On October 28, 1922, Benito Mussolini’s “black shirts” marched on Rome and Italy inaugurated the fascist regime.
A century later, almost day by day, and for the first time since the Second World War, the most voted party in Italy has its roots in post-fascismand has recovered a motto popularized by “Il Duce”: “God, country and family”.
In just a decade, Giorgia Meloni, the great winner of the elections that Italy has held, has managed to take her party, Brothers of Italy, from marginality to the political center and, inexorably, to the Chigi Palace, seat of the Executive. The president of the republic, Sergio Mattarella, is expected to commission him to form a government in the coming weeks.
How has that progression been?
After World War II, Germany carried out a process of “denazification” and a painful reckoning with its past. In Italy, however, it was decided look the other way.
At that time, the Italian Communist Party was the largest in all of Western Europe and the allies, immersed in the dynamics of the Cold Warhad a main objective: that the communists did not come to power.
For fear that the purges of former fascists could generate instability, the allied powers turned a blind eye to the creation of new parties inheriting “Il Duce” and his ideas. Not only that, many fascist symbols and monuments were -and still are- present in Italian streetslike the fascias that still adorn many of the manhole covers in Rome.
This is how it came about in 1946 Italian Social Movement (MSI)founded by Giorgio Almirante, who had been Chief of Staff of the last Ministry of Fascist Propaganda.
Giorgia Meloni has never hidden her admiration for Almirante. In 2018, she herself spread a photomontage that she titled “From Giorgio to Giorgia”, in which they are presented side by side with identical slogans: “We can look you in the eye”. In 2020, when it was 32 years since his death, the now winner of the elections in Italy paid tribute to Admiral on Twitter with these words: “A great man, a great politician, a patriot.”
With the fall of the communist bloc, new right-wing parties emerged. One of them, Forza Italia, led by billionaire Silvio Berlusconi, included the MSI in its government coalition in 1994, then led by Gianfranco Fini. Post fascism entered the governmentand in the eyes of the Italians, argues Luciano Cheles, from the University of Grenoble, “it gave it respectability”.
The party was renamed the National Alliance and a young Giorgia Meloni, who had been a member of the MSI at the age of 15, became the leader of its youth.
Brothers of Italy is born from that breeding ground. “Many postulates have changed, some aspects have changed, although they are, of course, a right-wing party that has its roots in the post-fascist movement,” analyzes Lorenzo Pregliasco, professor of Political Science at the University of Bologna.
The origins of the party, Cheles argues, are closely connected with the neo-fascist parties, but Brothers of Italy and Giorgia Meloni find themselves in a dilemma: “on the one hand, they want to present a respectable image, one of moderation and modernity, and therefore they have said that they have cut the umbilical cord with fascism. But, on the other hand, they don’t want to lose a part of the electorate that believes that a modern form of fascism is still valid and acceptable.”
Those roots are present in all the symbols of the party.
The most obvious is the tricolor flame, the symbol of the Italian Social Movement that Brothers of Italy has maintained. A flame that, by the way, was also adopted by the National Front in France -although with the colors of the French flag- and that, more stylized, retains the National Rally of Marine Le Pen.
“But in their propaganda there are many more references to fascism, some more or less hidden because they are made to be understood by fascists and those who are familiar with their symbology,” explains Cheles, an expert in political iconography.
One of the examples that Cheles has found is the same anthem of the Alianza Nacional youth, which Meloni directed for years: “it is about ‘Tomorrow belongs to me’, which is a song sung by a young Nazi in Bob Fosse’s movie “Cabaret” (1972). It is still a slogan that appears in much of Giorgia Meloni’s propaganda.
Giorgio Almirante himself, whom Meloni admires so much, is another example: each new issue of the Brothers of Italy newsletter carries his photo, which is also on the website of the formation, reveals the expert.
What are your postulates?
Brothers of Italy has its roots in post-fascism, but what does it retain from that philosophy?
Umberto Eco considered that fascism “had no essence” and that Mussolini had not had a particular philosophy: “he only had rhetoric”. Fascism, assured the famous Italian semiotician, philosopher and writer in a speech in 1995, “was a confused totalitarianism, a collage of different political and philosophical ideas, a hive of contradictions.”
There was, therefore, no particular philosophy behind fascism, but “emotionally it was firmly fixed to certain archetypal foundations”, such as the cult of tradition, the fear of difference, selective populism or machismo.
Brothers of Italy retains some of these cultural roots, as the Italian journalist Annalisa Camilli details to BBC Mundo: “they have a strong discourse against immigration and against women’s rights, they are against abortion and want increase the birth rate in Italy, which is the lowest in Europe. In this sense, they are very traditional, hence their motto, “God, country, family.”
However, Camilli points out, “they have emancipated themselves from that past. Now they are a modern far-right party, more similar to other parties such as Marine Le Pen’s National Regroupment, Vox in Spain or Viktor Orbán’s party in Hungary. They are looking for a consensus around certain pillars such as the fight against illegal immigration, the promotion of a national identity and policies to support the birth rate”.
Like so many other far-right leaders, from Orbán to the republicanism of Donald Trump in the US, Meloni’s ideology attacks the “globalist left”, against the supposed LGBTI lobbiestalks about how “mass immigration” will end up replacing Italians “of all life”, that is, whites and Christians, in line with the theory of “great replacement” French polemicist Renaud Camus.
“Neo-fascism”, reflects Cheles, “does not necessarily wear black shirts. Fascism today has a more subtle form, it is a form of authoritarianism whose elements are summarized in not respecting differences or minorities, and that maintains intolerant attitudes towards certain groups of people.
Where neofascism feeds
In a country like Italy, says Camilli, “fascism is endemic. Somehow, 100 years later, the witnesses have died and the memory that remains is not strong enough to prevent it.
The electoral base, moreover, has become much more liquid. And, if the Italians have shown anything in recent years, it is that they always vote for change.
The successive governments have generated a disaffection between the citizens and the populism seems to have come to stay. “The 5-Star Movement has already prepared that ground by ensuring that there were no differences between the left and the right, that everything was corruption,” says the journalist for the weekly “Internazionale.”
That outraged speech against the caste and against the elites, against the traditional parties and the clientelistic politics of which many Italians are fed up, the same one that the populists of the 5 Star Movement championed, has now been picked up by Giorgia Meloni and Brothers of Italy.
The far-right coalition has been nourished by “the working classes that have lost their savings due to inflation, and the middle classes that are getting poorer and poorer and has promised them a ‘new era,’” says Camilli. 100 years ago, fascism also promised “A new age”a new beginning.
How does it affect Europe?
The rise of far-right parties throughout Europe, such as the recent Swedish Democrats, Vox in Spain, Law and Justice in Poland or Orbán’s Hungary, which the European Parliament recently declared cannot be considered a full democracy , have the same root, according to Cheles: the increased immigration.
“These neo-fascist ideas have been introduced through this type of argument, the ones that say that Italy or other countries cannot afford to have so many foreigners,” says the academic.
In Brussels, although the European Commission assures that it will work with any government that comes out of the polls, the concern is palpable.
Both Brothers of Italy and La Liga, Matteo Salvini’s party that is part of the far-right coalition, have carried out strong eurosceptic rhetoric, although with differences.
In recent months, Meloni has moderated his speech. He has stressed that he does not want Italy to leave the European Union or organizations such as NATO. During the war in Ukraine, the leader supported the decision of the government of Mario Draghi to send weapons to kyiv.
The position of its coalition partners, however, clashes head-on with that of Brussels. Salvini has a close relationship with Russia and her party is suspected of receiving funding from Moscow. The third coalition partner, Silvio Berlusconi, also a close friend of Putin, recently justified the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
But, beyond the matter of the war, what is really worrying in Brussels is the possibility that Italy, the founding country of the European Union and its third largest economy, will become another Hungary or Poland that will compromise their core values.
“There are concerns at the international level,” admits Pregliasco, who also directs the digital data journalism magazine “YouTrend,” “but I believe that Italian democracy is stronger than it seems and, of course, stronger than it seems.” it was in 1922″.