Leaders of the fascist Brothers of Italy party Giorgia Meloni (centre) and Ignazio Benito La Russa (right) (picture: Presidenza della Repubblica)
Italy has a fascist at the head of its government. Giorgia Meloni took office last year at the head of a coalition comprising her own Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) party, Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League and Silvio Berlusconi’s far right Forza Italia.
The League and Forza Italia are weak electorally, and Berlusconi is in very bad health.
From his hospital bed last week he declared Forza Italia to be a restraining force pulling the government back to the centre. It is that bad.
Italy is set to receive almost £160 billion from the EU by 2026 in return for “structural reforms”. Attempting to push through those attacks led to the collapse of a series of governments.
That money is why Meloni dropped the attacks on the EU once elected.
The self‑described “Christian mother” has toned down some but not all the fascist rhetoric and sought to project stability on the world stage, including strongly supporting war in Ukraine.
This has led to a growing cottage industry of journalists writing that Meloni is not a monster after all and definitely not a fascist.
But there are plenty of reasons to call Fratelli d’Italia fascist. First, it is the continuation of the Movimento Sociale Italiano founded by the defeated allies of Benito Mussolini.
Its 1980s leader Giorgio Almirante called it a party of “fascists in a democracy”.
Now the party’s central push is resisting a “plan for ethnic replacement” orchestrated by “speculators”, “communists” and George Soros, whom Meloni has labelled a “usurer” —a play on the fact he is Jewish.
In recent weeks, what Meloni calls the threatened “extinction of the Italian people” has dominated the government’s agenda.
Last month, the agriculture minister Francesco Lollobrigida claimed that unemployed Italians’ failure to do farm work was creating demand for immigration. Then he insisted that Italy “must not surrender to ethnic replacement”.
Meloni’s administration has cracked down on migrant rescue NGOs with disastrous consequences for refugees. Despite the repression the number of people arriving is rising, but so is the death toll.
Fascist thought also lies behind the opposition to gay couples becoming parents. A decree in March ordered a stop to registering the children of same-sex couples under both parents’ names. The Brothers said the “LGBT lobby” was “pushing” foreign‑born children as their own.
It might look silly but the bill for fines for using foreign languages in official documents is part of it too. And spitefully there is another decree to crack down on migration. Sickly known as the Cutro decree—after the southern town in Calabria where more than 90 people died in a shipwreck last February—the legislation limits the protection authorities can grant to migrants who do not qualify for asylum.
In particular it stops people applying for work permits. Language courses and legal advice have been scrapped in migrant reception centres. Meloni wants to rewrite the Italian constitution to be elected directly by the people and skip Parliament. She wants to become president of the Italian republic and, in this way, become head of the executive, the army and the judiciary.
Currently Meloni needs the support of big business, Nato, the EU, and the US, so she flatters them. Her transformation, oddly enough, is similar to that of Mussolini’s.
He wore both the black shirt of the fascist “revolution” and the white shirt of the right, the uniform of the bosses. With the violence of the fascist gangs, the connivance of the institutions and the political weakness of the opposition —Mussolini ruled for 20 years.
A theme of Meloni’s is that the far right has been demonised and undermined, leaving them as underdogs. This becomes harder to maintain when in office. But while Meloni lacks the fascist gangs, the rest is disturbingly similar to Mussolini, and the opposition to her is far too tame.