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Friday, September 22, 2023

One year Giorgia Meloni: Berlusconi’s heiress

Italy’s head of government is pursuing an extreme right-wing agenda that is not new. But she is the sharper ideologist – and tactically adept.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, with blonde hair and a white jacket, in front of a chapel.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in her government headquarters, Palazzo Chigi, in Rome Photo: Matteo Gribaudi/imago

The whole of Europe was shocked a year ago when Giorgia Meloni won the elections in Italy on September 25thwhen she was elected head of government exactly a month later, in a coalition in which her post-fascist party Fratelli d’Italia (FdI – Brothers of Italy) is the clearly dominant force with 26 percent of the vote.

It seems paradoxical, but in Italy itself, even within the ranks of the left, there was far less shock than beyond the borders. The fact that the head of a party whose tradition goes back to Mussolini’s fascism came to power, a staunchly nationalist, ultra-conservative politician, a comrade of the Orbáns and Kaczyńskis in Hungary and Poland: In Italy itself, this was by no means seen as a deep turning point, as an epoch-making one Turnaround perceived.

First of all, this is because the change – now embodied by Meloni – had already taken place long before: under Silvio Berlusconi. Regardless of whether we look at the relationship to fascism and anti-fascism, the position on civil rights, the attitude towards liberal democracy or even the attitude towards taxes on the one hand and welfare state benefits on the other: Meloni essentially continues where Berlusconi left off .

The media entrepreneur entered politics in 1994. He only ruled for a few months that year, but then he was in power again from 2001 to 2006 and from 2008 to 2011. He had achieved this in a coalition between his Forza Italia, the right-wing populist Lega Nord – and the Alleanza Nazionale party, which had only just turned to post-fascism and had until then appeared openly fascist, and was later followed by Meloni’s FdI.

How Berlusconi himself tore down anti-fascism

The very fact that Berlusconi included this post-fascist force in his coalition represented the first major breach of taboo. Until 1994, anti-fascism had been something like Italy’s raison d’être. Berlusconi himself worked diligently to demolish anti-fascism. On April 25th, for example, the day of the liberation from Nazi occupiers and fascists, he was regularly absent from the state commemorations and was unfortunately “indispensable” because of “private appointments”.

The fact that the Duce sent many of his political opponents into exile on deserted islands only forced him to shrug his shoulders. Mussolini was simply giving his enemies a summer retreat, he explained, adding, contrary to fact, that Mussolini “never killed anyone.” On the day of remembrance, of all times, at the opening the Shoah Museum in Milan He then announced in 2013 that the Duce had “also done good things”.

But not only in yesterday’s shift in discourse away from anti-fascism, but also in today’s attitude towards civil rights, the right-wing populist Berlusconi alliance was completely in line with today’s Meloni coalition. For example, in 2007, in association with the Catholic Church, it drummed up “Family Day”, when hundreds of thousands of demonstrators came together in Rome to protest against the planned law for registered civil partnerships for same-sex couples and to preach that family is “ Father mother Child”. We hear that same sermon from Meloni again today.

Strengthening the executive branch

Berlusconi liked to call himself a “liberal,” but because of the many lawsuits pending against him, he was not particularly keen on the separation of powers and tried to tame the judiciary with numerous changes to the law. Many of these reforms can now be found in Meloni’s government agenda. “Strengthening the executive” is prominent there. Berlusconi dreamed of a presidential regime, Meloni wants to implement the direct election of the prime minister.

As Berlusconi’s direct heir, Giorgia Meloni can also see herself fighting for the core group of voters on the Italian right, the entrepreneurs and freelancers. According to the tax authorities, they hide around 70 percent of their income. But Berlusconi jumped to their side, issuing one tax amnesty after another, castigating taxes over 33 percent of income as “immoral.”

Meloni doesn’t talk or act much differently. She railed against taxes as “state protection money” and immediately launched a tax amnesty. She is less tolerant towards poor people: without much fuss, she cut basic social security and she fights decisively against a statutory minimum wage.

God, fatherland, family

Meloni knows only too well that she has to govern quietly for the time being, simply because Italy needs Europe

With his line, Berlusconi brought Italy political, economic and social stagnation. Whether Meloni will be content with such a result remains to be seen. Giorgia differs from Silvio in one central point: he was primarily concerned with his own interests, while she is a hard-nosed right-wing ideologist who – here in the tradition of fascism – once again sees Italy under the sign of “God, fatherland, family ” want to see.

Of course, in practice it hasn’t done much to initiate a real rollback, for example to restrict civil rights, ban abortion, bring the press into line, put the judiciary on a leash, and muzzle the opposition. The political intelligence that she undoubtedly possesses prohibits her from making such attempts. Meloni knows only too well that she has to govern quietly for the time being, simply because Italy needs Europe.

However, it would be premature to take this as a sure guarantee for the future. A shift to the right in the 2024 European elections, possibly even an election victory for Donald Trump in the USA in just over a year: then things would look completely different for Giorgia Meloni, and then the post-fascist in her would really come into her own.

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