Following the recent success of the right-wing elections in Sweden, the far-right-led coalition won the expected victory in the voting in Italy. Now, for the first time in the country, a woman can become the head of the government, who is already being called the first far-right Italian prime minister since the days of Benito Mussolini. What promises the Italians and the rest of the world George Meloni. And what her victory means for Russia and Ukraine – let’s try to figure it out.
“Night of Pride”
“This is a night of pride for the Brothers of Italy, but this is a starting point, not a finish line,” far-right party leader George Meloni told a crowd of supporters after voting in the parliamentary elections ended. “If we are called to govern this country, we will do it for all Italians in order to unite the people, to exalt what unites them, and not what divides them. We will not betray your trust.”
George Meloni, who announced the victory of the right-wing coalition, promised to rule the country in the interests of all Italians after exit polls gave reason to talk about the creation of the most right-wing government in Italy since the end of World War II and the appearance of the first woman as prime minister in the republic. Moreover, the success of the right-wing populist coalition is already being cited as a model for nationalist parties across Europe. When the preliminary results of the vote count came out, the Italian daily La Stampa came out with a front-page headline “Italy moves to the right.” To this we can add that it is not just right, but extremely right.
The Brothers of Italy party, headed by Meloni, genetically linked to the neo-fascist movement, even before the final vote count promised the largest share of the votes within the coalition, which includes the right-wing radical League led by Matteo Salvini and the Forza Italia movement led by Silvio Berlusconi.
The morning after the election, 45-year-old George Meloni said Italian voters had given a clear mandate to form the next government and called for unity to help deal with the country’s many problems. But building a ruling coalition with the help of Meloni’s right-wing and centre-right allies could take weeks.
Republican President Sergio Mattarella is expected to give Meloni a mandate to form a government that – if everything goes smoothly – could be formed by the end of October.
“Ambiguity is the key to understanding Meloni”
“Twenty or thirty years ago it sounded like madness, let’s hope that God will forgive us for this madness,” Marco Marsilio, the regional leader of the “Brothers of Italy” from the Abruzzo region, reacted to the victory of the far right, admitting that he had been waiting for this moment all his life .
And indeed, in the last national elections, the “Brothers” scored some miserable four-plus percent of the vote. Now they have become the flagship of the political life of Italy.
George Meloni from Rome began her political career as a youth activist in the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement. Its current party, the Brothers of Italy, was created ten years ago on the legacy of this neo-fascist party, created shortly after the war by figures nostalgic for Mussolini. The Brethren’s agenda is based on Euroscepticism and anti-immigration policy, but it is pro-NATO.
Meloni herself, of course, rejects the idea of a fascist or even near-fascist nature of her policies, arguing that the Italian right consigned fascism to the dustbin of history several decades ago. True, she is still remembered for an interview with the French newscast Soir 3 in 1996, when she praised Benito Mussolini as “a good politician, the best in the last 50 years.” And even in November 2018, Meloni stated that the celebration of the Day of Liberation from the Nazis and Fascists on April 25, and Republic Day (June 2) should be replaced by the Day of National Unity and Armed Forces on November 4 in honor of Italy’s victory in the First World War. According to Meloni, Liberation Day and Republic Day are “two controversial holidays.”
The victory of the right-wing coalition led by the far-right “Brothers of Italy”, of course, will be taken sourly in the European Union with its ultra-liberal agenda. Last week, the Social Democratic Party of Germany, led by Olaf Scholz, warned that this would be bad for European cooperation. George Meloni is seen as another “anti-democratic” figure like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Moreover, most recently, MEPs – Meloni’s fellow party members – voted against a resolution condemning Hungary as a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy.”
What alarms many in the EU is Georgie Meloni’s association with the Polish nationalist-conservative Law and Justice Party, the anti-immigrant Swedish Democrats and the Spanish far-right Vox party. During the summer, Meloni attended a Vox rally in Marbella, where she expressed her hardline views on immigration and homosexuality.
“Meloni has the ambition to represent a model not only for Italy but also for Europe – this is something new,” comments Nadia Urbinati, a political theorist at Columbia University in New York and the University of Bologna. “She has contacts with other conservative parties who want less civil rights in Europe.”
Meloni has been highly critical of the Italian government’s approach to supporting illegal immigrants, and also endorses the conspiracy theory of the “Great Replacement” – a planned mass migration from Africa to Europe to replace and destroy the Italian population. She called for a blockade off the coast of North Africa to stop ships carrying migrants to Italy.
But – paradoxical as it may sound – the success of the Italian ultra-right, led by Meloni, does not at all mean a catastrophe from the point of view of the “collective West”. Moreover, she herself, feeling that she is moving towards victory, slowly began to moderate her rhetoric about “God, homeland and family”, clearly trying to calm the European Union and other international partners, who are concerned about the euro skepticism of right-wing populists. And, it seems, in Brussels and European capitals, they gradually exhaled in connection with the success of Meloni.
First, she is not expected to start making drastic moves, at least at the start of her reign, as she wants to secure a steady cash flow as part of Italy’s 191.5 billion euro pandemic recovery plan.
“Ambiguity is the key to understanding Meloni,” said Mattia Diletti, a political science professor at the Sapienza University of Rome. – She is really interested in a compromise with the EU on economic policy. But if the EU pushes her too hard on the Italian government, she can always return to her safe zone as a right-wing populist leader. She will do whatever it takes to stay in power.”
Secondly (or perhaps firstly), while “junior partners” in the right-wing coalition, Berlusconi and Salvini, have said they would like to reconsider sanctions against Russia because of their impact on the Italian economy, Meloni firmly supports the defense of Ukraine . She makes anti-Russian statements in connection with the Ukrainian conflict and advocates sending weapons to Kyiv. However, it remains unclear whether her government will support the eighth round of EU sanctions being discussed in Brussels. Right-wing coalition partner Matteo Salvini has said earlier that Western sanctions have brought Italy to its knees, although he never blocked any EU action against Russia when he was in Mario Draghi’s wide-ranging coalition government that collapsed in July.
“I am a woman, I am a mother, I am Italian, I am a Christian”
“She presents herself as a capable, but not arrogant woman,” political scientist Nadia Urbinati says of George Meloni. “She gets things done and is dedicated, but without that male adrenaline that wants power at any cost.”
George Meloni was born in Rome, but her father, a tax consultant, was from Sardinia, and her mother was from Sicily. When George was eleven years old, dad left the family and moved to the Canary Islands. In 1992, at the age of 15, Meloni joined the youth wing of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement. She later founded the student organization Gli Antenati (Ancestors), which took part in a protest against public education reform.
In 1996, Meloni headed the Student Action organization, and a couple of years later she was elected from the National Alliance (a nationalist right-wing party created in 1995 on the basis of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement) to the Provincial Council of Rome and was a member of the Commission for Affairs culture, schools and youth policy.
In May 2008, at the age of 31, Giorgio became Minister without Portfolio for Youth Affairs in the Berlusconi government, making her the youngest minister in the history of the Italian Republic.
In December 2012, George Meloni founded the Brothers of Italy – National Center Right party. Already in the spring of 2014, the press began to name Georgia Meloni among the possible successors of Berlusconi as the leader of the right-wing forces. True, in 2016, in the election of the mayor of Rome, she was defeated already in the first round.
Meloni has a reputation as a deeply conservative politician who is openly anti-gay and has threatened to question the legality of same-sex unions, which were legalized in Italy in 2016. She also called abortion a “tragedy”, raising fears for the future of Italian women’s rights.
George Meloni is known as a fan of the fantasy genre, especially adoring Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings saga, which she called “a sacred text.” As an activist in the youth wing of the Italian Social Movement, she attended the Hobbit Camp and sang with the extremist folk group Compagnia dell’Anello (The Fellowship of the Ring).
At the same time, Meloni declares that she is a Christian, and partly used her religious identity to help create her “national brand”, for example, when she said in a speech at a rally in Rome in 2019: “I am Georgia. I am a woman, I am a mother, I am Italian, I am a Christian.”
Meloni has a daughter, Ginevra, with her partner, journalist Andrea Giambruno, who works for Mediaset TV channel Silvio Berlusconi. In the midst of the pandemic, the leader of the Brothers of Italy came under fire for refusing to vaccinate her daughter and saying that the chance of someone under the age of twenty dying from COVID-19 is the same as being struck by lightning.