Italian Elections: Legacy of Fascism is Back in the Spotlight

Over the course of the last few days, a little under five million Italian citizens living abroad received two electoral cards in the mail: a red one, for the Chamber of Deputies, and a blue one, for the Senate. I was one such citizen. By Thursday, we will have declared our vote to our respective consulates.

This Sunday, according to La Stampa, around 46 million citizens will also indicate their electoral preferences in what will be one of the most crucial legislative elections in contemporary Italian and European politics. The stakes are high and, depending on the results, the future of Italy’s membership in the European Union (EU), as well as its membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its democratic institutions, are not guaranteed.

The reason for this dire state of affairs is found in Italy’s growing interest in hard-right politics and post-fascist nostalgia — something that can only be described as masochistic, knowing Italy’s dark past. Anyone who has ever opened a history book will know that Italy spent over 20 years under the “Ventennio Fascista” — Italy’s fascist era — which triggered the country’s participation in World War II as well as the suppression of most forms of political dissent and individual freedoms.

To some in Italy’s political landscape, the Ventennio is somewhat of a mystified and opaque reminder of a 20th century Italy that never was: industrially productive, internationally powerful and politically efficient. But do not take my word for it. Take those of Giorgia Meloni, leader of Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), a post-fascist hard-right conservative party that is on track to win the most seats in the upcoming elections (around 26.5 percent of the total, according to news agency Adnkronos). In a recently resurfaced interview Meloni gave in 1996, she said, “I think that Mussolini was a good politician […] everything he did, he did it for Italy.” 

As chilling and surreal as these words may sound, Meloni understands the impact that her image as a representative of a party nostalgic for fascism may have on the country’s future relations with democratic international institutions, including NATO and the EU. While her right-wing coalition, according to SkyTg24, is likely to win over 47 percent of all seats, the coalition itself is not wholly in favor of a strong reinterpretation of Italy’s international obligations.

Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of the center-right wing coalition party Forza Italia, suddenly became a semi-hero for all those citizens and entrepreneurs worried about the possibility of Italy leaving the European Union, stating that his party would abandon the future government if an anti-European approach were to be adopted.

As much as one may despise this politician, known abroad for a myriad of things ranging from gifting Vladimir Putin a comforter with his face on it and a series of sexual scandals involving minors, his leverage is strategically fundamental in preventing the Brothers of Italy from attempting any constitutional revision. The severity of the situation involving the Brothers of Italy’s post-fascist nostalgia is exemplified by the right-wing coalition only needing an additional 21 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and six in the Senate to have an absolute majority, as well as the liberty to revise the constitution without additional opposition votes, according to Pagella Politica

Meloni, known in Italy and abroad for her passionate speeches and effective communication strategy, has attempted to improve her image and as soften her stance on the most critical issues of the electoral campaign, in a series of somewhat comical changes.

In early August, in a video that seemed taken out of a high schooler’s foreign language project, Meloni addressed the international press in English, French and Spanish, stating that “the Italian right has delivered fascism to history.” In an interview with Fox News, she placed a heavy emphasis on the fact that she may become Italy’s first female prime minister, dodging the real elephant in the room: her coalition’s dangerous ideologies.

And while I wish one could say that Italians will not forget the countless instances in which Brothers of Italy party members and executives outstretched their arms into a Roman salute, recent polls show an unfortunate and disappointing reality. One that is worth 47 percent or, to put it bluntly, democratic integrity.

In a New York Times opinion piece, journalist Cristopher Caldwell described this moment as “a triumph of democracy, not a threat to it,” but is this still true if the majority coalition is willing to tweak the rules of the game for its own benefits? Maybe; maybe not. The only certainty we have right now is that no matter what happens next week, Giorgia Meloni will forever symbolize the dark facade of a country that never came to terms with its past. It’s up to the voters now to choose whether this trajectory is worth it or not.