Meloni’s Victory Shows Italian Fascism Never Truly Died
Angelo Boccato speaks to experts about the electoral success of Brothers of Italy
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When Italian voters went to the polls in 2018, Brothers of Italy received less than 5% of the vote. Four years later, the far-right party won 26%.
While many failed to vote at all – abstentions were at 35% – the party’s success has led to its Leader, Giorgia Meloni, becoming the country’s first female Prime Minister, as part of a right-wing coalition with Matteo Salvini’s League Party, and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.
Earlier this year, Meloni decided to stand against former Prime Minister Mario Draghi, even though Brothers of Italy had supported his Government when it came to military aid for Ukraine. This choice paid off. Her positioning of the party also allowed Brothers of Italy to ‘cannibalise’ votes for the other far-right party, League, led by Matteo Salvini.
“The polls that we have seen so far show that most of the 2018 League voters voted for Brothers of Italy,” said David Broder, author of Mussolini’s Grandchildren. “A part of the Five Star Movement voters did switch to Meloni, but it was very small, and those voters mostly switched to abstention.
“Meloni insists that she is a mainstream conservative – then also explicitly says she and her party don’t want to be part of the mainstream, as they do not want to be ‘the right on the leash’ if we look at her speech at CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) a few months ago.”
Abstentions and cannibalised votes played their part in Meloni’s success, but so too did the fact that Italy has never really faced its fascist and colonial past. This has led to a consistent fascination for post-fascist symbols and references.
Meloni and her faithful lieutenant Ignazio La Russa obsessively repeat the myth – one amplified in the mainstream media – that fascism has been consigned to history in Italy. But such a message is undermined by the decision to choose Mussolini’s granddaughter and great-grandson to run in local and European elections, as well as by choosing to keep the Tricolour Flame as Brothers of Italy’s party symbol.
The flame in question was the symbol of the Italian Social Movement, founded by fascist Giorgio Almirante after the Second World War in 1946. The party’s acronym, MSI, also stood for “Mussolini, sei immortale” – “Mussolini, you are immortal”.
Such actions show the importance of fascist nostalgia in Brothers of Italy’s narrative. As writer and academic Cas Mudde points out in his book The Far Right Today, while the MSI and similar parties in post-war Europe were labelled as “neo-fascists”, these were old fascists who remained loyal to their ideology.
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“Giorgia Meloni’s victory marks the closure of a circle,” Andrea Mammone, historian and professor of contemporary history at Sapienza University in Rome, told Byline Times. “The fact that this victory is occurring on the centenary of Mussolini’s March on Rome can be seen as irony or paradox but, regardless, the post-fascist right is going to rule in Italy, both in a majoritarian position and expressing the first woman PM in the country’s history.”
The MSI was left out of the main Italian political game after the Second World War, but fascism did not die. It was instead picked up by the post-fascist Alleanza Nazionale, led by Almirante’s political heir Gianfranco Fini. The party became an influential player in Italy’s Second Republic, particularly thanks to Silvio Berlusconi.
“The meaning of this victory is wide, both from a national and global perspective,” Mammone said. “In terms of ‘daily’ politics, the situation will be quite intense in terms of legitimisation of racism, hate against the ‘other’ and also possibly a fake attitude against the European Union and world powers.
“In terms of foreign policy, it will depend if Meloni will be able to follow through on her electoral pledges and limit Salvini’s influence. He, like Berlusconi, has not given up on his Putin sympathies.”
Broder observes how the right-wing electorate may be volatile, but it has consistently moved freely between the three main right parties: Brothers of Italy, League, and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.
“The radicalism and entrenchment of the themes is something that we have already seen for three decades, and that the right-wing coalition can win elections because of the weakness and hollowing of the popular base of the so-called centre-left and in this instance, of the Five Star Movement,” he said.
On the economic side, Meloni has signalled her intention to bring technocratic ministers into her Cabinet and to work on the country’s budget with her predecessors – moves designed to appeal to international markets and European institutions.
However, on a more local level, her party could spell trouble for migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, minorities, LGBTIQ communities and women’s rights.
“Meloni is repeating that she is not going to touch the 194 Law which regulates abortion and I believe that she is doing so for political opportunity – as threatening to abolish the 194 Law is not something that would be currently accepted in Italy,” journalist Claudia Torrisi told Byline Times.
“On the other hand, Brothers of Italy is the party which, from an ideological perspective has been ideologically closer to movements against pro-choice, against gender, since its foundation.”
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For Torrisi, Meloni’s victory must be seen within a wider context of the rise of far-right parties across Europe with a similar agenda.
“Brothers of Italy has built alliances with specific parties over the years and Meloni herself has never hidden her admiration for Viktor Orbàn’s policies and judges him as a model,” she said. “She has also often been to Spain for VOX political rallies. Polish premier Mateusz Moraviecki recently congratulated Meloni and she responded by pointing out her intention of defending common values.
“If we look at the directives of these parties’ agendas, beyond the countries’ differences, there is a common thread – as the European far-right has cemented itself into the defence of Christian roots, traditional values and family and anti-gender rhetoric.”
Meloni has also supported the ‘Great Replacement’ theory, which baselessly posits that an international plot aims to replace white Europeans with migration from the Global South. She has followed Orbàn’s lead in criticising billionaire philanthropist George Soros, often regarded as an antisemitic dog whistle.
As for Italy’s opposition, their next moves are unclear. Centrists appear keen to support Meloni on constitutional reform and welfare cuts. The Five Star Movement has shifted to the left, while the Democratic Party is paying the price of its historic failures.
What is certain is that Italian anti-racist, feminist activists and grassroots movements will stand their ground in the months to come – even if the mainstream media looks the other way.