Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Italian far right at the dawn of power

Giorgia Meloni succeeded in rebranding her party as the Brothers of Italy as the dominant conservative force in the country, without completely erasing its post-fascist roots. Her right-wing coalition is set to come to power after Sunday’s general election, making her favorite to become Italy’s first female prime minister – and its first far-right post-war prime minister.

The new Italian right-wing darling summed up her personal brand in a now-famous tirade at a rally in 2019, which went viral after it was remixed into a piece of dance music.

“I’m Giorgia, I’m a woman, I’m a mother, I’m Italian, I’m Christian,” an excited Meloni told supporters in central Rome. “No one will take it away from me.”

The phrase has become a leitmotif of Meloni’s astonishing rise from leader of a fringe party with roots in Italy’s post-fascist right to the country’s likely next leader.

It captures the seeming paradox at the heart of Italy’s looming elections, a high-stakes vote that could usher in the most significant change in decades – a first female prime minister – while handing over power to the most conservative government since World War II. world.

Pollsters predict that Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party will become Italy’s largest party, winning a quarter of the vote – a more than five-fold increase from its score in the last general election in 2018. She is poised to overtake his better-known right-wing party. allies Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi, easily topping their combined tallies.

With Italy’s convoluted electoral law favoring broad coalitions, the three right-wing parties are well on their way to crushing the fractured center-left, potentially giving a Meloni-led government a large enough majority to change Italy’s constitution.

Europe under siege

The coda to Meloni’s ‘Christian mother’ harangue, which she repeated verbatim in Spanish at a rally in support of Spain’s far-right party last year, underscores fears of a camp arch-conservative who feels beleaguered in a fast-paced globalized world. -a changing world.

In Meloni’s mind, the besieging forces include immigration, Islam, European integration, “woke ideologies” and what she describes as “LGBT lobbies.” It’s a view she shares with the likes of Hungary’s Viktor Orban, whom she has vigorously defended in her squabbles with Brussels over democracy and the rule of law.

Until recently, her ideological role models also included Russian Vladimir Putin, whom she praised for “defending European values ​​and Christian identity” in her 2021 book, “I am Giorgia”. But she has since distanced herself from the Kremlin man, unequivocally condemning his invasion of Ukraine and backing Western sanctions against Moscow.

Last month, she recorded a video message in three languages ​​to reassure Italy’s partners that it would stick to Rome’s traditional alliances, including NATO. She also dismissed as “nonsense” claims that she leads an authoritarian government.

“We fiercely oppose any anti-democratic drift with words of firmness that we do not always find in the Italian and European left,” Meloni, 45, said in the message sent to foreign media in English, French and Spanish. .

“The Italian right has been making history of fascism for decades, unequivocally condemning the suppression of democracy and ignominious anti-Jewish laws,” she added.

Post-fascist roots

Meloni was 19 when she was first interviewed by foreign media as she sought an election campaign in her native Rome. She told French reporters at the time that “[fascist dictator Benito] Mussolini was a good politician, in the sense that everything he did, he did for Italy.

She would later change her tone, saying that the dictator had made “mistakes”.

Meloni was raised by her mother in the working-class neighborhood of Garbatella in Rome, after her father left them when she was just 2 years old. Garbatella was a stronghold of the left, but young Meloni chose the opposite side.

As a teenager, she joined the youth wing of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), a far-right formation created after the war by supporters of Mussolini. She won her first local election aged 21 and became Italy’s youngest minister a decade later when she was given the youth portfolio in Berlusconi’s 2008 government.

After the collapse of Berlusconi’s last administration, she founded her own party with other MSI veterans, naming it after the opening lines of the national anthem, Fratelli from Italy. Since then, she has gradually managed to propel the Brothers of Italy into the mainstream – without ever completely denying her post-fascist roots.

In particular, she rejected calls to remove from her party’s logo a tricolor flame which was an icon of the MSI and refers to the fascist tradition.

Supporters waving flags for Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy Day in Milan's Piazza Duomo.
Supporters waving flags for Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy Day in Milan’s Piazza Duomo. © Benjamin Dodman, FRANCE 24

Meloni played down the ideological origins of his party, saying it is a dominant force similar to the British Conservative Party. But during the election campaign, she was careful not to alienate the main supporters who associate themselves with the tricolor flame.

“I dream of a nation where people who for many years have had to put their heads down, pretending to have different ideas so as not to be ostracized, can now speak their minds,” she said during the interview. a rally earlier this week.

Alone in opposition

While ideology still mobilizes his party base, Meloni’s growing popularity with the general public has more to do with his pragmatism and calculated political actions, which earned him a reputation for steadfastness and consistency.

While Salvini and Berlusconi teamed up with the center-left last year to form a unity government under Mario Draghi, Meloni refused, calling the appointment of the former eurozone central banker undemocratic.

Her decision to avoid the national unity coalition made her a natural recipient of Italy’s protest vote, said Maurizio Cotta, a political science professor at the University of Siena.

“Meloni skillfully exploited his position as the main opposition force,” Cotta explained in an interview last week. “She capitalized on the resentment of some of the population towards Draghi’s government – a capable and efficient administration that also came across as harsh and technocratic.”

The far-right leader has also taken advantage of the weakness and blunders of her right-wing allies, stealing support from the once-popular Salvini, whose position has plummeted since a botched power grab in 2019.

“She came across as a wiser and more credible politician than Salvini, offering responsible opposition and maintaining cordial relations with Draghi,” Cotta said.

At the same time, she has sought to reassure those who question her lack of experience, with her “Ready” slogan adorning billboards across the country.

‘God, fatherland, family’

On European issues too, Meloni has sought to balance conciliatory gestures with fiery rhetoric aimed at galvanizing his base.

Wary of Italy’s huge debt, she has emphasized fiscal prudence, despite her coalition’s call for tax cuts and increased social spending. She has pledged to support EU sanctions against Russia – in stark contrast to Salvini, who is still struggling to shake off the fallout from his past flattering Putin.

However, Meloni also warned that she would start “defending Italy’s national interests”, telling EU officials that “free riding is over”.

A future government led by Meloni is likely to draw attention to the subject of human rights, especially in its treatment of migrants and minorities. She called for a naval blockade of the Mediterranean coast of Africa to prevent migrants from reaching Italy.

Like other far-right formations, his party has supplemented its nationalist and anti-immigrant rhetoric with messages about conservative social values ​​and the protection of traditional families, vehemently opposing adoptions by same-sex couples. Its motto is “God, country, family”.

Although Meloni insists that she will not abolish Italy’s abortion law, Brothers of Italy has already decided to restrict its application in the regions it controls. Insisting on the need to bolster Italy’s low birth rate, party officials have hinted at the “Great Replacement” theory, a conspiracy suggesting that global elites want to replace Europeans with immigrants.

So many elements that denote stormy relations with the EU, believes Gianfranco Pasquino, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Bologna, who however minimized the risks of a breakdown in relations with Brussels.

“The foreign press is worried about a Meloni government but these fears are exaggerated,” he said. “There will certainly be clashes with Europe, but Meloni is more of a politician than an ideologue – she will not seek a radical break.”

Whatever kind of government Meloni eventually ushers in, Pasquino said, Italy will undoubtedly persevere.

“Italy never do particularly well, but the advantage is that they never do very well either.”

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