Italy’s far-right rising star Giorgia Meloni is aiming for the top job | European | News and current affairs from across the continent | DW

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In Rome’s Via della Scrofa, not far from the seat of parliament in the historic center, a stone tablet and a dried crown commemorate Alberto Marchesi, an anti-fascist resistance fighter executed by the German SS in the Adreatine caves in 1944 The plaque hangs to the left of a wide archway opening onto the yellow building.

In a jarring juxtaposition, a much smaller Plexiglas plaque to the right of the entrance indicates that this is the headquarters of the neo-fascist Fratelli d’Italia party.

Neo-fascist parties have resided at 39 Via della Scrofa since 1946 – the MSI movement, the National Alliance and now the Brothers of Italy, named after the first verse of the Italian national anthem. Party leader Giorgia Meloni has insisted on keeping the office in the historic building that was once frequented by supporters of former fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

Meloni says she has an unbroken relationship with history. Dictator Mussolini was “a complex personality”, she said in interviews. Even today, many Italians believe that all was not bad under Mussolini.

Ambitious about the past

Meloni does not clearly distance himself from fascism. In her autobiography, she writes that she is aware that she is navigating a political minefield. “We are the children of our history. Of our entire history. As with all other nations, the path we have traveled is complex, far more complicated than many would like to make out.”

Giorgia Meloni’s party is currently leading the polls ahead of Italy’s September election

She, however, rejects the cult of the common leader in fascism, she writes. But when Giorgia Meloni holds press conferences at party headquarters, a fascist symbol is always prominent: the logo of the Brothers of Italy.

It is a stylized flame in the Italian national colors, an eternal flame that burns figuratively on the tomb of Mussolini. “I have nothing to apologize for in my life. But in two out of three TV chats I’m supposed to talk about history and not current politics. I don’t think that’s fair.”

No Roman salute

Last fall, in preparation for the election campaign preceding the September 25 vote, Giorgia Meloni sent internal memos to party groups urging them to stop making extreme statements, to refrain from referring to fascism and, above all, to refrain from the so-called Roman salute, a gesture with an outstretched right arm that resembles the Hitler or Nazi salute.

The politician who could soon be Prime Minister wants to move the party from the political fringes, from the far right to the center right. Meloni seeks to reshape the party and portray it as a conservative champion of patriotism that calls on the middle class to form a coalition with other right-wing parties – Matteo Salvini’s Lega and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

 Giorgia Meloni outside, standing next to a cheering man, she raises her left arm.

Drop the Roman salute, Meloni told party members

“If she got this far in Italy, it’s thanks to everyone who cleared her – from the media that insists on calling centre-right Salvini and Meloni to Berlusconi and the Grillini, who brought her to power, and a disoriented centre-left that has underestimated and legitimized her,” says Alba Sidera, a Spanish journalist who has studied Italy’s far-right for years. “Meloni didn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere. She has been preparing to become prime minister for years.”

pure populism

Born in 1977, Giorgia Meloni joined the youth wing of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) party at the age of 15 to take a stand against the far-left terror of the time in Italy. She went on to lead the student wing of the far-right National Alliance, was elected to the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian Parliament in 2006 and became Italy’s youngest minister two years later.

At 31, she takes over the youth portfolio in Silvio Berlusconi’s government. Ten years ago, Giorgia Meloni founded the Brothers of Italy, which she has led since 2014. In 2020, she also took over the presidency of the European Union of Conservatives and Reformists. (RCT) party, which includes, among others, the Polish ruling party, the PiS.

Giorgia Meloni, party logo in the background that reads Fratelli d'Italia with stylized flames

His party logo is unmistakable

Meloni plans to launch the election campaign with the populist slogan “Italy and the Italian people first!” She called for more family-friendly benefits, less EU bureaucracy, low taxes and a halt to immigration.

She wants to renegotiate the EU treaties and Italy’s membership of the euro monetary community. His party rejects abortions and same-sex marriage. In terms of economic and foreign policy, the trained foreign language secretary is relatively inexperienced. She has spent most of her political career as an MP and party leader.

Radical self-confidence

Meloni has kept calm in the face of harsh criticism from the left-wing political camp. Ginevra Bompani, a writer, told La7 television that “Meloni is a real bitch… she is surrounded by Nazis”. To which Meloni replied on Facebook that she was tired of being portrayed as “the dark lady”.

Her opponents, she says, are only desperate because she is so successful. To associate it with Mussolini, Hitler or Putin is ridiculous, she says. “After all, I support Ukraine,” the party leader said. In a TV interview, she told her critics to take a look at France and Germany, where far-right populist parties have been successful and no one has turned it into a scandal. “Why should it be any different in Italy?” The German party Meloni is referring to is the Alternative Für Deutschland (AfD) party which however lost votes in the 2021 federal election and hovered at just over 10% of the vote.

 Giorgia Meloni and Silvio Berlusconi

In her youth – if she wins, Meloni foresees a coalition government that would include Silvio Berlusconi’s party

The leader of the Brothers of Italy is counting on Italian leadership to transform the EU into a flexible economic union. French President Emmanuel Macron was weakened by losing his majority in parliament, she said. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is not confident, Meloni said in a recent interview with Italian public broadcaster RAI, adding that Scholz certainly does not have the same strength as his predecessor Angela Merkel.

That’s precisely where she would come in, says Meloni, who is married to a TV journalist and paying close attention to her serious new makeover.

This article was originally written in German.

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