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Italy’s far-right firebrand

Italy’s far-right firebrand

Giorgia Meloni is on course to become Italy’s next prime minister. If elected she would be the first woman to hold the position and the country’s first far-right leader since Benito Mussolini.

“I am Giorgia, I am a woman, I am a mother, I am a Christian.”

La Repubblica

This is Giorgia Meloni.

“The far-right Brothers of Italy have launched their campaign that they hope will see Giorgia Meloni become the country’s first female Prime Minister.”

Euronews

She grew up in the working class district of Garbatella in Rome. 

Her involvement in politics began at the age of 15 when she joined the youth division of the Italian Social Movement, the party founded after World War Two by those loyal to Benito Mussolini, Italy’s fascist dictator. 

Her political work included sneaking out in the middle of the night to plaster the walls of the Italian capital with posters, trying to avoid violent run-ins with left-wing opponents.

At the age of 21, Giorgia Meloni won her first local election. 

And a decade later, the populist firebrand became Minister for Youth in Silvio Berlusconi’s cabinet. 

Now, aged 45, she could be about to become Italy’s first female prime minister and the country’s first far-right leader since Mussolini.

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In 2012 Giorgia Meloni co-founded Fratelli d’Italia, the Brothers of Italy. 

Its ‘Italy First’ message includes a promise of tax cuts, investment and an aversion to the European Union. 

It’s also anti-immigration.

The party has proposed using the Italian navy to blockade the Mediterranean to stop boats carrying migrants to Italy’s shores from north Africa and it wants to fine rescue vessels operated by NGOs. 

Instead of relying on immigration to grow the work force and sustain Italy’s ageing population, the Brothers of Italy wants to combat the plummeting birth rate by offering free childcare, better support for working mothers and tax incentives for parents. 

But it’s also anti-gay rights, so only families seen as traditionally Catholic would get support.

“Yes to the natural family, no to the LBGT lobbies! Yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology!”

 Giorgia Meloni speaking at a Vox rally

That was Giorgia Meloni speaking at a rally for the far-right Spanish party Vox, publicly expressing her opposition to same sex families.

She rejects the suggestion that her party is fascist, which she recently said had been “consigned to history”.

But the Brothers of Italy does have neo-fascist roots. Its flame symbol has been interpreted by some as the fire on Mussolini’s tomb, a video emerged last year of some party members making fascist salutes and as a young activist Giorgia Meloni expressed support for Italy’s dead dictator.

“Mussolini was a good politician”, she said in 1996, “everything he did, he did for Italy.”

So how is she now on the brink of becoming Italy’s next prime minister?

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“Italy’s president Sergio Matarella has announced that he will dissolve parliament, triggering early elections. That’s after Prime minister Mario Draghi resigned earlier today.”

Euronews

When Italy’s last government collapsed in July, Giorgia Meloni soon emerged as the favourite to replace former banker, Mario Draghi . 

Her emotive brand of populism is in stark contrast to his technocratic style and her Brothers of Italy party wasn’t part of Draghi’s coalition government. Instead it condemned it for the way it was appointed, without an election, after the collapse of Mario Conte’s government in 2021.

In the run up to this election, Giogria Meloni has toned down some of her more controversial policies and scaled back her criticism of the EU, because Italy is reliant on its €200 billion Covid recovery package. 

She also released this message, in various languages, on her Facebook page.

“The Italian right has ended fascism over history for decades now, unambiguously condemning the suppression of democracy and the ignominious anti-Jewish laws.”

She said the Brothers of Italy share values and experiences with the British Tories, the US Republicans and the Israeli Likud.

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Her attempt to change how her party is perceived seems to be working. It looks set to get over 25% of the vote, a figure that’s been steadily rising. 

The Italian electoral system means the party with the largest share of the vote appoints the prime minister, but she would still have to rely on other right-wing parties to govern.

That would include the anti-immigration League party led by Metteo Salvini, and Forza Italia led by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has been embroiled in corruption scandals. 

And they do have their differences.

Take, for example, Russia’s war in Ukraine. Matteo Salvini has repeatedly opposed further sanctions against Russia whilst Giorgia Meloni has expressed strong support for NATO and Ukraine. 

“We are on the side of international law, we are on the side of freedom and indeed we are on the side of a proud nation who are teaching the world what it means to fight for freedom. The ancient Romans used to say si vis pacem para bellum – if you want peace prepare for war”

Giorgia Meloni Speech at CPAC 2022

If opinion polls are correct, Italy could be about to elect its most right wing government since World War Two.

Some fear it’s part of a rise of the right in European politics after a surge in support for Sweden’s populist, anti-migrant party at its recent election.

But given the record of recent Italian coalitions, this one could be short-lived.

This episode was written by Alice Horrell and mixed by Patricia Clarke.