Mussolini Looks at Jan Hus and the Bohemian Reformation
By Pavel Helan
Bohemian Reformation and Religious Practice, Vol.4 (2000)
Introduction: Benito Mussolini’s book with the title, Giovanni Huss il Veridico [Jan Hus, the Veracious] was published by the house of Podreca and Galantra in Rome in May 1913. The monograph appeared in the series, Colezione storica dei Martiri del libero pensiero [Historical Series: Martyrs of Liberal Thought].
The reasons for Mussolini’s interest in the figure of Hus are somewhat murky. It is of course true that the Bohemian Reformer was not entirely unknown on the Apennine Peninsula. Guiseppe Garibaldi, for instance, referred to him, as well as the poet Giosue Carducci, who named Hus in his “Ode to Satan” among a whole series of figures that for him were emblematic of human progress. It was evident that Mussolini admired Carducci. Hus in a medallion adorns Guiordano Bruno’s monument in Rome’s Campo de’Fiori, and he is the protagonist of the historical drama of Angelo Zanardini, put to music by Angelo Tessaro. The Bohemian Reformer was, of course, known in the Swiss and French intellectual milieu, with which Mussolini was also familiar. The problem is not Mussolini’s awareness of Hus, but his motive for writing a book about the Bohemian paragon. In his preface to the 3rd ed. of Giovanni Huss il Veridico, the historian Renzo de Felice has suggested that the incentive might have come from Jaroslav Hašek, the author of the world-famous Czech classic, The Good Soldier Schweik. This hypothesis, however, seems weak.
It is safer to follow the trail of evidence leading to Mussolini’s contact with František Loskot and with the Czech Section of the international organization Free Thought [Volná myšlenka in Czech], which associated free thinkers, including atheists. Loskot was an officer of the Czech Section. The Prague City Archive [Archiv hlavního města Prahy] holds an anonymous manuscript of a lecture, dating from the late 1920s, which discusses the history of Volná myšlenka in Bohemia. It contains this bit of information: “The International Congress in Brussels decided in 1910 that the next Congress would be held five years later in Prague and its delegates would commemorate the 500th anniversary of Hus’s execution. Volná myšlenka was preparing a large monograph on Hus, and wished to disseminate information about him abroad. By a special stroke of luck Benito Mussolini wrote an Italian booklet about Hus at the suggestion of the Czech Section [of Volná myšlenka]. The material and illustrations were supplied by the Prague Secretariat of Volná myšlenka.” Even though the outbreak of World War I prevented a staging of the planned Prague Congress in 1915, its preparation provided the most likely source of Mussolini’s incentive to write about the Bohemian Reformer.