Giorgio Meloni and the return of fascism: how Italy got here FindSexyJobs

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The rise of far-right politician Giorgia Meloni has left many outside Italy questioning how her fascism can achieve such prominence in a country that has experienced life under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini. The answer can be traced back to the recent normalization of reactionary politics.

In fact, the existence of a far-right government in Italy in the post-war era is not entirely unprecedented. Between 1994 and 2011, an oddly labeled “centre-right” alliance emerged – consisting of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (FI), various iterations of a small Christian Democratic or centrist wing, Umberto Bossi’s League of the North (LN) and Gianfranco Fini’s National Alliance (AN) . – ruled Italy four times. The National Alliance was the predecessor of Meloni’s brother Italy

Berlusconi takes a revisionist view of Mussolini’s role in Italian history. He believed himself to be one of Italy’s “greatest statesmen” and essentially a “benign dictator” who had “done good things for Italy”. This provided a counter-narrative that contradicted the reality of the anti-fascist foundations of the Italian Republic. The extreme right used this in turn.

The Northern League first emerged as a series of parties seeking greater autonomy for the prosperous northern regions of Italy. And the National Alliance was the latest iteration of a neo-fascist tradition rooted in the Italian Social Movement (MSI), founded in 1946 by veterans of Mussolini’s Italian Social Republic.

Both parties helped bring far-right and reactionary politics into the mainstream as coalition partners in Berlusconi-led administrations.

The balance of power in this alliance shifted significantly between 2013 and 2017, when Matteo Salvini took the reins of the Northern League. He gradually abandoned regionalism in favor of nationalism and appealed to the far and extreme right, adopting the slogan “Italians First” previously used by the neo-fascist party Casa Pound. The League (now renamed) joined forces with the Five Star Movement to govern in 2018–2019 as what was euphemistically called a “populist” coalition.

Extreme opinions packaged as “common sense”

It was a period that saw, among other reactionary policies, a “security decree” that tightened immigration regulations, restricted the right to asylum and made it easier to deport migrants and revoke citizenship. The decree was finally repealed in 2020, but at the time it already served as a symbolic victory for Salvini.

In 2017, Salvini promised Italian voters a “revolution of common sense”—a trope that soon became central to his party’s political message. The intention was to bring far-right ideology into the mainstream by portraying extreme, racist politics as “normal” ideas based on opinions shared by “ordinary Italians”.

Like many populist far-right politicians, he thrived on the idea of ​​saying out loud what “everyone really thinks”. Salvini claimed to be building “Italians first” – although by that he really meant white, Catholic, straight Italians from “traditional” (read mother and father) families. He also advocated the closing of borders and clearance of migrant camps.

Salvini’s image of sanity, while deeply flawed, initially proved a successful electoral tactic. But in 2019, he began to lose control of the narrative, thanks in large part to a series of miscalculations. The first of these was his unfortunate decision to pull the plug on the government he formed in 2018 in coalition with the Five Star Movement. Buoyed by arrogance fueled by strong polling data and hoping to trigger an election, Salvini withdrew support from the government. But his gamble did not pay off. Instead, he sent his party to the opposition benches.

Matteo Salvini and Gioriga Meloni took a picture together by the lake.
Salvini’s tactics opened up space for Meloni to prosper.
EPA

Meloni benefits from Salvini’s tactics

Salvini’s losses were Meloni’s gains, and the balance of power on Italy’s political right once again shifted away from the League. As Salvini has spent the last two years lending the government his parliamentary support, Meloni has been able to position herself as “lonely in the opposition” – and thus more in touch with “real Italians”.

Meanwhile, it capitalized on his success in pushing far-right and reactionary ideas further into the mainstream.

A key element of Salvini’s “common sense” strategy has been downplaying the threat of fascism and arguing that calls for law and order or stronger borders are not fascist. This created the perfect conditions for neo-fascists to thrive. Meloni was free to claim that her party had shaken off its fascist past, even though it held apparently hardline views. What could be called a post-fascist strategy is being developed. Meloni can inflame the public by making fascist claims while claiming that fascism no longer exists. Importantly, those who warn that fascism is returning are ridiculed as irrational.

All this is exemplified in the dog-whistle references to Mussolini that characterized the 2022 election campaign. Both the League and the Brothers of Italy deployed campaign slogans first used in the Fascist era. The latter even retained the tricolor flame logo used by their predecessors, the neo-fascist MSI.

Meloni is against same-sex marriage, he wants to significantly limit it access to abortion to address the “emergency” of Italy’s declining birthrate and explicitly refers to Europe’s supposed “Judeo-Christian” roots. The latter is a common Islamophobic trope that has long formed a key part of European far-right ideology. Its racism is also evident in the portrayal of immigration as an invasion – through calls for a naval blockade and the portrayal of “undocumented migration” as a UN conspiracy. This readily plays on the racist “grand replacement” narratives.

Meloni’s success may shock, but it shouldn’t surprise. She is a shrewd social media operator and expert strategist, but her path was paved by many characters who came before her. Salvini now follows her lead, but it was his work to move the Overton window that made her the politician she is today. It was a process that took years and unfolded before our eyes.

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