Italian stamp honouring fascist founder of Rome soccer club triggers protests

FILE PHOTO: Serie A - AS Roma v Juventus

By Matteo Negri

ROME (Reuters) - A commemorative stamp honouring the founder of AS Roma soccer club, who was also an infamous fascist, was unveiled on Thursday at the industry ministry, drawing criticism from Jewish groups and opposition parties.

Italo Foschi founded AS Roma in 1927. He was also an active militant in Benito Mussolini's National Fascist Party and involved in several well-documented attacks against political opponents.

He was temporarily removed from top positions in the party because of his taste for violence, only to be reinstated and later given a senior role in the fascist administration established in Nazi-occupied northern Italy in 1943.

"Italo Foschi is not simply the founder of AS Roma. He was the trusted man that Italian fascism put in control of the city of Rome in 1923," Francesco Filippi, an expert historian of fascism, told Reuters.

Celebrating him with a stamp is "in bad taste, to say the least," Filippi added, especially given the imminent anniversary of the murder of the Socialist leader Giacomo Matteotti, killed by thugs when Foschi was leading the fascists in Rome.

The industry ministry is headed by Adolfo Urso, a member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy party, which traces its roots back to a post-fascist group.

Urso has not commented on the controversy, but his ministry sought to play down the significance of the stamp on Thursday, with his chief of staff, Federico Eichberg, saying it only celebrated "a sporting family and its founder".

Both the ministry and AS Roma rejected any political motivation behind the stamp, saying Foschi's fascist affiliation had not been taken into consideration.

However, the Jewish community in Venice said the new stamp sent a very negative signal, while the opposition centre-left Democratic Party demanded that Urso revoke "the shameful decision".

Urso was not present at the unveiling ceremony on Thursday, but is instead scheduled to attend the presentation of a commemorative stamp for Matteotti next Monday - the 100th anniversary of his murder.

Fascism "was a youthful mistake on Foschi's part, like many others," Eichberg said on the sidelines of Thursday's event.

But this was dismissed by Filippi, who said Foschi "was one of the worst representatives of the Italian fascist regime. Dedicating a stamp to him is another slap in the face of Italy's collective memory."

(Additional reporting by Alvise Armellini, Editing by Crispian Balmer and Angus MacSwan)