Italy may be forced to face fascist past with voters poised to elect a far-right government | TAUT News

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As Italy heads to the polls this Sunday to choose its next government, the country looks set to make the sharpest right turn since Benito Mussolini.

Four years ago, Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, named after the opening words of the country’s national anthem, was a far-right outlier with only four percent of the vote, its post-fascist origins and too much angry nationalist rhetoric for most. Italians.

Since then, 45-year-old Meloni of Italy’s right-wing parties, including the anti-immigrant league led by Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, has changed from little sister status to dominating them. According to the latest polls, the Brothers of Italy are at 25 percent – twice as much as the League – and Meloni is in position to lead a right-wing coalition that could get enough votes for an unprecedented “super-majority” in parliament.

Observers say Meloni got there through clever, patient strategies. An embittered center-left whose main Democratic Party, several points behind the Brothers of Italy and whose leader Enrico Letta has nearly conceded defeat, has not hurt.

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“The whole center-left campaign was, ‘Vote for us, because if… [the right-wing coalition] wins, it will be a disaster,” said Cecilia Emma Sottiletta, a professor of politics at the American University of Rome.

Meloni took airtime from the opposition

Unlike the League, Meloni chose not to join Italy’s latest coalition government led by Mario Draghi. The former European banker began guiding the country towards recovery from the pandemic with the help of massive EU funds in early 2021, until key coalition members withdrew their support this summer and he announced he would step down.

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In the meantime, out of government, Meloni was able to get all the airtime from the opposition while softening her rock-solid image and publishing what would become the best-selling autobiography. Io Sono Giorgia, I’m Giorgia.

In it, she shares stories of being bullied as a girl for her weight, along with screeding against what she — like Hungary’s far-right leader Viktor Orban, whose “illiberal” government she admires so much — are the main threats to Christian European society. values: elite-driven political correctness, LGBT lobbies, Brussels bureaucrats, global banking conspiracies and migrant “invasions” across the Mediterranean.

Observers say Meloni’s prospect as Italy’s next prime minister, exactly a century after fascist leader Benito Mussolini came to power, is testament to Italy’s failure to confront its fascist past.

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But support for the far-right leader also comes from her agility in portraying herself as both an anti-establishment and a strong alternative in a country that has been in political turmoil since the 1990s, when corruption scandals ended post-war political order. . Since then, observers say, voters have been drawn to “new” solutions to old problems — from billionaire media empresario Berlusconi and the Five Star protest movement to the technocrat Draghi, initially hailed as Super Mario.

“Meloni is benefiting from the enormous wave of discontent that has characterized the Italian electorate,” Sottiletta said. “She can convincingly present herself as an alternative because she hasn’t been part of any government for a few years.”

She is also charismatic, blowing up crowds in deafening campaign tirades and possessing her political enemies on talk shows with her signature Roman sarcasm.

A large group of people hold flags with Italian letters on them, in front of an election sign.
Thousands of supporters gathered at the closing meeting of the right-wing coalition three days before the Italian elections, in which the far-right Brothers of Italy party led by Meloni was expected to win. (Megan Williams/TAUT)

‘She wasn’t part of this community at all’

Meloni became politically active in her teens when she joined the small group of youth militants in the fringe post-fascist Italian social movement, located on the fringes of the working-class, left-wing Garbatella neighborhood of Rome.

“She frequently refers to Garbatella as a way of signaling that she is a woman of the people, tough, ordinary, a commoner,” says neighborhood historian and author Gianni Rivolta. “But this is an outdated version of our neighborhood and a stereotype of who lives here. It’s true that she grew up partly here, but she wasn’t part of this community at all and doesn’t reflect that in any way.”

An elderly man in a blue sweater looks into the distance
Historian of the Roman working-class neighborhood of Garbatella, Gianni Rivolta, says Meloni often refers to the neighborhood to indicate that it is “of the people.” (Megan Williams/TAUT)

At the morning food market nearby, most residents said they would not vote for Meloni. But not everyone — an indication of its growing appeal beyond a core of far-right followers.

Fruit seller Giasmine Sokari, who immigrated to Italy from Morocco 35 years ago, fondly recalls Meloni and her mother shopping at her stall before moving out of the area. Sokari says she is open to voting for the far right because she supports their stance against same-sex marriage and abortion restrictions and is unimpressed by the anti-migrant rhetoric.

“We foreigners are like guests, we have to respect the rules,” she said. “I’ve never experienced racism in Italy because I respect the rules… Now it’s a mess, with people crossing boats to Italy and getting on planes. Let’s hope it gets resolved.”

A woman in a headscarf smiles.  She is standing in front of a fruit stand.
Fruit seller Giasmine Sokari is pictured in the Rome neighborhood of Garbatella, Italy, in September 2022. She sold fruit to Meloni and her mother and says she supports some of her policies. (Megan Williams/TAUT)

Dropping the idea of ​​a naval blockade

Meloni’s calls for naval blockades in the Mediterranean to curb migrants leaving North Africa, however, have abated closer to the election.

“She and Salvini are genuinely concerned about the cultural, religious effects of immigration,” said Roberto Menotti, political expert and editor-in-chief of Aspenia Online. “But stopping the flows across the Mediterranean would cost a huge amount of money. That’s why the idea of ​​a naval blockade has been scrapped. It’s utter madness.”

Meloni has promised that, if elected, she will continue Draghi’s prudent fiscal policy and unity with the European Union and NATO in supporting Ukraine against the Russian invasion. But with a recession potentially on the way, inflation and energy costs skyrocketing, and a historically huge national debt, Meloni will have her hands full.

An Italian neighborhood.  There is graffiti on the wall.
An image from Garbatella, the left-wing working-class neighborhood in Rome where far-right leader Meloni grew up. (Megan William/TAUT)

Menotti says if the far right forms Italy’s next government, he will keep a close eye on how they will deal with France and Germany.

“France and Germany are Italy’s two main trading partners and have enormous weight in all the decisions made at the European Central Bank, where we borrow our money,” he said, “but they have constantly criticized them. So I wonder wonder how they will deal with this diplomatic dilemma once they are in power.”

Voting will run on Sunday, with full results expected Monday morning, local time.

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