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For the University of Lausanne to revoke the Honorary Doctorate of Benito Mussolini and honour the memory of Professor Jean Wintsch
In 1937, the University of Lausanne honoured the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini ‘for having conceived and realised in his homeland a social organisation that has enriched sociological science and will leave a profound mark on history’ by awarding him the highest honorary title a university can bestow: the honorary degree.
At the time, Benito Mussolini’s regime had existed for 15 years; it was marked by the destruction of representative democracy and the repression of opposition and political violence. In November 1936, the Italian fascist regime signed an alliance with Nazism, known as the Rome-Berlin Axis. By 1937, the Italian army had already committed horrible crimes in Ethiopia (incl. massive use of combat gas and massacre of populations). And this is just one of the many manifestations of a European fascism that cynically left – as stipulated in the motivation for the award of the title – a deep mark on history.
As the centenary of Mussolini’s rise to power in Italy approaches, it is time to ask the University of Lausanne to reconsider its choice and revoke this honour. It is also time to honour the gesture of Professor Jean Wintsch, Professor of Applied Psychology at the Ecole des sciences sociales et politiques, who was a lone voice at the time in opposing the awarding of this honour.
The awarding of the degree, like all historical events, cannot and must not be erased. However, neither should it be forgotten. On the contrary, historical events can and must be continuously investigated and reinterpreted so that they become a source of learning for the next generations. This reinterpretation can and must lead to decisions on choices made in the past. This can rightly show the way presenting an apology to the victims of past abuses, as well as to the reparation of crimes committed in the past and even to the rehabilitation of those who have been wronged.
In the specific case of the degree awarded to Benito Mussolini in 1937, it seems to us that today is not only a historical but also a current moment to reconsider the choice of the University of Lausanne. A topical moment, since we are witnessing acts of violence against millions of people, inspired by ideas and values with a similar matrix to that of Mussolini’s movement one hundred years ago.
Supporting the Postulate presented by Elodie Lopez to the Grand Council of the canton of Vaud, the signatories of the petition ask the University of Lausanne through the Rectorate to
-revoke the Honorary degree conferred in 1937 on Benito Mussolini;
-honour the act of Professor Jean Wintsch who opposed this honour at the time.
Doing so would be an expression of respect for the millions of victims of fascism and would signal support for the values that stand in the way of the resurgence of ideas and attitudes that marked the beginning of the greatest terror the world has witnessed in the 20th century.
In this way, the revoking of Mussolini’s degree would provide an opportunity for reflection as well as important lessons for today’s generations.