Countering the Radical Right: Opinion

At the next election, Italians have two options: Right or further Right?

The quick ascent of the Brothers of Italy party has surprised analysts and raised questions about fascism

Valerio Alfonso Bruno
Valerio Alfonso Bruno
2 September 2021, 12.00am
Giorgia Meloni, leader of Brothers of Italy, at a rally organised by the party in 2015
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Andrea Spinelli/Alamy Live News
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In late 2012, when the Italian political party, Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia), was founded, few would have bet that in less than a decade, it would lead the polls. Even in her wildest moments of optimism, the party’s charismatic leader, Giorgia Meloni, could hardly have dreamt that her party would one day not only be the first party of the Italian center-Right coalition, but of Italian politics, tout court.

The center-Right coalition is made up of three political parties: the right-wing Lega party, Brothers of Italy, and the center-Right party of the former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, Forza Italia. On the other side, the center-Left coalition is composed of Democratic Party (PD), which is led by Enrico Letta, and Five Star Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle, M5S), led by Giuseppe Conte.

Brothers of Italy has been described as post- or neo-fascist. The party’s policies are focused on a grand strategy to increase birth rates and protect the traditional family, with generous benefits for both parents and children, alongside investment in social housing. This is different from Lega’s economic policies, which are based on an opportunistic mix of neoliberal and autarchic worldviews.

The epic rise of Brothers of Italy, particularly since 2018, has caught Italy’s entire political establishment off guard. During the 2010s, Italian media was busy looking elsewhere, from the postludes of Berlusconi and the related factions of ‘Berlusconismo’ and ‘anti-Berlusconismo’, to his successor, the technocratic Mario Monti, and on to the quick rise and fall of former prime minister Matteo Renzi, as well as the dynamics that brought the M5S, established by comedian Beppe Grillo, from town squares to Parliament.

It was only recently that Meloni’s party started receiving national and international media attention as a serious contender for victory at the 2023 Italian general election. But with the growing popularity of the party, one question is emerging about its core ideology: the place of fascism within the party.

Fascism simmering beneath

For most populist radical-Right and far-Right parties in Europe, illiberal positions (such as targeting minorities and their rights), anti-egalitarianism, and nativist and authoritarian stances are unfortunately mainstream. But the ideologies and policies inspired by fascism and Nazism are still considered the exclusive domain of the extreme Right.

In Meloni’s recent autobiography, ‘lo sono Giorgia, le mie radici le mie idee’ (I am Giorgia, my roots, my ideas), her party’s relationship with fascism seems to be based on a careful ambiguity. Judgement on historical fascism is avoided, and Meloni never disavows 70 years of neo-fascist heritage in the country.

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Nonetheless, most political analysts usually only briefly mention the labels post-fascist or neo-fascist when talking about the party. Many media commentators, in particular domestic ones, have so far completely skipped the issue altogether. But as the relevance of the party grows, things are changing. Fascism is re-emerging as a source of ideological inspiration, and with it some awareness about this phenomenon.

In July, while replying to a letter from a reader in La Repubblica,Italian journalist and writer Michele Serra, wrote: “…The fact that Italy has never really come to terms with fascism is not a topic of discussion. A large part of Italian society does not see the criminal dimension of fascism. I can't say if they are the majority, but they are certainly many. There is no strong liberal-democratic Right that is anti-fascist. Our Right today is composed almost entirely of a post-neo-fascist party (Fratelli d'Italia) and a populist party, la Lega, which is certainly not anti-fascist (and with a leader, Salvini, who is fascist in his ways and often also in his words). This is because this country has never really been done with fascism…”

Lack of a moderate Right

In only a few sentences, Serra aptly summed up the uniqueness of Italy’s Right and its relationship with fascism. There is an absence of a moderate Right, with the growing irrelevance of Forza Italia – the only party within the center-Right coalition that considers itself to be a liberal, moderate and pro-European party. On the other hand, there is a complementarity between Brothers of Italy’s fascist roots and the populism impressed by Salvini’s leadership of Lega, a once federalist/secessionist party rooted in northern Italy.

The Brothers of Italy and other right-wing parties hide a blend of fascism and populism behind the increasingly fashionable label of sovranismo (souverainism) – which supports preserving political independence of a nation or a region. Whether in government, in the case of Lega, or in opposition, as for the Brothers of Italy, both parties are comfortably polling above 20% and are expected to be united in the same coalition at the next general election.

For now, it is very likely that the Italian center-Right coalition will win the majority of the seats in Parliament. Its main political opponent, the center-Left coalition, can hardly reach 40% together. All that remains uncertain is whether Meloni or Salvini will be the next prime minister.

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