The fascist storm clouds in Europe are becoming darker:
The election of the first woman prime minister in a country always represents a break with the past, and that is certainly a good thing,” Hillary Clinton said to an Italian journalist at the Venice International Film Festival earlier this month. She was speaking of Giorgia Meloni, a member of the Chamber of Deputies, who could make history if the Brothers of Italy party does as well as expected in Sunday’s elections.
That would be one sort of break with the past. But Meloni would also represent continuity with Italy’s darkest episode: the interwar dictatorship of Benito Mussolini. As Clinton would surely concede, this is not such a good thing.
If Meloni comes to power at the end of this month, it will be as head of a coalition whose other members—Matteo Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia—were each once the main force on Italy’s populist right. Brothers of Italy, which was polling at 23 percent earlier this month, has overtaken these more established parties and would represent the bloc’s largest component.
Brothers of Italy, which Meloni has led since 2014, has an underlying and sinister familiarity. The party formed a decade ago to carry forth the spirit and legacy of the extreme right in Italy, which dates back to the Italian Social Movement (MSI), the party that formed in place of the National Fascist Party, which was banned after World War II. Now, just weeks before the 100th anniversary of the March on Rome—the October 1922 event that put Mussolini in power—Italy may have a former MSI activist for its prime minister and a government rooted in fascism. In the words of Ignazio La Russa, Meloni’s predecessor as the head of the Brothers of Italy: “We are all heirs of Il Duce.”
Putting Sec’y Clinton’s tone deaf assessment aside, this move to the right is happening in places on the continent that we might never thought could happen given what happened during World War II.
Italy’s not the biggest shock of them, at least from my personal experience. I have two close friends from Italy who now live in the U.S.
Both of these men are educated and progressive. But, in late-night meandering conversations with them — after a few strong drinks — the tenor of their politics changes from progressive to vaguely fascist, especially when the subject of immigrants is broached.
However, as writer Jen Kirby notes in this Vox article, this turn to the extreme Right is not just an Italian phenomenon:
These shifts are happening as Europe enters another precarious moment: a war on the continent that is increasingly unpredictable, and an inflation and energy crisis that will deepen as winter approaches.
The politics of Sweden, in northern Europe, and Italy, in the south, are very different, and the historical origins and reasons for the far right’s recent successes in each of those countries are unique. But, the far right shares certain trends across Europe — and, really, the globe. What is happening in Sweden, and Italy, is not all that different from what is happening in Brazil, or India, or the United States of America.
Pietro Castelli Gattinara, associate professor of political communication at Université Libre de Bruxelles and Marie Curie Fellow at Sciences Po, said that the far right is a global movement and a global ideology, even though one of the core tenets of these parties is a kind of nativism. That translates into a rejection of migration, but also of the social and cultural changes taking place within societies. The “woke” culture wars may look different in the US or Italy, but they are a feature of the modern far-right.
“New ideas coming from abroad are considered a danger to the nation-state,” Castelli Gattinara said. “We see that quite strongly when it comes to civil rights and, in particular, gender equality.”
Her entire interview with Gattinara is instructive and worrisome.
I get the impression that most of the people I know, including well-informed progressives here in the U.S., cannot be bothered to care much about what is going on in Europe right now. They think that fascist gains are temporary blips on the political radar in well-established liberal democracies. Or they think, even if fascism gains in Europe, it will not affect us here.
Which are the exact same things everyone thought in Europe and the U.S. in the 1930s.
We fight not to get rid of fascist political movements, as they will always be there lurking beneath the surface, ready to move into any voids created by economic or social turmoil. We fight to keep them from taking over while the rest of us are looking the other way, preoccupied with seemingly more pressing concerns.