2022 or 1922? Italy’s Worrying General Election Results
Alessandra Messeri discusses the Italian coalition that won the last election, its historical facist roots and how history may be repeating itself:
Artwork by Innes Clark (IG: @Innesclarkillo).
‘History repeats itself’. A cliché statement, but in the case of Italy’s political history it has never rung truer. Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Party took power in October 1922, and, on 25 September 2022, almost exactly 100 years later, Italy elected to parliament its most far-right coalition since then. This coalition is composed of three parties: Giorgia Meloni’s ‘Brothers of Italy’, Matteo Salvini’s ‘League’, and Silvio Berlusconi’s ‘Forza Italia’. Together, they collected a total of 44% of votes. This is enough to form a Government in Italy; coalitions rarely get more than 50% of the vote as it does not have a two-party political system like the UK.
Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia or FDI) was by far the biggest party in the coalition, collecting more than half of those votes. It promotes a strong anti-immigrant, anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion, and pro-traditional family ideology. While it is usually classified as a centre-right party, several international news outlets have labelled it as ‘post-fascist’ due to its origins and extremist rhetoric. Thus, Giorgia Meloni’s party is impossible to ignore, and with the rise of the extreme right in Europe evident in Poland and Hungary’s governments already, it is certainly cause for concern.
The official FDI party was founded in 2012, but we can link its beginnings to the end of World War 2. The Fascist party was dismantled after the fall of Mussolini in 1945, with article 12 of Italy’s post-war Constitution forbidding the re-forming of any Fascist party. However, in 1946, a group of ex-Fascist Party members founded the ‘Italian Social Movement’ (Movimento Sociale Italiano, or MSI). Its leader, Giorgio Almirante, was the editorial secretary of the Fascist Party biweekly magazine La Difesa Della Razza, which is Italian for ‘The Defense of Race’ (1938-1944). The party was essentially a neofascist group and is where FDI’s roots can be traced back to.
In 1994, following a corruption scandal which completely transformed the Italian political scene and caused the disappearance of many political parties, MSI members united with other right-wing politicians to form the National Alliance (Alleanza Nazionale or AN). It was briefly absorbed into the now defunct ‘People of Freedom’ right-wing party between 2009 to 2012, after which it separated again and renamed itself ‘Brothers of Italy’, with Giorgia Meloni being elected as its leader.
Calling the party post-fascist based on its origins alone may seem futile, because, as we have seen, the party has gone through many changes since the creation of the MSI. Meloni now vehemently denies any accusations of her or any of her party members being fascist apologetics. In fact, Giorgia Meloni has recently made efforts to reassure both Italy and the international community that her party’s ties with Fascism are long gone. In August, she shared videos online in Italian, French, and Spanish, affirming that she and her party have ‘handed Fascism over to History’.
However, many have been sceptical of her statements and it isn't difficult to see why. Her party’s slogan, ‘God, Fatherland, and Family’, terrifyingly echoes mottos used by Mussolini during his over 20 year long regime. Her party’s symbol, an Italian Tricolour flame, is the same as the one that was used by the MSI. Perhaps most importantly, a 2021 undercover investigation by an Italian news outlet showed footage of FDI party members exchanging Nazi salutes, pro-fascist comments, as well as an array of sexist and racist jokes.
While Meloni has since sacked some of those individuals, worries of fascist nostalgia linger, and rightly so. Meloni herself has a complicated history with Fascism. As a girl, Meloni was a very active member of the youth wing of the MSI, even taking some leadership positions. In a 1996 French interview she even stated that ‘Mussolini was a good politician’, and that ‘everything he did, he did for Italy’. Moreover, she has repeatedly shown support for authoritarian leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Órban. She describes herself as ‘a woman, a mother, and a Christian’, promoting herself as a strong, anti-establishment leader who values tradition. She has vowed to lift Italy out of the crisis and defend it from the ‘extreme left’, immigrants, and what she has described as ‘gender and LGBT ideology’. FDI’s entire branding relies heavily on Meloni’s image, not unlike what we have seen and currently see in authoritarian governments both present and past.
Thus, while Meloni and FDI are now not outwardly supportive of Fascism, their actions and history undoubtedly prove otherwise. Their attempts to distance themselves from fascist ideology are contradicted by their firm stance in favour of intolerance, arguably the cornerstone of fascism. They have created a political formula by which they can still abide by their far-right ideology without being branded as neo-fascists. Meloni’s position as a woman arguably helps in this endeavour, as the FDI can hide itself beneath an apparently ‘progressive’ agenda while still securing conservative votes. How can we be misogynists or fascists? Our leader is a woman! The mainstream media is targeting us! This is clearly and worryingly a winning strategy, having secured widespread support in only a short number of years.
As an Italian citizen myself, I cannot hide my anxiety over this situation. In a country infamous for its political instability, the battle seems to be not between who has the best or strongest ideas, but between who can shout the loudest. I haven’t lived in Italy for many years now, however, in my opinion, Giorgia Meloni’s win is not surprising; an unstable country with an unsatisfied population where nothing seems to ever get better is the perfect breeding ground for extremism and intolerance to flourish. While this is by no means my desired outcome, I would be naïve if I said that the previous governments, albeit certainly not extremist, caused much positive change for Italy, especially for those in lower socioeconomic and marginalised groups. As Mark Twain once said, ‘History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme’. I can only hope my worries will be somehow proven wrong.