Italy is being ruled by ‘post-fascists’

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The Brothers of Italy are not a fascist movement, like the charismatic leader of the far-right Italian party Giorgia Meloni repeatedly insisted. But they are not not neither is fascist. Like European neo-fascists elsewhere, the Brotherhood despises immigration and opposes a cloistered and narrow view of national identity. And like neo-fascists elsewhere, the party has its roots in a distinctly fascist past – in this case, the Italian Social Movement, which was founded on the ashes of World War II defeat in 1946 by partisans of the executed dictator Benito Mussolini.

Meloni counts some of Mussolini’s descendants as his direct allies and still uses the same emblem once adopted by the heirs of his policy. A few years ago, such relations would have been part of the atmosphere of the political fringe, where the Brothers of Italy languished. But Meloni and his party are now ahead of all other rivals in Italian politics. When voters elect a new government on September 25 – a consequence of last week’s dramatic collapse of the coalition led by technocratic Prime Minister Mario Draghi – they could confirm Meloni as the country’s first female prime minister.

This state of affairs is largely due to the dysfunction of the unwieldy coalition government that has reigned in Rome since 2018. Draghi, a former president of the European Central Bank and a deeply respected political independent who stands somewhat at odds with Italy’s polarized scene, was called into office 18 months ago amid various feuds and crises. He presided over what was widely seen as a competent and stabilizing administration, but chose to step down last week after a number of coalition members – including the far-right League led by the former minister of Interior Matteo Salvini, the populist movement Five Star and Forza Italia. led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi – withdrew their support.

This is, of course, comparable to the course of Italian politics.

“While Draghi’s resignation was abrupt and undesirable, it was nevertheless entirely in line with the political practice of the post-1945 Italian democratic era,” notes Tony Barber in the Financial Times. “His national unity administration lasted 17 months, slightly longer than the average length of 69 governments since World War II.”

Meloni’s Brothers, unlike other major right-wing parties, have remained in opposition in recent years. They capitalized on a quagmire of public discontent over Italy’s longstanding problems, including entrenched youth unemployment. Like other far-right leaders in Europe, Meloni rages against the country’s perceived inexorable decline.

“Yes to secure the borders! No to mass immigration! she said earlier this summer at a rally for Spain’s far-right Vox. “Yes to our civilization!” And not to those who want to destroy it!

Now the prospect of Meloni’s mob-raising takeover seems more likely than ever. The Brothers are narrowly ahead of center-left Democrats, but can count on the support of factions of Salvini and Berlusconi as part of a broader right-wing coalition. If she emerges as the greatest standard-bearer for the Italian right, it will mark one of the most significant journeys of a far-right politician into the European mainstream, overtaking veteran campaigners like France’s Marine Le Pen.

“Meloni has been an activist in post-fascist politics since her youth,” said Piero Ignazi, professor emeritus at the University of Bologna, to France24. “The identity of the party is, for the most part, linked to post-fascist traditions. But his platform mixes this tradition with some mainstream conservative ideas and neoliberal elements such as free enterprise.

Italy has seen many cycles of establishment-breaking elections and waves of political fragmentation and is proving fertile ground for the migration of ‘post-fascists’ into the corridors of power.. The Brethren are “the beneficiaries of a much wider breakdown of barriers between the traditional center-right and the insurgent far-right, which is unfolding across Western Europe and America.” writes David Broder in the New York Times. “Highly indebted, socially polarized and politically unstable, Italy is precisely the country where the process is most advanced. If you want to know what the future holds, this is a good place to look.

Questions loom over what kind of disruptive presence a far-right government in Italy would represent for Europe’s liberal establishment. The continent’s nationalist, illiberal and eurosceptic right – so far in power only on its eastern periphery – is said to have a striking new regional leader. A Meloni government could be much less enthusiastic about supporting the Ukrainian war effort against Russia than Draghi was, although she has struggled in recent weeks to emphasize its Atlanticist references. It can be regressive on gender and minority rights; Meloni is a vocal critic of the “LGBT lobbies” in the West.

It can also be quite mild. “If you expect her to lead the revolution – against ‘Europe’ or ‘the establishment’ – you may be disappointed,” he added. Italian journalist Francesco Borgonovo wrote for Unherd, a straight-line publication. “Could she offend the EU establishment like [Hungarian Prime Minister Victor] Orban does it? Maybe. But will the center-right allies she needs to enter the government – above all Berlusconi – allow her to go down this path?

Meloni is “popular these days because it’s easier to oppose a policy than to make hard choices in government. As often happens in politics, once you have to actually craft policy, public support quickly dissipates,” Maria Tadeo wrote for Bloomberg Opinion. “Italy also has an extraordinary ability to build and burn politicians. In fact, for Meloni to become the next prime minister – should it indeed happen – could prove a poisoned gift.

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