Italy’s plunge into the right


Roberto Monaldo | LaPresse | AP

Giorgia Meloni’s election follows other European countries’ shifts into the right.

Journalists and political opponents have labeled Giorgia Meloni’s election as the most far-right government since Benito Mussolini’s fascist rule that characterized Italy’s government from the early to mid 1900s. 

Meloni leads a conservative populist party known as the Brothers of Italy, which was co-founded by Meloni in 2012.

The 45-year-old Meloni has been part of neo-fascist political movements since 1992 when she joined the Italian Social movement. Meloni, a Catholic conservative, has held a number of positions prior to her election as Prime Minister, including her position in the Italian parliament where she was elected in 2006.

Meloni has been widely criticized for her support for religion-informed politics, her comments threatening the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people, her anti-immigration platform and her anti semetic values.

While it is easy to compare far-right politicians to fascist rulers, Erik Tillman, associate professor and faculty advisor at DePaul, said that “comparisons between Meloni and Mussolini are flawed in one very crucial respect. Mussolini was a dictator who seized power violently, used repression to maintain, and pursued an imperialistic foreign policy.” 

Meloni’s party has been attacked for its failure to renounce former Prime Minister Mussolini’s fascist rule, but comparisons between the two governments often fail to recognize that Meloni’s position was born from the democratic process. On Sept. 25, 2022, Meloni’s coalition took 44% of the vote in the general election. While Meloni’s election was legitimate, there are still plenty of policy stances that are receiving grounded criticism.

According to Reuters, Meloni has argued that a “compatible migrants” should be welcomed to Italy, while “boat migrants” should not.

There are; however, a number of established laws that prevent Meloni and her party from implementing such a discriminatory migration policy.

DePaul professor and chair of International Studies and Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at DePaul, Shailja Sharma, cited a number of protocols, including the 1951 Refugee Convention, which protects the rights of displaced people to be granted refugee status. 

In order for the Brothers of Italy to implement discriminatory migration policies, they would have to completely reassemble the legal structures of Italy, a feat which Sharma believes will not occur.

Sharma recognizes the many problems with Meloni’s rhetoric.

“[A selective view of immigration] is a view that’s very common to far-right nationalist parties in Europe,” Sharma said. “There are similar politicians in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Greece, England, France, and now Italy. I think it’s pretty much a part of European right-wing discourse.” 

While migrants are crucial to European economies, anti-immigrant attitudes continue to ignore this in favor of xenophobia.

“Migrants are important not just because they’re doing jobs that other people don’t want to do, and it’s not that Europe has never had migrants and is suddenly undergoing migration,” Sharma said. “Europe was never as exclusive as these politicians are making it out to be. Europe is in a demographic decline. There are not enough people to do the jobs that are needed. They are welfare states so they need people to pay into the welfare system for older Europeans to actually get their benefits.”

Italy is a prime example of a problem that exists in many European states: a declining young population that will be unable to support the economy and welfare system that older generations have enjoyed. Anti-immigration policies like Meloni’s are controversial, not only because they are discriminatory in nature, but because they do not make sense in countries undergoing such intense demographic change.

Meloni has also been widely criticized for her religious nationalist view of government.

“[Meloni] is indicative of a troubling trend we’re seeing in the United States and abroad where Christian nationalists and religious extremists attack church-state separation and seek to use religious freedom as a license to discriminate, threatening everyone’s ability to live as themselves and believe as they choose and widening inequality in society” said Rob Boston, senior adviser at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

For many, the danger of Meloni’s leadership is not a return to fascism, but a reversal of rights for women, LGBTQ+ identifying individuals and migrants.

There are clear similarities between Meloni and Trump, in that these populist nationalist leaders ran on platforms that attacked the separation of church and state, a position that leans into the conservative need for a strong national identity, one of religious faith.

In Italy, the U.S. and beyond, nationalist attitudes persist due to a need to feel exclusive. Populist leaders like Meloni feed on this nationalism to create policy platforms that make citizens feel as though their identity is being protected.

“[Anti-immigrant nationalist attitudes persist] because people don’t want to give up national identities or their ideas of what makes them different,” Sharma said.