From Sweden to Italy, the advance of far-right nationalist populists in Europe

Closing campaign in Piazza del Popolo in Rome with the leaders of the most extreme right. Matteo Salvini of the Lega, Silvio Berlusconi of Forza Italia and the likely new prime minister, Giorgia Meloni of the Fratelli d’Italia. REUTERS/Yara Nardi (YARA NARDI/)

Sweden is in the middle of a “valrysare”, unprecedented political intrigue. The country that for decades was at the forefront of the welfare state and where individual freedoms and the rights of minorities were always above partisan interests, now is trapped by the new power that the Sweden Democrats (DS) gained in the elections two weeks ago. Away from the name they gave the party, it is a formation populist, anti-immigrant and openly opposed to the presence of Muslims in Europe. They achieved 20% of the votes, placed themselves as the second most voted party and brought down the government of the Social Democrats of Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.

The DS are just the vanguard of a new wave of far-right populists who are making a steady advance in Europe and that this Sunday everything indicates that they will also achieve the power to form a government in Italy and place Giorgia Meloni as prime minister. They are the Fratelli d’Italia (FdL), heirs to the old fascist party created by the survivors of Benito Mussolini’s regime. The true European “annus horribilis” is marking that voters are looking for magical solutions to the succession of crises through the extreme right, the same one that had already reared its head in Hungary – where it is consolidated with the government of Víktor Orbán-. The novelty is that they are managing, for the first time, to break down the barrier that existed until now between the traditional right and this fascist-inspired extreme right.

In Sweden this is clear. The traditional parliamentary right of Conservatives, Christian Democrats and Liberals now form governments associated with and depending on the extreme right. Ulf Kristersson, the leader of the Moderate Party (Conservatives) was given the mandate to form a government. And this is just because it would be a scandal if it was directly headed by Jimmie Akesson, the leader of the Sweden Democrats. Actually, she would reciprocate. Swedish political tradition indicates that the party with the most votes in a coalition is the one that forms the government. The right-wing bloc has just one more seat in the Riksdag, the parliament, and they wanted to avoid a stumble before winning the government. Akesson knows that, if he persists in demanding the head of the cabinet, he dynamites the coalition and the Social Democrats would have another opportunity to form a government since they continue to be the most voted force with 30%.

Jimmie Akesson, leader of the far-right Sweden Democrats during the televised debate ahead of the election in which his party won second place.  Christine Olsson/TT News Agency/via REUTERS.
Jimmie Akesson, leader of the far-right Sweden Democrats during the televised debate ahead of the election in which his party won second place. Christine Olsson/TT News Agency/via REUTERS. (TT NEWS AGENCY/)

Still, there is resistance, particularly among liberals, to being held hostage by the far right. The political scientist Anders Sannerstedt wrote in the daily Dagens Nyheter that “There are many who do not want to end up being the ones to carry out the wishes of the Democrats.” But that’s what could happen if they end up forming the government and the extremists lurk behind. The four parties of the right-wing block finally add 176 deputies, compared to 173 of the group of left-wing parties (social democrats, ex-communists, environmentalists and centrists). With that majority they can, if they put their minds to it, change a lot of things in Sweden, and through their influence, in the rest of Scandinavia. Particularly with anti-immigrant and homophobic laws.

Everything indicates that Swedish “valrysare” is going to have everyone on edge for weeks. After the 2018 elections, Sweden entered a political paralysis that lasted for more than four months. It was when a “sanitary cordon” was created that isolated the extreme right and left it outside the right-wing coalition at that time, which allowed the Social Democrat Stefan Löfven to form a government with the Greens. Now, that barrier is broken and the extreme right is going to take advantage of its moment of glory.

Her Italian co-religionists live the same euphoria at the hands of the “Roman earthquake”, the small and very effective Giorgia Meloni, who is heading to be the head of the new government after the elections that are held tomorrow. The Fratelli, were refounded in 2012 from the ashes of the old fascist party. Today you can see the same symbols of Il Duce’s time, with the tricolor flame of the Italian flag, in his acts. They were just the expression of a very small minority. In 2013 they won just under 2% of the votes and they were close to 4% in 2018. Until just a few months ago, Meloni herself was marginalized from politics. In a political scene dominated by machismo and the economic power of the north of the country –with Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini from Lombardy, Matteo Renzi from Tuscany, Beppe Grillo from Liguria-, she is a woman of small frame who speaks “romanaccio” ( a derogatory term to describe the Roman accent) and who grew up in the working-class neighborhood of Garbatella in the Italian capital. She for a long time she was teased: in the prestigious center-left newspaper La Repubblica they even called her “garbage”.

Young neo-Nazis with flares raise their arms during a neo-Nazi demonstration to celebrate Hispanic Day, on October 12, 2021, in Barcelona, ​​Catalonia (Spain).
Young neo-Nazis during a neo-Nazi demonstration to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Day in Barcelona and to protest for Ukrainian refugees. (Marti Segura Ramoneda / Europa Press) (MARTI SEGURA RAMONEDA /)

However, with a simple rhetoric, full of set phrases and making a virtue of its roots, managed to compose the character of “Giorgia”, a cheeky, sarcastic and self-confident product that propelled her to unusual fame. your chorus “I am Giorgia, I am a woman, I am a mother, I am a Christian” he inspired a series of raps and other musical themes, and even had a huge success in Spain when he was there campaigning for the far-right Vox.

In the last polls before the electoral ban, carried out on September 9, the FdI was the most voted party with just under 25%. While the image of Meloni is omnipresent throughout the peninsula. Her steely gaze shines on billboards, screens, posters and brochures with the slogan “Pronti a risollevare l’Italia”, something like “ready to make Italy great again”. Very close to the Trumpist motto of “Make America Great Again” (MAGA).

Most likely, these elections will result in a tripartite right-wing government with Meloni as prime minister, the first woman to hold that position in Italy. A possibility that makes many Italians and Europeans in general very nervous. they wonder To what extent is the FdI’s “post-fascism” “post”? Its predecessor party, the MSI, was founded by figures who served under Mussolini and remains the grouping that shelters those nostalgic for the order imposed by Il Duce. It was recently learned, for example, that the prime minister of the central region of Le Marche, Francesco Acquaroli, he had attended a dinner commemorating Mussolini’s March on Rome in 1922.

Benito Mussolini
Georgia Meloni could form the first far-right government in Italy since the fall of dictator Benito Mussolini.

However, most Italian analysts agree that while there is nationalistic populist rhetoric in Meloni, she he is closer to US Republicans on issues like abortion and immigration. And that the real fascist vote in Italy is still the old 4% that the MSI always got, the new FdI voters come from the M5S and the Lega, from the more traditional populist right. In any case, the prominent political scientist Nathalie Tocci of the Istituto Affari Internazionali sees worrying elements when the FdL calls for the creation a “homogeneous, sporting, youthful and healthy society”. And in the fact that Meloni believes like the fascists of the 1920s and 30s that the “juvenile deviations” (a very general reference, from gangs and social withdrawal to drug addiction, anorexia and problem gambling) can be resolved with increased participation in sports.

The attraction to conspiracy theories is another of those similarities. Historian David Broder, author of the book Mussolini’s Grandchildren: Fascism in Contemporary Italy, has documented examples of Meloni and other FdI figures evoking the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory about a secret plan to replace native Europeans with immigrantsincluding his reference to the “project of ethnic substitution of European citizens, desired by Big Capital and international speculators”.

In an attempt to reassure their readers, analysts in the big center and left Italian media resort to the possibility of getting rid of the Fratelli soon due to the enormous volatility of politics in that country. They assure that a government led by Meloni would probably not last long. I would inherit an economy with a debt of 135% of GDP, in rapid demographic decline, marked by decades of economic stagnation and an inflationary and energy crisis as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Giorgia Meloni, the leader of Fratelli D'Italia during the closing of the campaign.  Tomorrow her party could win a majority of votes in the elections and form the first far-right populist government in Italy in a hundred years.  REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane
Giorgia Meloni, the leader of Fratelli D’Italia during the closing of the campaign. Tomorrow her party could win a majority of votes in the elections and form the first far-right populist government in Italy in a hundred years. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane (GUGLIELMO MANGIAPANE/)

As Dave Keating describes in World Politics Review, these elections in Sweden and Italy “they mark a clear trend in which the nationalist parties renew their image and their policies to be acceptable.” It’s a trend. “Like France’s Marine Le Pen, Sweden’s Democrats and Italy’s Brothers are no longer calling for their countries to withdraw from the European Union,” Keating wrote. “Instead, many eurosceptics want to return a number of powers from Brussels to national capitals, while using the bloc’s strengths to pursue their political prioritiesas an even tougher EU-wide approach to migration.”

While Tocci agrees with Keaton that both phenomena highlight the fact that European electorates are increasingly being seduced by anti-establishment candidates. Anti-politics seems to have already moved away from the axis of the purest populism. Now Added to this is the characteristic of anti-immigrant nationalism and the nostalgia of the old fascism as its essence.


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