On the 28th of October 1922, the march on Rome marked the beginning of the fascist regime in Italy. 100 years later, the most far-right government since the defeat of Mussolini officially began on the 26th of October, which begs the question: is Fascism making a comeback?
The 2022 elections have seen the far-right party Brothers of Italy emerge as the winning party, with 26% of the votes. Their leader Giorgia Meloni is the first female President of the Council of Ministers in Italian history. Her party mostly consists of politicians who give a nod to fascist symbolism and history, thus some international observers fear that Italy might be drifting back to its dark past with this new government. But is this fear grounded? As an Italian, I am not happy at all with these election results and I certainly am not a fan of the Brothers of Italy. At the same time, however, I do not think Giorgia Meloni is a fascist nor that her government will be fascist in the true sense of the word.
Giorgia Meloni has campaigned for years against the miserable immigrants drowning in the Mediterranean sea, has been very close to Viktor Órban, the Hungarian autocrat and Prime Minister, and advocated for Italy to exit the Eurozone. I profoundly disagree with all these positions. Nevertheless, the core characteristic of a fascist is the embrace of an authoritarian, autocratic, and totalitarian ideology which entails a profound disrespect for all democratic institutions. During all these years, Meloni never tried to transgress the institutions. On the contrary, a few years ago her ally Matteo Salvini asked Italians to give him “full powers”, apparently ignoring the notion of checks and balances on which a democracy is built, but that’s a whole other story. Meloni did not come to power through violence or a coup d’état, but by democratically winning the elections because her party was the most convincing. She won because she managed to persuade the centre-right wing voters of Lega and Forza Italia, her coalition partners, and because the other parties were not able to organize a credible opposition front. For this reason, given her political program, I would describe Giorgia Meloni as a typical conservative, right-wing populist and nationalist politician, as there are in every country, but not as a proper fascist. This, however, doesn’t mean that her party isn’t packed with fascists.
The newly appointed president of the Senate (the second highest office in Italy) Ignazio Benito La Russa proudly showed journalists his collection of fascist relics and has doubts about celebrating Italy’s liberation from nazifascism on April 25th. One can only call it poetic irony that holocaust survivor and senator for life Liliana Segre was chairing the session in which La Russa was elected president. Moreover, the inquiry “Lobby Nera” uncovered a system of money laundering organized by right-wing extremists of the party, including Carlo Fidanza, MEP and head of delegation of the Brothers. These members felt completely at ease in making racist and sexist comments and greeted each other with the Nazi salute. In addition, there are recurrent scandals concerning the “nostalgic” members of Brothers of Italy: some are dressed in SS Nazi uniforms, some organize fascist dinners, others have very close ties with neofascist organizations such as Lealtà e Azione. Even the symbol of the party is a clear reference to its past: the tricolored flame was the symbol of the Movimento Sociale Italiano, the first neofascist party created right after the beginning of the republic by ex-fascists. So it is not a secret that Brothers of Italy is a party full of fascists; does that mean that the Italians who voted for them are also fascists?
Rest assured, the answer is no. Brothers of Italy gained 26% of all votes, but voter turnout has never been so low in national elections: only 64% of eligible voters actually voted, meaning that the majority of Italians did not vote for Brothers of Italy. And I can assure you that even those 26% of voters are not all fascists. I personally know people who voted for Meloni, and they don’t walk around doing the Nazi salute or praising Mussolini. Many are simply fed up with the paralysis of the current political class and its inability to bring about much need changes, and saw in Giorgia a strong and serious politician. But the fact that they are not fascists, in my opinion, is even worse: it means they do not care about electing fascist representatives. They do not see the problem in that. And this indifference that brought us to this electoral result, in turn, might legitimize extremists or even actual fascists and expand their following.
Meloni is a very astute politician and is quite conscious of how national and international observers see her, especially compared to her predecessor, Mario Draghi, who was extremely popular at home and with international allies. For this reason, she has tried to assign critical ministries, such as the Economy and Finance one, to technical figures: people who are considered competent and less politically radical, less being the key word here. This consciousness reassures me that Meloni will not try to transform Italy into the new Hungary by undermining the rule of law and democracy. However, her government remains the most far-right in our republican history, and I am particularly worried about how our social and civil rights will be affected.
It is the Minister for Family, Natality and Equal Opportunities, Eugenia Roccella, who concerns me most: she is against euthanasia, said that civil union is a path to "the end of the humane” and that abortion “is not a right”. The fact that she and Meloni explicitly stated that they will not undermine abortion rights does not change the fact that Brothers of Italy is already doing so in the regions it governs. For instance, in the Marche region, they tried to restrict access to the RU486 pill and therefore to pharmacological abortion. Bear in mind that the further south you go, the higher the percentage of conscientious objectors among the medical personnel. The percentage is higher than the national average in Marche reaching 70%. Moreover, a draft bill proposing the judicial recognition of the fetus from its conception has already been presented. These are only two examples of how pro-lifers are undermining abortion without directly abolishing Law 194, enshrining abortion rights.
The true essence of this government will largely depend on Giorgia Meloni being able - and willing - to block the more extreme proposals coming from her allies. Will she actually be groundbreaking for Italian politics? Or will everything change for everything to remain the same, as in The Leopard? Only time will tell what Giorgia Meloni is truly made of, but the world should better keep an eye on Italy’s first female Prime Minister.