Fascist Shadows: The Disturbing Political Reality in Contemporary Italy

Despite its antagonistic role in the 20th century, Italy has developed a relatively positive relationship with the United States. According to a poll done by the Aspen Institute Italia, 58% of Americans think that Italy has a high quality of life, 53% of Americans think Italy is a country in which rights are respected, and 40% of Americans think Italy is “competently and honestly governed.” Alongside these statistics, a majority of Americans acknowledged that Italy was culturally rich and had significant natural beauty. What makes these poll results particularly interesting is how strongly the opinions of Americans contrast with the opinions of Italians. When given the same poll, 43% of Italians think the United States has a high quality of life, 28% think the United States is a country in which rights are respected, and only 27% of Italians think the United States is “competently and honestly governed.” While 37% of Americans desire a closer diplomatic relationship with Italy, 39% of Italians would prefer the opposite, with a strong desire for their country to become more independent from the United States.1Pierangelo Isernia, “How Italy and the US See One Another and the World,” Aspenia Online, last modified July 18, 2023, accessed October 15, 2023, https://aspeniaonline.it/how-italy-and-the-us-see-one-another-and-the-world/.  Perhaps cultural romanticization has led American citizens to political blindness. Italy is facing an extreme right-wing movement, as radicalism becomes the norm. Italy’s current prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, has become the spearhead of this movement— one that is characterized by intense suppression of not only political opposition but also of individual citizens. Yet, based on these poll results, Americans are generally naive with respect to the current actions of the Italian government that greatly limit civilian rights. 

Fascism has several key tenets that are directly concurrent to Meloni’s policies: authoritarianism, nationalism, and totalitarianism. All three of these ideologies are fundamentally based on seeking a strong, centralized government by controlling both the public and private aspects of civilian life through the suppression of civil liberties in order to create a unified national identity and way of thinking. Virtually all of Giorgia Meloni’s political qualities fit under the realm of fascism in this way. She has been forward about her opposition to globalism, claiming in her autobiography that immigration is comparable to the forced transfers of populations in the old Soviet Union and that “[t]he right wants to preserve these same deep-rooted identities that the left wants to cancel.”2Angelo Amante, “Analysis: Italian First! Meloni’s Nationalists Defend Cultural Identity at Risk of Irking EU,” Reuters, last modified April 12, 2023, accessed October 15, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/italian-first-melonis-nationalists-defend-cultural-identity-risk-irking-eu-2023-04-12/. However, Meloni is simply masking her xenophobia with a facade of cultural pride and preservation. Her promise of immigration reform was on the basis of “block[ing] all forms of Islamic immigration until they clear up their ideas.”3Bridge Initiative Team, “Factsheet: Giorgia Meloni,” Bridge, last modified February 3, 2023, accessed October 15, 2023, https://bridge.georgetown.edu/research/factsheet-giorgia-meloni/.  Meloni has also acknowledged white-supremacist conspiracy theories, particularly the Great Replacement, an ideology claiming that Africans have planned a mass migration with the purpose of eliminating Italians.4Roberto Ciccarelli, “‘Ethnic Replacement’ Conspiracy Theory Finds Its Way into the Italian Government,” Il Manifesto, last modified April 21, 2023, accessed October 15, 2023, https://global.ilmanifesto.it/ethnic-replacement-conspiracy-theory-finds-its-way-into-the-italian-government/. Meloni has also created a more marginalized Italy for women, moving to make surrogacy a “universal crime.” Further removing autonomy over women’s bodies, Meloni has openly said that “abortion is not a right.” Although Meloni has yet to make changes to the 194 law, which legalized abortion, her coalition members have drafted a proposal that would grant legal recognition to the fetus from the moment of conception.5Hannah Roberts, “Is Italy’s Meloni Failing to Deliver for Women?,” Politico, last modified August 6, 2023, accessed October 15, 2023, https://www.politico.eu/article/italy-giorgia-meloni-women-rights-feminism-motherhood-abortion-rights/.  This proposal, if enacted, could effectively result in the indirect criminalization of abortion.

Perhaps Meloni’s most destructive belief is her oppression of the individual freedoms of LGBTQ+ citizens throughout Italy. Through the surrogacy ban, Meloni has effectively eliminated the opportunity for two women or two men to have a child together. This is inarguably rooted in Meloni’s intense homophobia. Many Italian cities have begun removing the names of non-biological queer mothers from the birth certificates of children. This action in turn restricts specific rights for the unregistered parent; they now must gain permission in order to perform routine family responsibilities, like collecting a child from school. This new standard transforms the utilization of public services on behalf of a child, which includes parental consent for medical care, into an overcomplicated legal process. Moreover, ​​in Italy, same-sex couples do not have a legal right to adoption.6Barbie Latza Nadeau and Jack Guy, “Italy Starts Removing Lesbian Mothers’ Names from Children’s Birth Certificates,” CNN, last modified July 21, 2023, accessed October 15, 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/07/21/europe/italy-lesbian-couples-birth-certificates-scli-intl/index.html.  Conservely, adoption and artificial insemination are both legal for heterosexual couples.7 Alvise Armellini and Francesca Piscioneri, “Italy’s Crackdown on Same-Sex Parenting Leaves Children Bemused,” Reuters, last modified April 6, 2023, accessed November 12, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/italys-crackdown-same-sex-parenting-leaves-children-bemused-2023-04-06/#:~:text=Italian%20LGBT%20couples%20that%20want,and%20resort%20to%20artificial%20insemination.  This suppression is one of the most vile acts of homophobia, while Meloni claims to have the best interest of children in mind. Yet, Meloni has even gone as far as to speak on the undesirability of having a gay child, which seems to be a better representation of her true intentions.8 Area Carlo, “I’m Italian and I’m Deeply Worried about Our Probable Next Prime Minister,” Independent, last modified July 29, 2022, accessed October 15, 2023, https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/giorgia-meloni-italy-next-prime-minister-lgbt-b2133404.html.  

 As evidenced by the aforementioned poll, Americans have a glorified view of Italian politics. In truth, the rights of citizens are only respected if they fit a very specific identity. Meloni has condemned Muslims, gays, and feminist thought, and has employed racist theories into her policy-making. According to the Pew Research center, practically 6 in 10 Italians are in support of Meloni. Notably, Meloni is closely tied to the Brothers of Italy, a populist group deeply rooted in neo-fascism. 95% of Italians who view Brothers of Italy favorably also support Meloni.9 Moira Fagan and Sarah Austin, “Ahead of U.S. Visit, about 6 in 10 Italians View Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni Favorably,” Pew Research Center, last modified July 25, 2023, accessed October 15, 2023, https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2023/07/25/ahead-of-us-visit-about-6-in-10-italians-view-prime-minister-giorgia-meloni-favorably/.  However, on the opposing side citizens are more polarized. A staggering 27% of Italians who view Meloni’s political party unfavorably still have a positive opinion of Meloni. This comparison indicates that right-wing Italians feel more intensity and salience, and perhaps signifies a greater sense of party loyalty. If anything, based on these political allegiances, it would be a reasonable extrapolation to expect an increase in the number of right-wing Italians. This prediction would run parallel to the Brothers of Italy’s popularity increase of over 10%  in just the past year. This wealth of support for Meloni and her political party is extremely frightening, as it represents an overall shift towards right-wing radicalism throughout Italy. As Italy grapples with the resurgence of fascism under Meloni’s leadership, it is imperative that the romanticism of Italian culture does not overshadow the rampant oppression and marginalization of Italian politics.  

Cover Image: European Commission (Christophe Licoppe) – Audiovisual Service, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=129920365

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