Sunday, October 2, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Italy votes and a shocker’s coming: Leader of ‘post-fascist’ party set to win

In a stunning political story, Giorgia Meloni and her far-right Brothers of Italy party are on track to triumph in elections on Sunday. She'd be Italy's first female prime minister, but many see her instead as Europe's “most dangerous woman.”

(CN) — Italian voters on Sunday are poised to deliver a profound and disorienting shock to the European Union by throwing their support behind Giorgia Meloni, a far-right firebrand who leads a “post-fascist” nationalist party called the Brothers of Italy.

A Meloni win in general elections on Sunday – as predicted by polls – would see the EU's long-feared far-right menace explode onto the political scene, potentially causing deep ripple effects across the 27-member bloc where the rise of hard-right nationalist politicians like Meloni has come to seem inexorable.

At 45, Meloni is not only on track to become Italy's first female prime minister but also arguably the country's first “post-fascist” leader since dictator Benito Mussolini was killed along with his mistress at the end of World War II by Italian communists and then hung upside down in Milan for public viewing.

Also, if she becomes premier, Meloni could be labeled as the first leader of one of the EU's large founding nations with a political career forged out of the far-right fascist movements of the first half of 20th century.

“It's completely evident that Meloni has a fascist past. In the symbol of her party, there's the flame that burns on the tomb of Mussolini,” said Mariolina Sattanino, an Italian television journalist and host, during a recent discussion on LA7, an Italian news channel.

The rise of far-right politicians like Meloni also threatens to weaken the bloc's unity against Russian President Vladimir Putin in the war over Ukraine.

Indeed, Putin himself has fostered a hard-right, traditionalist and nationalistic ideology and his regime was admired by similarly minded politicians, including Meloni and her Italian allies, across Europe before he launched his catastrophic invasion.

Since the invasion, Meloni has vowed support for NATO and condemned Putin, but doubts remain about how firm her anti-Putin sentiments are. Additionally, she is likely to form a coalition government with Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League, and 85-year-old business magnate and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia, a center-right party.

Both Salvini and Berlusconi have had close ties with Putin. Salvini once sported a T-shirt with Putin's portrait on it during a visit to Moscow. Berlusconi and Putin have a long friendly relationship. On Friday, Berlusconi caused a minor furor in Europe by saying Putin was “pushed” into invading Ukraine by Russian nationalists and media.

The apprehension in Europe over Meloni's pending victory cannot be overstated. This week, Stern, a major left-leaning German news magazine, put a photograph of a tough-looking Meloni on its cover with the headline: “The Most Dangerous Woman in Europe.”

In recent elections, voters in France, Spain, Sweden and elsewhere have thrown momentum behind nationalistic, anti-EU and anti-immigrant hard-right candidates. Meanwhile, radical right parties are entrenched in Warsaw and Budapest, where Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has established himself as Europe's troubling role model for so-called Christian “illiberal democracy.” Bureaucrats in Brussels and EU judges are waging a legal and political battle against Orban, accusing him of corrupting the country's democratic institutions. But he was reelected in April.

Sunday's elections come after a technocratic government led by former European Central Bank head Mario Draghi fell apart in July, opening a new chapter in Rome's notoriously turbulent and fractious politics.

Draghi was brought in as a steady hand to guide Italy through the coronavirus pandemic and oversee the disbursement of billions of dollars in pandemic recovery aid. He is not a politician and not affiliated with a political party; he became the latest in a string of non-elected Italian leaders given the task to keep the crisis-ridden country running.

Polls show that Meloni's Brothers of Italy is expected to come out on top with about 25% of the vote and form a coalition government with Salvini and Berlusconi.

ADVERTISEMENT

The center-left Democratic Party is projected to pick up the second-most votes, about 22%, while the maverick anti-establishment 5-Star Movement is forecast to pick up about 13%, on par with the League. Berlusconi's Forza Italia is expected to get about 7% of the vote.

Meloni's rise has been meteoric and clearly propelled by deep-rooted anger among many Italians over both the state of their country's paralyzed and bitter domestic politics and a chafing sense that Italy isn't benefiting as it should from membership in the EU.

As a deft politician and crowd-pleaser who combines drama, comedy and anger, Meloni has capitalized on the discontent in Italy, the EU's third-largest economy but one beaten down by a long-running economic crisis that's left the country scarred by high unemployment, deteriorating public services, under investment and astronomic public debt.

For now, Italians appear ready to give Meloni and her “Italy first” approach a go at fixing their national plight.

But it's a choice that may well come back to haunt Italy.

Meloni routinely rails against the EU as an over-regulated federal monster stunting Italy's economy and dominated by rich northern countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and France. She also vows to cut taxes and streamline Italian bureaucracy, which she sees as burdensome.

With a blunt, even crude, style, Meloni has won the hearts of Italians with her anti-Brussels and anti-migrant rhetoric and outbursts against “globalists” and financiers. Like Donald Trump and Orban, her rhetoric dangerously alludes to conspiracy theories about a global cabal seeking to fleece regular citizens and take away their identity.

Her speeches drip with scorn for the LGBTQ movement, efforts to help migrants and promote “green deals.”

“They want us to become parent No. 1, parent No. 2,” she said at a 2019 rally, angrily denouncing gender-free policies. “[For them] family is the enemy; national identity is an enemy; gender identity is the enemy.”

She continued: “It's the ruse of a single thought. They have to take away everything that we are because once we no longer have an identity, when we no longer have any roots, we will be without any consciousness and unable to defend our rights … Citizen X, codes. But we are not codes, we are people and we will defend our identity.”

Reaching a crescendo, she roused the crowd exclaiming: “I am Giorgia, I am a woman, I am a mother, I'm Italian, I'm Christian. Don't take it away from me!”

The League's Matteo Salvini, left, chats with Brothers of Italy's Giorgia Meloni on the stage of a center-right coalition closing rally in Rome on Thursday, Sep. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Her prescriptions also involve giving Italian families incentives to have children, encouraging mothers to not have abortions and bolstering the role of the Roman Catholic church in public life.

In a recent debate with the leader of the center-left Democratic Party, Enrico Letta, she argued against allowing gay couples to adopt children, saying that children ought to be raised by mothers and fathers.

Meloni's also taken a very harsh stance on migration from North Africa, one of Italy's most gnarly problems. Every year, thousands of migrants cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach the shores of Sicily and its islands. She advocates a blockade and setting up a processing system in North Africa to ascertain who can qualify for refugee status in Europe.

As with other far-right politicians in Europe, she expresses strong anti-Muslim views.

“It's paradoxical that we remove crucifixes from our school classrooms and then accept that there are entire neighborhoods in Europe that are under the control of Islamic Sharia law,” she said on a recent television program, promoting the false far-right notion that Sharia law is being enforced in Muslim communities.

On economics, she calls globalization “a false dream” about an “invisible hand” that hasn't worked out. Instead, she advocates a protectionist stance that sees Italy looking out for its own interests. For instance, she has proposed promoting Italian natural gas drilling in the Adriatic Sea and rejecting environmental fears, building a gas pipeline to Spain despite French objections and making southern Italy an energy hub for Europe.

On foreign politics, she throws around pejoratives, calling Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan a “neo-Sultan,” Middle East monarchies “fundamentalists” and China a “dictatorship.” She blames the promotion of global free trade for strengthening the hand of autocracies around the plant.

She is also a proponent to spend more on Italy's armed forces and to make the country more self-sufficient for its basic needs, such as food.

“The interests of Italy come first, above all else,” she routinely professes.

But her background is extremely alarming, despite her disavowals about her party's fascist roots and rebranding as a family-oriented conservative.

The international press, political experts and her opponents in Italy describe Meloni's party as “neo-fascist,” “post-fascist,” “extreme right,” “xenophobic,” “anti-gay,” “anti-abortion” and “anti-Muslim” due to its political positions.

Her campaign slogan is “God, homeland, family,” a clear echo of Mussolini's fascist creed. Her party's symbol brazenly endorses a torch flame in the colors of the Italian flag – the same symbol used by neo-fascist parties since the end of World War II. The flame mimics a torch lit at Mussolini's tomb.

Since her adolescence, Meloni, a high school graduate from a middle-class single-parent Roman family, has risen up in the ranks of Italy's post-fascist movement.

She joined the Italian Social Movement at age 15, a political party founded by former fascists after World War II. At 19, she told a French television station that Mussolini was Italy's only great politician in modern history.

These elections also come after electoral reforms have massively reduced the number of deputies and senators in Italy's two parliamentary chambers. In a twist that favors Meloni, the elections therefore are expected to yield one of Italy's strongest election results in decades.

“It really does look like for the first time for many elections there could be a real winner,” said Tim Parks, an author and journalist living in Italy, speaking to the New Statesman. “If you've lived in Italy for a long time as I have, the idea of someone actually winning an election and governing is quite extraordinary.”

He said Italians are frustrated by how their government has been led by unelected prime ministers for the past five years.

“It's perceived that these governments we've had are to a large extent put there in cahoots with the European Commission,” Parks said. “There's a feeling that maybe the country isn't actually being run by people who have Italy's interests first.”

He added: “What we're looking at is the possibility that we really will have a political government, and this government may make all kinds of mistakes or not, but it really would be a government voted for by the people.”

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.

Loading
Loading...