Why Italy is about to elect its first far-right leader since World War II | Italy

One hundred years after the rise of Italian fascism heralded by Mussolini’s 1922 march on Rome, the country is about to elect a party with neo-fascist roots.

With Election Day just over a week away, the smiling face of Italy’s Brethren leader Giorgia Meloni features on thousands of posters, from the heel in the south to the Alps in the north.

When polls close on the evening of September 25, Meloni is expected to emerge triumphant, making her Italy’s first far-right leader since World War II.

Meloni has always distanced himself from fascism and recently said that the Italian right had “put fascism back in history”. His current political success owes much to his decision, unlike that of Matteo Salvini and his Northern League, to keep his party out of the multiparty government of outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi. This decision consolidated it as the voice of the opposition and gave it the position of leader in a right-wing electoral coalition, which includes the League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, which now garners more than 45%.

But she was reluctant to campaign to get rid of the political slogan Dio, Patria, Family (God, Fatherland, Family), widely used in the Fascist era, and his party retains apparent Fascist visual references. It shares its party logo, a flame-shaped Italian tricolor, with the defunct Italian Social Movement (MSI), a neo-fascist party formed in 1946 by supporters of Mussolini’s regime and former high-ranking members of his fascist party. . Some supporters of his party performed the fascist salute during public commemorations.

Giorgia Meloni campaigns in Ancora, Italy, with her party’s flag flame logo, shared with a former neo-fascist party, behind her. Photography: Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

How is it that Italy, which lived through Mussolini’s bloody regime and passed discriminatory laws against its Jewish citizens, is about to elect a party leader as Prime Minister with these associations, who, in a video recently released in 1996, spoke of the leading fascists: “Mussolini was a good politician. There haven’t been other politicians like him in the last 50 years”?

Paolo Berizzi of La Repubblica has been asking this question for years. The journalist, who has written extensively on the far right in Italy, has received numerous threats from neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups and now lives under police protection. “Italy is a country that has never come to terms with its fascist past,” he said. “The fascists did not die in 1945; they have always been there.

To find answers, we have to go back to the immediate post-war period, when the first issue Italy tackled was national unity. The overthrow of Mussolini in 1943 was followed by a bloody civil war between a Nazi-backed puppet state and supporters of the Italian resistance. So when peace came to Europe, fears of escalating civil tensions took precedence over the purge of fascists from Italian institutions and their pursuit. for war crimes. As the Nuremberg trials against prominent members of the Nazi Party began in Germany in November 1946, Italy, partly concerned about the growing number of Communists, on the brink of the Cold War, launched from June the same year an amnesty program, freeing thousands of fascists from prison.

Many took jobs in post-war administrations: Ettore Messana, a fascist civil servant whose name appears on a UN list for war crimes, was appointed inspector general of public security in Sicily; General Giuseppe Pichè, who led counterintelligence for Mussolini, was appointed director general of the Civil Protection Agency.

“After the war, there were many Italians who thought that, despite the conflict, Mussolini hadn’t done so badly after all,” said Salvatore Lupo, professor of contemporary history at the University of Palermo.

Giorgio Almirante, minister of culture in the short-lived Nazi puppet state, founded the MSI with former members of Italy’s fascist party in this climate of tolerance. In 1948, three neo-fascists sat in the Italian parliament. It is from this heritage that the Italian Brothers would later emerge.

The neo-fascist MSI, meanwhile, stayed out of mainstream politics until the early 1990s, when a nationwide judicial inquiry into political corruption led to the demise of many mainstream political parties and given an opportunity. Its members formed the National Alliance party in 1995, retaining the tricolor flame as their symbol, and, posing as neoliberal conservatives, found in Berlusconi’s Forza Italia their first ally in the national government.

It was Berlusconi who, during a political rally in 2019, boasted of having been the first to engage with the neofascists. “The parties that have governed Italy since the beginning of the First Republic had never allowed fascists to enter government,” he said. “We let them in for the first time. We legitimized them.

Berizzi said: “It was in those years that the criminal revisionism of fascism, as I call it, began, fueled by talk shows and numerous newspapers. Fake news began circulating around fascism, which is still portrayed today as a regime that “did a lot of great things”.

Many Italians today are convinced that Mussolini introduced social housing to Italy, when in reality it began in 1903, almost 20 years before his reign. The lingering cliché is that Mussolini ran the trains on time, but during the Fascist era the trains were chronically late. Unable to resolve the issue, the regime instead banned people from discussing it, as it would be “dishonorable to the fatherland”.

More than 70 years after Mussolini’s death, thousands of Italians have begun joining self-proclaimed fascist groups in an outpouring of support that anti-fascists blame for depicting the refugee crisis and the economic and political instability of the country. ‘Italy. In this context, in 2012, Brothers of Italy was founded, largely within the ranks of the MSI and the National Alliance. Two years later, Meloni, previously an activist of the MSI’s Youth Front, became its leader.

“Meloni became the leader of her party at a time when fascism in Italy was almost normalized and becoming popular among young people,” Berizzi said. “The statuettes of Mussolini and the calendars of Duce are on sale in kiosks and shops. The Fascist Salute […] has become an almost folkloric gesture.

Benito Mussolini addressing the crowd at the Palazzo Venezia in Rome in 1936.
Benito Mussolini addressing the crowd at the Palazzo Venezia in Rome in 1936. Photography: George Rinhart/Corbis/Getty Images

Antonio Scurati, author of M, an international bestseller on Mussolini’s rise to power, said: “While in Germany there was a long process of overcoming the past, which had as a precondition to make the whole German people reflect on the co-responsibility for the crimes of Nazism, in Italy this process never took place. Whenever we talk about the war and the racial laws in Italy, we always identify with the role of victim and anti-fascists, and this prevented us from admitting that we were fascists.

Meloni “unambiguously” condemned “the suppression of democracy and ignominious anti-Jewish laws,” stressing that his party has nothing to do with fascism and is a conservative champion of patriotism. She told Corriere della Sera after the local elections that there were no “nostalgic, racist or anti-Semitic fascists in the DNA of the Brothers of Italy” and that she had always gotten rid of “ambiguous people “.

“Let’s assume that Meloni is not a fascist. Let’s say technically his party is not neo-fascist,” Berizzi said. “You still cannot deny that in its ranks there are many fascists […] If Meloni wins the election, fascism may not return, but our democracy will be in danger.

As the far right advances, some Italians have compared the current situation to a satirical film released in 2018, which imagines Mussolini returning to Italy and being cheered on by the people.

“If Mussolini came back, the Italians would re-elect him,” Scurati said. “In fact, Italians, Europeans, North Americans and Brazilians have already elected several ‘neo’ Mussolini.”

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