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What Meloni’s triumph could mean for Europe

Exactly one hundred years ago, in October 1922, Benito Mussolini and his National Fascist Party seized power through the March on Rome (Marcia su Roma) and became Italy’s youngest prime minister.

ATANU BISWAS |

Exactly one hundred years ago, in October 1922, Benito Mussolini and his National Fascist Party seized power through the March on Rome (Marcia su Roma) and became Italy’s youngest prime minister. A dark period of totalitarian evolution emerged which eventually would spread wings in some other parts of Europe as well. And the rest is part of some of the darkest history of mankind.

A century on, Italy elected its first far-right leader since Mussolini in the form of Giorgia Meloni, the leader of Fratelli d’Italia, or Brothers of Italy party, who incidentally would be the first woman prime minister of the country. And, understandably, a spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of far-right ideologies blended with neo-fascism. There is no denying that the far right is riding on popularity in Europe.

Actually, everywhere. The reasons, of course, differ across countries. For example, just before Giorgia Meloni’s ascent to power in the southern part of Europe – north of the Mediterranean sea, the far-right Sweden Democrats got more than onefifth – the second-largest – vote share and are expected to play an important role in the next government in the Scandinavian country.

Understandably, Italy and Sweden are geographically far apart, and their social dynamics and politics are widely different. Thus, the roots of the emergence of far rights in these two countries should be traced and analyzed differently. But they certainly share some common features across Europe and elsewhere – in terms of the antiimmigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric, and on security issues, which certainly succeed in garnering huge public support.

The recent wave of far-right movements in Europe is largely due to their success in capitalising on the social turmoil generated by waves of refugees, mostly around 2015. The issues of ethnic diversity and the religious nature of Christian Europe are thus seemingly interrelated to this resurgence of farright ideology. Last April, the French people voted in an utterly important presidential election.

Not only the future of the immigration-hit mixed society of France but also the immediate future of Europe (and the world?) was dependent on the 2022 French verdict. Of course, France has seen the phenomenal rise of far-right leader Marine Le Pen in recent years, particularly after the widespread influx of migrants in 2015 or so. However, the French electorate, despite giving Le Pen many more votes than earlier, stuck to the centrist incumbent President Emmanuel Macron, and essentially halted the far-right storm for the time being.

Le Pen has been projected to be a symbol of western Europe’s model for nationalism to quite some extent. With her victory, the ideological but pragmatic Giorgia Meloni has replaced Le Pen as the new model for nationalism in Europe.

The far right had blended with the mainstream right parties in Italy for decades – ever since the emergence of Silvio Berlusconi in the political arena of the country in the 1990s. In fact, Berlusconi’s right-wing coalitions included post-fascist parties such as Alleanza Nazionale and Lega Nord, and the alliance continued for more than two decades.

One may, of course, wonder whether Meloni’s regime would be just an extension of the Berlusconi years, but with much stronger attention to some far-right ideologies on as gender equality, civil rights, abortion rights, migration, and religion. In a recent article in The Guardian, Italian author, essayist, and screenwriter Roberto Saviano wrote: “With a familiar formula of putting Italy ‘first,’ Meloni’s euroskepticism, xenophobia and Islamophobia – repackaged as patriotism – have gained popularity among Italians.”

Interestingly, the symbol of Fretelli d’Italia is the three-colour flame, which used to be the symbol of the Italian Social Movement, the post-fascist party founded in the 1940s. In her youth, Meloni openly admired Mussolini, but in the backdrop of the recent election, she agreed that the fascist leader was bad for Italy. While denying that she is a fascist, Meloni, however, clings to the Mussolini-era slogan ‘Dio, patria, famiglia’ (God, homeland, family) – which she thinks is not a fascist slogan, but a beautiful declaration of love. And, at a rally in San Giovanni in 2019, Meloni screamed:

“I am Giorgia, I am a woman, I am a mother, I am Italian, I am a Christian,” which she reaffirmed at the World Congress of Families in Verona in the same year. Meloni has maintained rapport with so-called ultra-nationalist leaders such as Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orbán, and Marine Le Pen.

She is also allied with Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice party, the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, and Spain’s far-right Vox party, along with the British Conservative Party and the Republican Party in the US. She has ascended to the helm of Italy amid national fragility induced by the oncea-century pandemic, the Ukraine war, and an immigration crisis resulting in an increasing energy crisis and spiralling inflation.

Her Fratelli d’Italia got about 26 per cent vote share this time around from a little over 4 per cent in 2018. An astonishing rise in vote share, indeed! This indicates that many Italians simply don’t care about the alleged fascist nature of Meloni’s party, which many Europeans and people elsewhere are afraid of. What about the future of the European Union? Ever since the UK has untied the knot with the EU, a Eurosceptic ideology is looming around different corners of the continent thus putting the idea of European identity and unity in a very volatile situation. The resurgence of the far-right in Europe, particularly in the third largest economy of the EU, might have sent a warning bell to other countries of Europe as well.

Germany’s ruling Social Democratic party, for example, said Meloni had aligned herself with ‘anti-democratic’ figures such as Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán and Meloni’s win would be bad for European cooperation. Thus, Meloni’s historic victory, certainly, would ignite the rhetoric around the core of the democratic balance in Europe.

What’s Meloni’s own idea about Europe? “We do not recognise ourselves in the logic of ‘more Europe’ at all costs and on every matter,” Meloni declared. Historically, Italy has always been a leader in Europe with regard to culture and socio-political ideologies. Don’t forget that the Renaissance began in Italy. On the other hand, Italy had Mussolini before Hitler.

It saw the left-wing extremist Red Brigades before Action Directe in France and the Red Army Faction in Germany. And Italy had Berlusconi before the US had Donald Trump. Also, Italy has seen the Five Star Movement, the first populist party led by a comedian, since 2009. Other parts of Europe, including Volodymyr Zelenskky’s Ukraine, Marjan Šarec’s Slovenia, and Luka Maksimovic’s Serbia followed suit. In that sense, a resurgence of the far-right in Italy may become instrumental in generating a powerful wave of the far-right across Europe which may even change the course of history.

The ground is already prepared in many European countries. Not only Orbán’s Fidesz in Hungary or Law and Justice party in Poland, many farright parties across Europe such as Vox in Spain, FPÖ in Austria, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France, Belgium’s Flemish nationalist party Vlaams Belang, and Germany’s AfD would be rejuvenated and would be hoping for a thrust induced by the triumph of Meloni’s party in the sociopolitical laboratory of Europe. A new form of social and political cappuccino might be brewing in Europe.