harm Victor Emmanuel III did by signing laws against civil liberties to fight opponents of the regime, causing them moral and financial harm," Rendina said.

"There were also racial laws [against Jews]. Without the king's signature, those laws could not have existed," he said.

Vittorio Emmanuel III, the grandfather of the current head of the House of Savoy, co-signed laws that allowed nearly 8,000 Italian Jews to be deported by the occupying German forces starting in 1943.

Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy, 70, grandson of the last king of Italy from 1900 to 1946, and his son Emanuele Filiberto, 35, lodged the demand for 260 million euros (US$385 million) plus interest on Tuesday.

They are also seeking the return of assets that were confiscated by the Italian state after their forced exile in 1946.

The property the Savoys are seeking "wasn't stolen, but seized under a law passed by the democratic Italian state," Rendina said, while dismissing the demand as "indecent."

Ricardo Pacifisti, spokesman of Rome's Jewish community, was equally indignant.

"Decency would demand that the royal family remain silent as a sign of respect for all Italians, including Jews," he said.

"If anyone has the right to damages plus interest, it's the former subjects of the royal house, and among them the Jewish citizens whose lives were shattered by the king's signature on the racial laws," Pacifisti said, noting in particular that Jewish professors and students were forced to leave universities.

The Union of Jewish Communities in Italy, the main Jewish group in the country, called the demands offensive "to the historical memory of Italy" in a statement.

Pino Sgobio of the Italian Communist Party called the request "a joke," adding that the royal family should reimburse Italy "for the moral and material damage inflicted on the Italian people."

The government reacted swiftly to the demand, rejecting it on Tuesday and saying the Italian state owed nothing to the former royal family but was now thinking of suing them for their responsibility over the racial laws.

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