The Return of Fascism in Italy


At the Venice International Film Festival earlier this month, Hillary Clinton observed to an Italian journalist, “The election of the first female prime minister in a country always signals a break with the past, and that is absolutely a good thing. She was referring to Giorgia Meloni, a member of the Chamber of Deputies who, if the Brothers of Italy party performs as predicted in Sunday’s elections, could go down in history.

One way to break with the past would be to do that. Meloni, however, would also be a continuation of Italy’s most sinister period, the Benito Mussolini interwar dictatorship. This is not so great, as Clinton would no doubt admit.

If Meloni wins the election at the end of the month, he would lead a coalition that includes Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the League of Matteo Salvini, two former leaders of Italy’s populist right. The largest party in the bloc would be Brothers of Italy, which has surpassed these more established parties and was polling at 23 percent early this month.

Meloni has been the leader of Brothers of Italy since 2014. It has a spooky, familiar vibe. Just weeks before the 100th anniversary of the March on Rome, the October 1922 event that installed Mussolini in power, Italy may have a former MSI activist as its prime minister and a government rooted in fascism. The party formed a decade ago to carry forth the spirit and legacy of the extreme right in Italy, which dates back to the Italian Social Movement (MSI), the party that formed in place of the National Fascist Party, which was banned after World War II. We are all Il Duce’s successors, said Ignazio La Russa, Meloni’s predecessor as chairman of the Brothers of Italy.

Meloni resembles other contemporary national-conservative politicians more than Il Duce does, like Viktor Orbán of Hungary and the MAGA Republicans in America. She recently stated to The Washington Post that “there is a liberal philosophy, so-called globalist, that seeks to view as an enemy everything that characterized you—everything that has built your identity and your civilization.”

Meloni has a well-known list of opponents, including “LGBT lobbies” and George Soros, whom she has referred to as a “international speculator” and who she claims funds global “mass immigration” that poses a threat to the replacement of white, native Italians. Similar to Marine Le Pen, who was the leader of the National Rally party in France until recently, Meloni has professed sympathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin, but she has toned down her enthusiasm in the wake of his invasion of Ukraine.

 

Meloni is comparable to Le Pen in other ways. Both are examples of what political scientists call “genderwashing,” when female politicians adopt a nonthreatening image to blunt the force of their extremism. Meloni’s signature look involves flowing outfits in pastel shades. To uninformed foreigners, her ascent could look like female empowerment; she poses as a defender of women, even as her party has rolled back women’s rights. In localities it governs, Brothers of Italy has made abortion services—the procedure has been legal in Italy since 1978—harder to access. Municipal authorities in Verona, where the party has shared power with Salvini’s League, declared the city “pro-life.”

However, Meloni and her French colleague disagree over the history of extremism in their respective groups. Because of his overt bigotry and Holocaust denial, Le Pen forced her father out of the National Front’s (the National Rally’s predecessor) leadership. Even while she insists that her party is merely “conservative” and that fascism is a thing of the past, Meloni has never totally renounced her ties to Italy’s neofascist legacy.

That assertion is refuted by the tricolor flame in the Brothers of Italy logo, which revives the MSI’s emblem to honor her party’s ties to its fascist past. The Brothers of Italy uphold their ancestors’ ideals as well. The Brothers of Italy’s present-day concern about increasing the birth rate, its proposal to link social-welfare assistance to mothers and those providing child care, and its attempts to restrict reproductive rights are examples of how the natalist obsession of Il Duce’s 20-year rule, with its “Battle for Births,” has persisted.

The Allies tried to prevent the largest Communist party in Western Europe from coming to power at the outset of the Cold War, but Italy never undertook a process comparable to Germany’s de-Nazification after World War II. Purges of fascists and other punitive actions that might have sparked popular unrest in Italy were handled lightly. They also turned a blind eye when the MSI was established in 1946 by Giorgio Almirante and other fascists who had previously worked for Il Duce. The MSI rose to become the fourth-largest party by the 1960s, but due to the left’s electoral dominance, it mostly remained on the outside of Italian politics.

The MSI never wavered in its political commitment to bringing the far right back to power. The fall of communism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe opened up new opportunities for the right. Forza Italia, the billionaire’s new party, entered the scene. The Northern League, the original name of Salvini’s party, was a component of Berlusconi’s brief center-right administration in 1994, which also included the MSI’s neofascists for the first time since 1945 in a coalition government in Europe.


RELATED: Why fascism still has a hold on Italy

https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2022/9/24/elections-why-fascism-still-has-a-hold-on-italy


 

The MSI’s tricolor flame was still present even after their party changed its name to the National Alliance. Meloni had joined the MSI’s youth wing in 1992, when he was a teenager. The leader of the National Alliance, Gianfranco Fini, wore business suits and forbade fascist salutes among the party faithful, but he extolled Il Duce as “the greatest statesman of the 20th century.” She mirrored Fini’s support for the dictator when she ran for office four years later as a young activist for her party. She told a TV journalist, “I think Mussolini was a good politician. “He did everything for Italy,” someone said.

The Italian center-left has struggled to package its ideas in a way that appeals to voters, which is one reason for Meloni’s party’s present popularity. Above all, it denotes a quickening of Italy’s democratization decline. In many ways, Berlusconi’s subsequent governments from the 2000s—which gradually adopted more and more of their neofascist partner’s politics—are updated versions of Meloni’s present alliance. The procedure was formalized in 2009 when Forza Italia and the National Alliance merged to create the People of Freedom party. The coalitions of Berlusconi vilified immigrants, imprisoned them, and inflamed anti-communist apprehensions (even though the Italian Communist Party had ceased to exist).

Berlusconi played on nostalgia for fascism’s promise of law and order throughout, while also erasing its brutality. Mussolini claimed in 2003 that he “never killed anyone,” claiming instead that he “put individuals into confinement to have vacations.” However, the Fascist jails on islands like Ponza, where torture was used, were anything but vacation spots. In addition, he disregarded the Holocaust and the mass murders committed by the fascists in Libya and other colonies of Italy.

Meloni served as the youth minister in Berlusconi’s previous administration (2008–2011), which provided as a testing ground for the policies she has since adopted. Such fear-mongering finds an audience because of Italy’s historically low birth rates, but it also fosters racist attitudes about who should be having children. In 2008, one of Berlusconi’s ministers claimed that high immigrant birth rates, along with Italy’s aging population and sluggish demographic growth, would cause Italians to disappear “in two or three generations.”

These nationalistic concerns are a continuation of Mussolini’s warnings. Il Duce stated in 1927 that “cradles are vacant and cemeteries are growing.” The theme of Meloni’s “ethnic substitution” is that “the entire white race, the Western race, could be submerged by other races of color that multiply with a rhythm unknown to our own.” Since 2017, she has tweeted repeatedly that Italian identity is being purposefully erased by globalists like Soros and European Union officials who have conspired to unleash “uncontrolled mass immigration.”

The neofascist heritage lost its independence as a result of the People of Freedom merger. When Berlusconi’s coalition collapsed in 2011 due to the euro-zone crisis forcing his resignation, it gave the far-right partner a chance to start over. The Brothers of Italy were founded the year after.

Meloni has developed over time, dealing in far-right conspiracies occasionally while pretending to be a classic conservative other times. The strategy has been alarmingly effective. Ignazio La Russa is currently the vice president of the Italian Senate, while Mussolini’s granddaughter Rachele, a Brother of Italy politician since 2016, won the most votes to be reelected to the city council of Rome last year.

What can we anticipate if the first far-right government headed by a woman is elected next week? Meloni doesn’t seem likely to soften her extremism or her support for anti-liberal parties in Europe like Hungary’s Fidesz. After all, they have benefited from supporting extreme anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ policies in the guise of preserving white Christian civilisation. Meloni, like Orbán, has forged ties with the United States. Republicans participating in the National Prayer Breakfast and the Conservative Political Action Conference.

 

From the December 1945 issue: Mussolini’s final three days

The political backgrounds of her coalition allies do nothing to encourage hope that any government Meloni led would uphold the legislation. In 2018, not long before Salvini was appointed interior minister, Berlusconi, a convicted felon (on charges of tax fraud and bribery), called for the “mass cleansing” of immigrants. It is not improbable that the repression of civil liberties under a Meloni-led administration may lead to conflict between Italy and the EU. That is the case in Hungary, where the government of Viktor Orbán utilizes such conflicts for its populist culture wars even as it continues to receive billions of euros in EU funds, according to a recent resolution of the European Parliament.

The Brothers of Italy might potentially try to reintroduce a constitutional amendment that it initially suggested in 2018 but that Parliament rejected. By adopting the bill, the electoral college would no longer be used to pick the president. A president chosen by the general public seems more democratic on the surface, but there are other factors at work. The 1948 constitution of Italy established the electoral college as a safeguard against potential fascist takeover by a charismatic demagogue in the future. The political system in Italy is ostensibly also parliamentary, which holds the prime minister responsible for leading the government and separating him or her from day-to-day partisanship. However, the Italian center-left parties have understandably been alarmed by the Brothers of Italy’s support for “presidentialism,” as the concept of a more capable head of state with a public mandate is known there.

Hillary Clinton also mentioned how right-wing parties might occasionally seem to be better at promoting women in her interview in Venice. Meloni’s party slogan, “God, Fatherland, Family,” glorifies those very pillars of power, and she said that patriarchy protects women like her because they are frequently the first to defend them. And it was a product of Mussolini’s rule.


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By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter

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