N. Peter Kramer’s Weekly Column
In Italy’s last election in 2018, Giorgia Meloni’s party, the far-right Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d ’Italia) scored less than 4% in Sicily, just behind what was garnered nationally. The populist, anti-establishment Five Star Movement came top with almost 50% of the vote. Four years on, Brothers of Italy have soared ahead, with the right-wing coalition (with Berlusconi and Salvini) it leads now scenting victory. Giorgia Meloni could well become Italy’s first female prime-minister and the country’s first far-right leader since Benito Mussolini.
Her promises of tax cut and a hard line on immigration are gaining considerable support. Her pledge to scrap a flagship Five Star policy, the citizens’ income, a social welfare system for those below the poverty line, splits opinion. The poorer South of Italy has benefited from it most and is still a vote-winner for Five Star. But in the rest of the country many follow Meloni’s line that this policy has overburdened the state. ‘With handout money, people are just staying at home and not working. The government should have created jobs instead’, is her line.
What is clear in Meloni’s political programme is her social conservatism, particularly her opposition to same-sex families. ‘Yes to the natural family, no to LGBT lobbies’, she roared at a recent rally of Spain’s far-right party Vox. She has called for a naval blockade of Libya to stop migrants boats. Some see here as a danger for the ‘ever closer’ European Union, Meloni wants a Europe of Nations.
The Brothers of Italy leader vehemently rejects the fascist label, stating that it had been ‘consigned to history’. But there are neo-fascist roots, its flame symbol has been interpreted by some as the fire on Mussolini’s tomb, and a video emerged last year of some party members making fascist salutes.
Italy’s democracy is firmly entrenched but has somehow constantly seemed unsure of which direction it should take. This ‘political laboratory’ invented fascism, elected a billionaire tycoon and media mogul in Silvio Berlusconi, tried the anti-establishment populism of Five Star Movement, technocrat governments and now perhaps looks set to elect a far-right prime minister. In the meantime the country ‘survived’ also the government of Mario Draghi, a by Brussels parachuted and not elected Europhile.
In its constant search for a political identity, Italy is again trying something new, hoping it will finally bring change. Let’s hope this leap in the unknown is not turning to be a dark ride.