Ethiopians Jailed for Protesting Italy's ‘Butcher of Ethiopia’ Memorial

A group of 43 protesters were detained in Ethiopia after demonstrating against a small Italian village's publicly funded memorial to Rodolfo Graziani, a general under fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini whose war-time atrocities earned him the nickname “the Butcher of Ethiopia”.

Authorities claimed that the protesters did not have permission to demonstrate and rounded up the group as they rallied in front of the Italian embassy in the country's capital Addis Ababa on 17 March, 2013. The group was forced to stay the night in prison until their release the next day.

Rodolfo Graziani - The Butcher of Ethiopia.Image:  Public Domain

Rodolfo Graziani – The Butcher of Ethiopia. Image: Public Domain

The construction of a mausoleum and a park in honor of Graziani in the Italian village of Affile, unveiled in August 2012, has touched a nerve in Ethiopia. A ruthless military commander, Graziani led the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Within the year, he had defeated Ethiopian forces and the country was made an Italian colony.

After a failed assassination attempt in 1937 by two local resistance fighters, Graziani ordered the massacre of thousands of Ethiopians.

This was the first protest against the memorial in Ethiopia. Befeqadu, a blogger and Global Voices Amharic translator who was one of protesters detained, published an account of his brief time in one of the filthy prisons. He refuted claims that police had no notice of the demonstration [amh]:

የተቃውሞ ሰልፍ ለማድረግ የሚያስፈልገው ቅድመ ሁኔታ ለመስተዳድሩ ማሳወቅ ሲሆን፣ መስተዳድሩ ደግሞ በ24 ሰዓት ውስጥ ‹‹አይሆንም›› የሚል ደብዳቤ ካልጻፈ እንደተፈቀደ ይቆጠራል፡፡ ስለዚህ ሰልፍ ማድረጉ ሕጋዊ ስህተት የለበትም፣ ጉዳዩ ባንድ ጀምበር የተወለደ ሳይሆን ጋዜጦች ዜና የሰሩለት፣ ቁጥቦቹ ሬድዮዎች ሳይቀሩ ያወሩለት ጉዳይ ስለሆነ ወንጀል ነው ፍርድ ቤት ሊያቀርቡት አይችሉም/አይገባቸውምም፡፡

One of the criteria to hold a peaceful demonstration is to notify the City Administration. But if the administration fails to inform the denial of the demonstration though letter within 24 hours; then it can be assumed as permission for demonstration. So, there is no fault in holding the peaceful protest. After all, this issue was never an abrupt issue; it has been reported by select local media. They know it is not a crime prosecutable in a court of law.

In a widely circulated blog post, attorney Kiflu Hussain criticized the reaction of Ethiopian authorities to the protest:

Can you imagine the Israeli government being indifferent if the Germans decide to erect a monument for Adolf Eichmann? At present, we Ethiopians not only have indifferent “Ethiopian” rulers. Rather, since May 1991, we have a bunch of sellouts in the Menilik Palace [the palace, which is near the parliament in Addis Ababa, was built by Emperor Menelik] who do the bidding of our worst enemies, some of whom have been blacklisted by history as war criminals and criminals against humanity. Just yesterday, March 17, 2013, the Ethiopian regime rounded up scores of Ethiopians who attempted to peacefully protest the erection of a monument to a Fascist criminal in front of the Italian Embassy in Addis.

Exiled satirist blogger Abetokichaw added [amh]:

ጣሊያንን የተቃወሙ ኢትዮጵያውያን በገዛ መንግስታቸው ታሰሩ እኔ የምለው… እንዴት ነመው ነገሩ ጣሊያን ከኢትዮጵያ አልወጣም እንዴ…?

Patriotic Ethiopians who went up against the fascist were incarcerated…I am just wondering are the Fascists still in Ethiopia?

However, alleged pro-government blogger Daniel Berahane questioned if the demonstration was genuine and defended their incarceration on his Facebook page:

#Ethiopian #opposition politicians staged a little drama today.

I never heard a word from them for more than 6 months on the #statute constructed for fascist #war #criminal #Graziani in #Italy. There is no press statement on their websites either at least since September.

Today, they came out of nowhere and wanted to conduct demonstration on the matter.
Apparently, they didn't fulfill legal requirements, thus the police put the situation under control and detained some of them for investigation (probably released by now).

So….what was this really about?

1/These guys are planning to go the diaspora for fund-raising, so they need to put up a show to claim they are alive.

2/They are under pressure from supporters, journalists, diplomats, etc. for not holding public events, so they need one case to say: “see, this dictatorship doesn't even let us oppose Graziani”.

3/May be they are hoping they can galvanize substantial political support by making Graziani a domestic political agenda.
P.s.- I wouldn't say conducting a legal demonstration is a piece of cake, but I strongly object resorting to illegal attempts – esp. when no one went to court complaining denial of legal permit.

In a hilarious and biting commentary on the matter, Girma Tadesse wrote a post for The Gulele Post in which he imagined the dialogue that would be exchanged between various monuments to prominent people including Graziani. Others included former Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who was hailed as a visionary leader by his party and ethnic group but condemned as a ruthless dictator by others, and Sir Alex Ferguson, the current and longest serving manager for the Manchester United football club:

[Rodolfo Graziani] – hi everyone…sorry I’m late; I was watching out for some street protesters

[Alex Ferguson] – ciao Grazziani [sic]; how come you don’t look scared around these guys?

[Graziani] – why would I be scared?

[Ferguson] – you murdered their citizens a while back!

[Graziani] – hold on here; first of all I didn’t murder them I only gave the order after I got an order. Second, that’s a long time ago, 77 years. You guys still live in the past? Why don’t you ask these two, they executed and enslaved their own citizens yet still stand tall?

[Ferguson] – who do you mean?

[Meles Zenawi] – RG is trying to point fingers at me and MII. Listen to me old master, I didn't murder my own citizens; there are no citizens of mine in Gambella and very few outside Tigray. I’m pretty sure Menelik didn't massacre or enslave his ‘own people’ either. So get your facts straight.


  • sewb

    A good read.The world is penalizing players who use a Nazi salute and hold swastika let alone erecting a statue of Hitler. It is naive to see the Ethiopian regime arresting its citizens who protest the glorification of the butcher. He is a butcher who massacred our fore-fathers and fore-mothers in their own soil. But I do not agree with this statement “Within the year, he had defeated Ethiopian forces and the country was made an Italian colony.” since it was an occupation not a colonization. They did not smoothly govern the country due to the fierce gorilla fights all over the country that was a pain in the neck for the Italian invaders. Hope you will update us about the imprisoned AMU instructors.

    • meyisaw

      It is also shameful to see the government favoring the construction of the monument and jailing the protesters but the protest should continue in order to stop the intent,

  • […] “Nicola Zingaretti: no al monumento per ricordare un criminale di guerra fascista, stragista del colonialismo. #25aprile” Richard Pankhurst (1999) “Italian fascist war crimes in Ethiopia: a history of their discussion, from the League of Nations to the United Nations (1936-1949)”, Northeast African Studies (6), pp. 83-140 “Quel mausoleo alla crudeltà che non fa indignare l’Italia. Il fascista Graziano celebrato con i soldi della Regione Lazio” by Gian Antonio Stella in Corriere della Sera, 30-09-2012 “Ethiopians jailed for protesting Italy’s «butcher of Ethiopia» memorial”, in Gl… […]

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