The Appian Way has been the most glamorous street in Rome for two millennia. Famous residents of the area include movie stars such as Gina Lollobrigida and Valentino, the 90-year-old fashion designer. It was there, in his five-bedroom Villa Grande – which he bought 20 years ago and lent for a long time to the late director Franco Zeffirelli – that Silvio Berlusconi brought together a group of politicians from the most stale right on Tuesday, July 19, to discuss how to bring down Prime Minister Mario Draghi and put together a new government with the neo-fascist Giorgia Meloni at the head.
Berlusconi, the 85-year-old former premier and billionaire was accompanied by his 32-year-old girlfriend, Marta Fascina. They received the guests on a magnificent terrace. Lunch consisted of grilled swordfish and salads. Matteo Salvini, from the extreme right League, and the representatives of the other groups of the Italian right were present. In the center of the table was an open phone. Over there Giorgia Meloni, the leader of Fratelli d’Italia, was speaking. A few hours later, the fate of the technocratic centrist Draghi was sealed and the small blue-eyed blonde with the strength of a colossus and the hardness of tungstenappeared as the first woman with the possibility of becoming the next head of the Italian government.
Italy now faces months of turmoil. It will likely be several weeks after the September 25 elections before a new coalition can be formed. The Italian political crisis is also a problem for the European Union. The continental central bank is trying to avoid an impending recession, while balancing the need to curb inflation against the risks of a new debt crisis. As the war continues in Ukraine and the energy supply decreases, many in the EU wonder if the former “barons” of the right really know what they did.
“I am Giorgia Meloni, I am a woman, I am a mother and it is very likely that I will become – at 45 years old – the first President of the Council in Italy. If Berlusconi and Salvini don’t make a move, of course. And I want to greet in good peace those who consider me a fascist or those who, even abroad, they are already afraid of what I am going to do”, he wrote a while later on his Twitter account. It is clear that she does know what she is doing and what she wants.
Meloni militates in the extreme right since he was 15 years oldwhen he joined the Youth Front of the Italian Social Movement, MSI, the party founded in 1947 by the elite survivors of the Italian Social Republic in northern Italy, under the guidance of Giorgio Almirante, former minister of the Duce. When the MSI was dissolved after Almirante’s death, Meloni joined Gianfranco Fini’s National Alliance, which was the continuity of the traditional fascist movement. She became a journalist for the related media there and when the alliance no longer had oxygen, the young Meloni founded in 2012 Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), always in the same line of succession.
At the age of 29, she was elected for the first time as a deputy and immediately became famous for her radical right stances on immigration, LGBT rights, and abortion. Two years later she became Minister of Youth in the Berlusconi government. And since then she has been building the political scaffolding to replace the old guard on the right. Even, was leading his party towards a forced moderation. Meloni instructed his party affiliates not to make any more extreme statements, no reference to fascism and, above all, they will not use the “Roman salute”, with the right arm extended.
“That Meloni has come so far in Italy is thanks to everyone who whitewashed her along the way. From the media, which insists on describing Salvini and Meloni as ‘centre-right’, to a disoriented center-left that underestimated and legitimized it,” analyst Alba Sidera, who has been investigating the Italian right for years, explained to DW. “Meloni did not appear out of nowhere. She has been preparing for years to be prime minister and everyone let her advance without further questioning”.
Support for Meloni’s party has been growing slowly but steadily since the 2019 European parliamentary elections, in which the Brothers of Italy won 6.4% of the votes. He won support by demanding for the EU to leave the global compact on migrationa non-binding United Nations agreement that is the subject of far-right conspiracy theories in many countries, and at defend a naval blockade of North Africa to curb immigration. That success was at the expense of Salvini’s party, with which he has no marked differences. Both parties now lead the polls, with 20% each. The center-left Democratic Party ranks third, with 19%.
Meloni’s rise is due, above all, to radio and television journalists. She is a subscriber to political programs. There isn’t a day when this pleasant woman with a small frame and devastating tongue doesn’t appear giving her opinion on something. The most famous journalist of the hard right, Vittorio Feltri always praises her. Even featured and moderate presenters bring her permanently to their programs because the presence of the charismatic deputy raises their rating.
Meloni also gained international prominence, becoming president of the EU’s alliance of far-right and populist parties, European Conservatives and Reformists. In Spain, she became famous by appearing in various acts of the far-right Vox party. “There is no middle ground possible. Either say yes, or say no. Yes to the natural family, no to LGBT lobbies. Yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology. Yes to the culture of life, no to the abyss of death. Yes to the universality of the cross, no to Islamist violence. Yes to secure borders, no to mass immigration. Yes to the sovereignty of the peoples, no to the bureaucrats in Brussels. Yes to civilization, no to those who want to destroy it”, the leader of Fratelli d’Italia said excitedly and in Spanish at a Vox rally in Marbella in June, and which set the Andalusian campaign on fire.
Meloni’s autobiography, “I am Giorgia” (“I am Giorgia”), published by Rizzoli, one of the main Italian publishers, has been topping the sales charts for weeks. And this also allowed him to campaign for vernissage. “I am Giorgia, I am a woman, I am Italian, I am a Christian. They can’t take this away from me!” yell at introductions. And the critics point out that the book is not only that, a homophobic diatribe, but is also laced with conspiracies and anti-Semitic overtones. He says at one point: “You see, political correctness is a shock wave, a canceled culture that tries to disrupt and eliminate everything beautiful, honorable and humane that our civilization has developed. […] It is a nihilistic wind of unprecedented ugliness that tries to homogenize everything in the name of the One World. Definitely, political correctness -the Gospel that a stateless and uprooted elite wants to impose- is the greatest threat to the founding value of identities”.
Meloni has the support of Europe‘s authoritarian populists. She recently received a very laudatory letter from Hungarian President Viktor Orbán, whom the deputy had met in Brussels last month, along with other nationalist leaders, such as Janez Janša from Slovenia and Mateusz Morawiecki from Poland. The last week, his party signed a declaration together with other far-right European parties (Spanish Vox, Hungarian Fidesz, Polish Law and Justice, among others) to launch a continental political alliance based on the idea of the European Union as a “superstate” centered on the traditional family and against “mass immigration”.
But what most worries Italy and all of Europe is the connection that Meloni would have with Russian interest groups close to Vladimir Putin. The Italian press denounced that his allies received money from Moscow and that the famous hackers managed by the Kremlin could have been behind some maneuvers that ended with the fall of the Draghi government.
“Russian shadows over Italy”: the suspicions that indicate Putin’s interference in the fall of Mario Draghi
The president of Italy dissolved the Parliament after the resignation of Prime Minister Mario Draghi: what are the next steps