Giorgia Meloni | God, family and homeland
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The Brothers of Italy, which campaigned on an anti-immigrant and pro-Christian values platform, is set to form the first far-right government in the country since Mussolini

October 02, 2022 01:29 am | Updated 01:29 am IST

Less than a month after Sweden elected to power a right-wing coalition that included a party with a neo-Nazi past, Italy has followed suit. In the general elections held on September 25, the Brothers of Italy, a party with neo-fascist roots headed by Giorgia Meloni, 45, emerged the largest with 26% of the vote. Ms. Meloni’s coalition, which also comprises the right-wing populist Lega Party headed by Matteo Salvini, and Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia, garnered 44% of the vote to secure a clear majority. Their main opponent, the centre-left Democratic Party, could muster only 19%.

The electoral outcome is a historic one. For one, Italy will get its first ever woman Prime Minister in Ms. Meloni. And it is the first time since the Second World War that the Italians have handed the reins of power to a party whose lineage goes back directly to Benito Mussolini. Ms. Meloni, on her part, has worked hard to shed the fascist baggage and recast her party in the conservative mould. She has insisted that her party has “handed fascism over to history” and “unambiguously condemns the suppression of democracy and the ignominious anti-Jewish laws”. Yet she is not averse to extracting political mileage from fascist symbolism, and has laid bare the nature of her political inspiration in her bestselling memoir, I am Giorgia, My Roots, My Ideas (2021).

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As she details in her memoir, Ms. Meloni grew up in a working class neighbourhood of Rome and her political awakening occurred at the age of 15 when she joined the youth wing of the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), a party founded by former members of Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship. In the 1990s, when the MSI rebranded itself as the National Alliance (AN), Ms. Meloni became the president of its youth wing, and by the age of 29, she was a member of Parliament. In 2008, when the AN was in an alliance with Forza Italia, Mr. Berlusconi appointed her the Minister of Youth, making her Italy’s youngest ever Minister.

Her boldest political move came in 2012, when Italy was grappling with a severe recession in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Ms. Meloni chose this moment to strike out on her own by co-founding the Brothers of Italy. Although she insists it is a conservative party and has no truck with fascism, she chose to retain the tri-colour burning flame of the MSI in her party flag.

Political slogan

She campaigned in this general election on a platform that was openly anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQI. Her political slogan of “God, family and homeland” was predicated on an aggressive valorisation of Christian identity, ‘family values”, and Italian ultra-nationalism that was hostile to Muslim/Arab/African cultures and identities. Notwithstanding her political posturing on the supremacy of the ‘natural family’ based on marriage, Ms. Meloni herself has a daughter born out of wedlock, an aspect her political opponents have used to paint her as a ‘hypocrite’. Her response was to play up the motherhood aspect. Her powerful proclamation at one of her rallies, “I am Giorgia! I am a woman! I am a mother! I am Italian! I am Christian! And you can’t take that away from me,” won her new supporters among conservative voters.Despite her aggressive anti-liberal political posturing, Italy’s famously Byzantine system of checks and balances suggests that it won’t be easy for Ms. Meloni to translate her far-right agenda into law or policy. For instance, her proposal to amend the Constitution to introduce a directly elected President in place of the current Parliamentary democratic system will likely remain a non-starter. Moreover, Italy has been allocated the largest chunk of the European Union’s (EU) recovery fund, worth €200 billion, and any move that falls afoul of the EU’s human rights norms may jeopardise it.

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Ms. Meloni knows that too. Although the Brothers of Italy was launched as a vehicle opposed to EU integration and bats for national sovereignty over kowtowing to the EU bureaucracy, she has toned down the anti-EU rhetoric. Also, notwithstanding the fact that both her coalition partners, Mr. Salvini and Mr. Berlusconi, are known to be close to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, she has been steadfast in condemning Russia over the Ukraine attack, supports NATO and endorses sending military aid to Ukraine – all key facets that enhance her acceptability to the trans-Atlantic elite. Not surprisingly, some liberal observers consider her a ‘disciplined’ or ‘smarter’ version of Donald Trump — and therefore dangerous — for she is an example far-right politicians in other countries might want to emulate to broaden their appeal and quicken their ascent to power.

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