Italy Elects Giorgia Meloni, First Far-Right Leader Since Mussolini
Giorgia Meloni became Italy’s first female Prime Minister on September 25, following the country’s 2022 general election where she captured 44 percent of the vote. Meloni has been described as Italy’s first far-right leader since Mussolini and her party has been accused of promoting fascism.
Giorgia Meloni has advocated for lower taxes, end to immigration and reduced EU presence while also criticizing progressive attitudes she believes undermines family value and other foundations of society. Her “Italy and Italian people first” stance mirrors a growing anti-immigrant sentiment following an influx of migrants in the past decade to Italy to which Meloni has referred to as “the refugee camp of Europe.”
Between 2014 and 2020, Italy received more than 700,000 asylum seekers and migrants—a number greater than any other country in Europe. Overwhelmed by the migrant crisis, Italy and Libya signed a 2017 agreement “countering illegal migration, human trafficking and smuggling and reinforcing security at the Libya-Italy border.” As part of the agreement, Italy provided resources to the Libyan coastguard and funded the country’s migrant centers.
However, these efforts have not completely deter migrants from attempting the journey. Europe’s inability to curb the influx of migration has contributed to the rise of far-right movements on the continent.
Although Europe suffered greatly at the hands of fascism, it appears the once shunned ideology is experiencing a resurgence in popularity.
While scholars disagree over specific characteristics of fascism, it is generally accepted that it is characterised by authoritarianism, extreme nationalism, and supremacism. According to the Centre for Research on Extremism at the University of Oslo, fascism also aims for a ‘rebirth’ of the nation.” In addition to Mussolini’s regime, Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler and Spain under General Francisco Franco’s rule also fall under the umbrella of fascism.
The Lasting Legacy of Fascism in Italy
Fascism arose in Europe after World War I. Suffering political crisis during the post-war period, many Italians longed for national unity and strong leadership—becoming a breading ground for nationalist ideology. In 1919, Benito Mussolini founded his fasci di combattimento, known as the Fascists. By 1925, Mussolini had successfully dismantled Italy’s democratic government and taken over as dictator. During his regime, Mussolini committed numerous human rights violations and suppressed individual liberties and dissidents.
Mussolini’s legacy lives on in today’s neo-fascist ideologies. Giorgia Meloni’s party has its roots in the post-World War II neo-fascist Italian Social Movement. Giorgio Almirante, a chief of staff to Mussolini’s last government, founded the Italian Social Movement in 1946. The party attracted fascist sympathizers and former Mussolini staff.
The Italian Social Movement remained relatively small throughout the 1950 to the 1980s, polling in the single digits. Despite its relatively low numbers, historians view the party’s survival “as a constant reminder of the potent appeal that authoritarianism and nationalism could still exercise among the southern students, urban poor and lower middle classes.”
Nearly a century may have passed since Mussolini marched in Rome, but the battle against this corrosive ideology is nowhere near over. It is inspiring a new generation of dissatisfied Italians —a generation that did not experience the cruelties of individual repression and government control.
“Italy chose us,” said Giorgia Meloni in her victory speech. “We will not betray it, as we never have.”