Giorgia Meloni in 2019

Post-Fascism in Italy: “So why this flame, Mrs. Giorgia Meloni?”

Valerio Alfonso Bruno, James F. Downes and Alessio Scopelliti

Valerio Alfonso Bruno, James F. Downes and Alessio Scopelliti

Valerio is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR) and Fellow at the Center for European Futures (CEF). Bruno is "cultore della materia" for the Chair of International Relations at the Catholic University of Milan and cooperates with the Observatoire de la Finance in Geneva.

James is a Senior Fellow and Head of The Populism Research Unit at The Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR).

Alessio is a PhD Candidate in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol and Doctoral Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR).

Italian politics has been shaken by recent events surrounding neo-fascism. Giorgia Meloni’s radical right Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) Party has been adopting an ambiguous stance on the issue of neo-fascism, with Meloni failing to distance her party from these recent events. This has sparked a furore in Italy and at the same time raises important questions about the (a) legacy of fascism within modern Italian politics, particularly with (b) the increasing political significance that radical right parties such as the Brothers of Italy Party have alongside broader right-wing movements in contemporary Italian politics.
 
In recent weeks, Italy has witnessed a series of disturbing events united by the resurgence of issues related to neo-fascism. First, an academic at the University of Bologna, Professor Andrea Morrone was recorded and accused of having labeled the Brothers of Italy party, led by Giorgia Meloni, as “fascist” or “neo-fascist”, provoking the wrath of the party’s MPs, who are now seeking to open a parliamentary debate on what happened.

Subsequently, an Italian newspaper, Fanpage, revealed the results of a long investigation named “Lobby Nera”, conducted through a journalist who infiltrated top circles of the radical-right and extreme-right wing in Milan, in particular related to Brothers of Italy. Crucially, this led to the discovery of a number of members of the Fratelli d’Italia party, including a member of the European Parliament Carlo Fidanza, who praised Adolf Hitler and anti-Semitism. Furthermore, Fidanza also displayed the Roman salute and made direct fun of Paolo Berizzi, a journalist of La Republica, famous for his important investigations and books against neo-fascist groups and movements, and currently the only journalist in Europe under escort for neo-Nazi threats.

Most recently, on the 9th October in Rome, a no-vax demonstration of people against the green-pass certification led by the extreme right-wing neo-fascist party Forza Nuova (New Force) attacked the headquarters of the main Italian trade union, the Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL), completely devastating it. This latest event caused great shock in Italy and led to the subsequent arrest of twelve people, including the two leaders of Forza Nuova, Roberto Fiore and Giuliano Castellino.

In addition, some MPs from the Democratic Party and the Five Star Movement, such as Emanuele Fiano have said that they intend to bring a motion in the Italian Parliament for the dissolution of Forza Nuova and other neo-fascist parties. The Brothers of Italy party has not distanced itself from these three recent events. The party’s leader Giorgia Meloni has outlined that she will conduct an “internal investigation” to understand why these events occurred in her party (in the meantime Carlo Fidanza has self-suspended himself from the party). Meloni has spoken of a conspiracy by poteri forti (“strong powers”) behind the recent investigations against her party, which appeared just before the municipal elections in Italy.
 

Giorgia Meloni in 2019
Giorgia Meloni in 2019 @ Wikimedia Commons 

Consequently, the debate in Italian politics around the existence of (neo) fascism has been fueled by the aforementioned events and with Giorgia Meloni’s party at the core of this debate. It is evident that Brothers of Italy party has been adopting an increasingly ambiguous stance towards its fascist heritage. First of all, at the national level, the party does not seem to abandon any opportunity to employ aggressive strategies in attacking members of the academia through a barrage of criticism and parliamentary questions because they dared to define Brothers of Italy a “fascist” or “neo-fascist” party. Secondly, at the local level, the party has never failed to flaunt its sympathy towards nostalgia of fascism during (online) public assemblies of representative bodies. For instance, the municipal councilor Nicola Franco, Group leader of Fratelli d’Italia in Rome’s Municipality VI, used to show his library at the background with manuscripts that glorify the fascist and Nazi periods – he has also obtained in the last municipal election the highest number of votes in Rome reaching the 43.18% for a total of 30,964 preferences. Finally, the same leader, Giorgia Meloni, reinforces the ambiguity of this party about fascism supporting candidates with the name of Mussolini and choosing the tricolor flame, which used to be the symbol of the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), the veterans of the Italian Social Republic, within the logo of the party.
 

Brothers of Italy and The Italian Social Movement
Figure 1: The current Logo of Brothers of Italy (left) and The Movimento Sociale Italian (The Italian Social Movement) Tricolor Flame.

If the Brothers of Italy self-identify as a post-fascist party, what is the need to include this clear reference to the party’s specific historical and political experience? The tricolor flame has always been a symbol, so evocative and powerful, that has passed through the years and the minds of the Italian electorate on par with the crusader shield of the Christian Democracy party and the hammer and sickle of the Communist party. This logo is, indeed, recognized by the Italian electorate (1) as ‘tacit connection with the fascist regime while referring to the “cult of the dead” and the funerary imagery […] providing a potential space both for memory investments and emotional projections’.

However, when Brothers of Italy was founded in 2012, Giorgia Meloni did not use the tricolor flame in the party’s logo. Perhaps, similar to other far-right parties in Western Europe, the reason to avoid this symbol was to overcome the stigma (2) of being associated with right-wing totalitarian regimes and attempting to be, rather, perceived as “normal” or mainstream in the eyes of its electorate. Yet, Brothers of Italy employed (by stealth) this symbol in 2014 with a “matryoshka” style (an old party logo with the flame, within the current party logo) and, then, it clearly showed the tricolor flame in the logo of the party since 2017. In short, considering the historical and political background of the tricolor flame, what we are asking in Italy and abroad is the following question: “So why this flame, Mrs. Giorgia Meloni?”
 

The “Evolution” of the Brothers of Italy Logo
Figure 2: The “Evolution” of the Brothers of Italy Logo.

To conclude, some fundamental questions are raised here: are we sure that a political party, with more than 20% support, can be so ambiguous on such a delicate matter as the topic of fascism? Neo-fascist political movements such as CasaPound or Forza Nuova may cause little concern currently, as they are supported by very small minorities (with no more than 1% of support). While we may agree with a number of Italian analysts and scholars on the fact that disbanding groups as the party Forza Nuova will not solve the problem of (neo)fascism within Italian society and politics, yet what signal do we give if we keep tolerating such parties?

 

Valerio Alfonso Bruno, James F. Downes and Alessio Scopelliti

 

References:

  1. Aït-Aoudia, M, et al. “The Genesis of Political Parties: An Analysis of the Front National, the Movimento Sociale Italiano and the Islamic Salvation Front.” Revue Française de Science Politique (English Edition), 2011
  2. Schwörer, J. and Fernández-García, B., “Demonisation of political discourses? How mainstream parties talk about the populist radical right”, West European Politics, 2021

This article was provided by CARR (Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right).

Received: 15.10.21 Ready: 22.10.21. Editor: Omaina H. Aziz

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